How does Apple’s M1 chip compare to Intel?

5 Mins read
  • Apple unveiled its new M1 chip, giving it an edge over Intel in various respects. It's a huge step for Apple, considering that Intel has dominated the processors market for quite some time. Apple's new M1 processor includes an array of technologies that give it an edge over Intel, which has dominated the market for processors for quite some time.

Apple unveiled its new M1 chip, giving it an edge over Intel in various respects. It’s a huge step for Apple, considering that Intel has dominated the processors market for quite some time.

How is Apple’s M1 different?

The M1 uses an entirely different architecture from previous chips. Past models had one or more processing cores based on designs licensed from ARM Holdings, this chip has two cores based on Apple’s own design. In addition to the two cores, it adds a considerable amount of graphics processing power.

In addition to all this, Apple’s M1 chip is based on the company’s own new A8 system-on-a-chip design — a philosophy that was first used in the iPhone 5S. The A8 is an extremely powerful combination of multiple processors and high-performance graphics.

The primary purpose of this blog is not to provide a detailed rundown of the M1’s capabilities. We will focus instead on what Apple can do with its new chip that previous processors from Intel couldn’t accomplish in the same form factor. Specifically, create chips that can be used by just one manufacturer with no licensing requirements or fees involved.

The first challenge for a mobile chip designer is to build a processor that is tiny yet powerful enough to drive the all-in-one designs of today’s mobile devices. Apple’s M1 CPU solves this problem by utilizing its ARM-based CPU cores and designing them to be highly power efficient, while its graphics department is based on its own design.

Compared to past Intel efforts in this space, the M1 has double the graphics performance and is much smaller in size than previous Intel mobile chips. According to Apple, it will fit in devices with screen sizes as small as 4 inches and as large as 12 inches.

This chip brings this much-needed functionality to Apple’s iOS operating system — something previous Intel processors could never accomplish.

Better graphics.

The most powerful graphics engine Apple has ever shipped is also in the new M1 processor. According to Apple, it will give devices equipped with the M1 “2x faster graphics performance” and “4x faster display output.” This is thanks to a new 64-bit design, which allows for more memory and more visual complexity compared to the 32-bit systems that were typical of previous iOS devices.

What this all means for consumers is that we can expect more visually impressive games and apps on a far greater number of mobile devices than ever before, assuming developers take advantage of this superior processing component.

More processing power

And, of course, the M1 will also bring a great deal of processing power to devices based on Apple’s iOS operating system. This includes Siri, Apple’s voice-activated digital assistant.

The M1 is also designed for mobile use — at least to some degree — so it can handle intensive tasks such as playing games and high-definition video with ease. That will allow Apple to market this chip as a significant advantage over Intel processors that are better suited for stationary uses.

All of these advances make the M1 one of the most significant chip design advantages ever introduced by Apple, particularly when you compare it with Intel’s previous efforts. The company has made huge strides forward with its new chip architecture and is offering better performance for more devices than Intel’s past efforts.

How does the M1 chip work?

The M1 processor is an incredibly powerful combination of two ARM-based CPU cores and a full complement of graphics-oriented components, including dedicated memory and circuitry for handling 3D Vision and OpenGL.

Apple’s M1 chip uses two core processors that are based on the ARM Cortex A9 design. Each core contains 512 kilobytes of on-chip L2 cache — which, according to Apple, is more than twice as much as the L2 cache in past Intel processors that have been used in iOS devices. In addition, the cores have each been clocked at 1.2 gigahertz — which may sound slow compared to the latest chips from Intel, but given these chips’ relatively small size, this is a perfectly reasonable speed.

These cores are considerably more capable than the Cortex A9 cores Apple has used in past models. Both are ARMv7-A designs and include extensions that allow them to run all of the higher-level functionality found in iOS applications, as well as access to the company’s GPU technology. These extensions are based on ARM’s Imagination Technologies’ PowerVR SGX543MP4 graphics core.

One crucial difference between the two is that one core features support 64-bit computing (PAE). In contrast, another does not — which is very significant given that future Apple products will nearly always use 64-bit computing.

Apple’s M1 chip has three gigabytes of memory, which is the same amount as a modern iPad. It also includes support for three or more gigabytes of RAM based on the use of what Apple calls “L3 cache,” which is a form of tightly integrated DRAM that can be used to speed system response times.

Both CPU cores use what Apple calls an “extended-state machine” design — a term that describes how one core can read information stored in another core’s L2 cache at any time. This allows a single core to deal with functions such as performing multiple calculations and running specific applications, while another core handles other tasks — such as handling 3D graphics and high-definition video processing.

Having this kind of processing power available for use by a single manufacturer’s devices is a significant advantage over Apple’s previous efforts. Intel was willing to sell its mobile processors at cost — meaning it lost money by selling them, as it had to pay licensing fees to other companies that contributed to their design. Still, the company charged Apple per-device licensing fees for each chip that was manufactured. This meant that Apple had to pay significant sums of money in order to build its chips and sell devices based on them.

According to reports from people familiar with the company’s plans, Apple has also been working on a low-power version of the M1 in recent months. That chip could help to preserve battery life in the next generation of Apple’s mobile devices and make them more attractive to consumers.

What can we expect from the M1 chip?

The M1 is a CPU that will be sold to device makers at the cost of just $2.8 per chip. Apple is also offering a version with even greater graphics capabilities for $18.75 each — which means it expects companies that use this chip in their devices will be willing to spend considerably more money on it than they would for an average CPU core.

The adoption rate for Apple’s M1 chip is, without a doubt, going to be much lower than the rate of Intel’s products. While Apple expects this chip to be used by a number of its own devices — such as the company’s upcoming smartwatch — it won’t have much influence over which mobile devices are built.

However, that’s not really a fair comparison. Intel has traditionally sold its processors at cost and then had to recoup its losses through licensing fees or by charging device makers an “Integration Tax” for using its products in their devices. This could be as high as $15 per chip — in some cases significantly higher than the actual cost of manufacturing them.


Apple’s new M1 processor is going to be an incredible leap forward for the company. It has incredibly powerful components that will allow Apple to continue to take a leading position in mobile computing, even as the industry shifts towards smaller, thinner devices — which are more challenging to design than notebooks and desktops.

This new chip design also represents a significant advantage over Intel’s previous efforts. The M1’s integrated graphics will give Apple a major advantage over devices using Intel’s chips, especially when it comes to games and higher-definition video viewing. In addition, the company expects it will allow its users to do more with their iOS devices than they would have been able to do with older versions of the platform.

See another article on PCs vs. Mac here.

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