How much better would it be than the lesser M1 chips?

At Apple’s March 2022 event, the company’s M1 silicon took its place in added relevance on desktop PCs. The desktop is the core hardware that made Apple a household name, and the new Mac marks the transition from Intel Core and AMD Radeon chips in favor of the studio desktop—and the M1 Max and M1 Ultra chips that power it—to are the last steps. ARM-based processors that Apple engineers design in-house. Those final steps will bring Apple silicon alone to Intel/AMD holdouts, Mac Pro desktops, and (probably) a few different sized iMacs. Apple has hinted that the Mac Pro move may happen soon, but in the meantime, there’s now a newly established hierarchy among Apple processors.

At the bottom is the Apple M1, which powers the MacBook Air, entry-level versions of the MacBook Pro, and the Mac Mini. This is followed by the more powerful M1 Pro and M1 Max, which are available on the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models. And finally, there’s the new flagship, the M1 Ultra. It’s only available as an optional extra for the Mac Studio, a squarish 8-inch PC that evokes the old G4 Cube from 22 years ago, or at least a bulked-up, tall Mac Mini.

Apple M1 Lineup

Upgrading to the M1 Ultra doesn’t come cheap. Configuration options for the Mac Studio with the M1 Ultra start at a minimum of $3,799, which is almost double the $1,999 price of the entry-level Mac Studio model. So let’s take a look at the improvements (and one potential drawback) you can expect if you decide to pull the trigger on the Ultra.


more dies, better communication

The M1 Ultra’s marquee innovation starts with a simple concept. The new processor is essentially two Apple M1s — specifically, the die of two M1 Max chips — fused together via a high-speed interconnect to form a single giant processor. In itself, this approach to semiconductor design is nothing new; AMD has used it in some Ryzen Threadripper chips for some time, and other manufacturers have employed it in the past as well. Some ultra-powerful Windows workstation PCs use two or more Intel Xeon processors with interconnection protocols for communication between them.

But fusing dies together can result in all kinds of inefficiencies, not the least of which is that the computer’s firmware and software must be tweaked to make sure the apps you need to run are fine. They can take advantage of the full power of enhanced semiconductors. Apple says it has avoided this initial problem with a concept called UltraFusion. It’s an interposer that shuttles instructions between different parts of the M1 Ultra at lightning speed: 2.5 terabytes per second total bandwidth, according to Apple.

Apple M1 Ultra processor rendering

In addition to reducing bottlenecks within the M1 Ultra processor, UltraFusion also disguises the entire assembly of the die as a single chip, so developers need to rewrite their software’s code to take advantage of the increased dual-die power. do not require. At Tuesday’s launch event, Apple said there’s never been anything like UltraFusion, claiming it has quadruple the bandwidth of leading competing interconnect technology.


Twice Core Price for Twice

The M1 Ultra chip uses 20 CPU cores, split between 16 high-performance cores and four high-efficiency cores. This is a dramatic increase compared to the M1 Max and M1 Pro, which both have just 10 CPU cores, eight of them dedicated to high performance and two to efficiency. Doubling the number of cores will go a long way to speeding up the processing time for your CPU-intensive tasks, and it’s also a convenient way to spend twice as much on the M1 ultra-powered Mac Studio. But twice the core count isn’t really as big a jump compared to previous M1 chips as it might seem at first glance; Remember, this is essentially two M1 Pro processors glued together.

Apple M1 Ultra Processor

It’s not just compute cores that are getting a boost with the M1 Ultra. The new chip also has 64 graphics cores, double the volume of the M1 Max and quadruple the volume of the M1 Pro.

Put all the extra cores together, and you get some extraordinary capacity, especially with certain workflow types that don’t require maximum processing power for long periods of time. Apple claims the M1 Ultra is 1.9 times more powerful than the latest 12th-generation Intel Core i9-12900K desktop CPUs when both are running at 60-watt power levels.

Graph showing Apple M1 Ultra CPU performance

Now, Apple’s initial claims on CPU performance are vague; The table above doesn’t describe specific applications, terms, or even what the scale on the left actually means. We’ll have to see how it shakes out in actual testing, but it’s safe to say that these performance claims are in line with selected applications running natively under M1, optimized for macOS and the M1 architecture.


128GB memory, only if you need it

Instead of the traditional way of doing things, where the CPU and GPU each address their own memory located in separate areas of, say, the motherboard and graphics card, the M1 chip addresses a pool of memory that it uses for processing. And graphics is essential for both functions. , and that memory is part of the SoC for faster access.

Apple Mac Studio

This integrated memory concept is also used in the M1 Ultra, but the new chip brings a new higher memory limit of 128GB. That’s a surprising potential peak amount of total memory in what amounts to a mid-level workstation desktop, though you’ll have to fork out an additional $800 to bump the memory up to the 64GB amount in the base M1 Ultra configuration. It goes without saying that you should only do this if you are absolutely certain that you will be running apps that know what to do with more than 64GB of memory.


Thermal Question: Watch out for more noise?

The trifecta of larger processors with more cores and more memory is not without potential drawbacks. In addition to making the M1 Ultra version of Mac Studio more expensive than the M1 Max flavor of the machine (though not as beloved as the Mac Pro or some competing Windows workstations), it also brings more heat essentials and the need for more. Powerful cooling system to dissipate it.

Apple Mac Studio computer fan exhaust

Apple says it has carefully designed the Mac Studio’s cooling system to prevent the desktop from being audible during most workflows. But the fact is, if you push the M1 Ultra to its limits (which you should, if you’re spending cash for it), you’re going to hear fan activity. How loud will it be? Perhaps not overly loud, if the whisper-quiet but still-audible cooling system of predecessor Macs like the 27-inch iMac is any guide.

Still, the presence of any fan really takes it a step back from the Mac Studio’s progenitor, the G4 Cube, which doesn’t require any active cooling system. Stay tuned for our overview once we’ve got MAC Studios in-house for some in-depth bench-testing calisthenics.

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