“Apple’s plans for its future Mac processors suggest those new chips are likely to easily outperform Intel’s future processors for consumer PCs” — That’s according to Wayne Ma at the Information, who just dropped a huge, huge report on the M1 'Extreme', or whatever Apple ends up calling the dual and Mac Pro version of the dual and quad M1 Max.
And since performance efficiency really does matter for desktops too, given transistor counts, power draw, thermal envelopes, and the limits of physics and enclosures, it kinda reframes the whole discussion around what Intel's new 12th gen Alder Lake platform really means of Apple!
But more on that Mac Pro, and maybe iMac Pro, in an Alder Lake hot minute. First, there’s been a lot of talk over the last couple of days about Intel’s new 12th gen processors and what they may mean for Apple and the Mac. The answer is… not what most people have been saying. Alder Lake is basically a desperation play by Intel to buy some time by goosing voltage as high as possible to win some cheap cred over AMD from the benchmark LARPers. You know, the canned synthetic download-one-run-and-done crowd. While they get their silicon new big.little architecture and process shrink ship back in order over the next couple of years. Which, I personally really hope they do, because getting Intel back in the game is better for everyone.
But Alder Lake cores score big because they draw big, and some may say that only matters for laptops like the new MacBook Pro, where you want more than a few minutes of battery life. But no, it matters for desktops too, because power doesn’t just define battery life, but thermal throttling, and, yeah, even enclosure design.
I’ll link Dave2D’s video below the like button, so you can see him give up even trying to air cool Alder Lake in a mini ITX — a mini tower! — and have to break out the water hoses. Can you even imagine the What If…? Episode where Apple didn’t make the switch to custom silicon, and Uatu is watching them try to cram one of these Shuma Gortah-level monsters into the next Mac mini or iMac? Watching it melt through the casing and burn its way to the earth’s core like… a homesick Godjira.
We’re talking under 30 watts for the M1 Pro or Max CPU fully lit, under 100 watts including the Max 32 GPU cores if you somehow… fire everything like a JJ Abrams Star Trek climax. With Alder Lake, just the CPUs bade at well over 100 watts, and climb from there to well over 200 watts, 300 watts even for the overclocked version. That’s as much as one of those big Nvidia or AMD cards that look like a massive Guild High-liner folding into space above Arrakis. And yes, I’m totally mixing my sci-fi universes here because of just how ridiculous it all is.
Because when Tim Cook said they had to switch to Apple silicon because there were Macs they wanted to make that simply could not be made on Intel’s current roadmap, this is exactly what he was talking about. Performance not driven by maximum voltage but though maximum efficiency. Not blast furnaces with fans as loud as hellicariers, but cold, and almost eerily quiet.
That’s what let them make a MacBook Air and MacBook Pro that are way, way faster for consumer and Pro workloads than anything Intel’s ever fabbed, but that also get like 12 to 20 hours of battery life. An iMac that doesn’t look like a cyberporn tower or even big bubble backed all-in-one, but pretty damn close to a TV regular human type people are actually willing to put in pretty much any room in the house or office. And it’s what might let them make an M1 Pro and Max Mac mini that won’t need to be water cooled but can be easily fit, by the unit or dozen, into any home or studio workflow, without massive power demands, air conditioner budgets, or noise levels. And M1 Pro and Max iMacs that take up no more room than a Pro Display XDR.
Or, yeah, a new Mac Pro that, absent massive Intel chips and AMD boards, doesn’t have to be anywhere nearly as massive itself. And instead of spending upwards of 300, 400 watts or more on that, they can spend them on scaling up M1… to the extreme.
Because, plot twist, everyone realizes by now Apple was well into working on M1 when the 2019 Mac Pro was announced now, right? So, why did they divert resources to that Intel box… and the 2019 16-inch MacBook Pro? Well… Let me know in the comments if you want to see a dedicated video on how I think all that drama played out, but things like the Afterburner Pro Res Card were designed by the silicon team to give the 2019 Mac Pro an Intel-usable way to gain some of the benefits of what the media engines were going to be able to deliver, built in, for the upcoming M1 Mac Pro, only with the far more extreme performance that comes from being on die, and fed by all that bandwidth and unified memory.
So, what will they deliver on an M1 Mac Pro?
Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman has been covering it for a long while now, most recently in a tweet saying:
For those who think the M1 Pro and M1 Max in the MacBook Pro are impressive, the new Mac Pro desktop is expected to come in at least two variations: 2X and 4X the number of CPU and GPU cores as the M1 Max. That’s up to 40 CPU cores and 128 GPU cores on the high-end.
Here’s what the Information’s Wayne Ma just added:
the next Mac Pro, which targets professional users, will include a processor with at least two dies based on the M1 Max, as part of a family of first-generation processors code-named Jade.
Now, Wayne also dropped a ton of really juicy details about M2 and M3, which I’ll cover in the next video, so make sure you hit that subscribe button and bell, and look for a link below as soon as it goes live.
But, basically, Jade is the M1, or what’s inside the ultra-low-power Macs, including the MacBook Air, 2-port MacBook Pro, silver Mac mini, and 24-inch rainbow iMacs. Jade C-Chop is the M1 Pro, and Jade C-Die is the M1 Max, or what’s inside the new higher-performance, multi-port MacBook Pros.
Next, according to Mark, is Jade 2C Die and Jade 4C Die for the Mac Pro.
And what that sounds like, is rather than a single new monolithic die, or just another even bigger version of M1, like M1 Pro and M1 Max, like an M1 Extreme, Apple’s going to go with dual or quad M1 Max dies, all on the same package.
Whether Apple calls it something like M1 Extreme, or sticks with something more conventional like Dual and Quad M1 Max, we’ll have to wait and see, but that’s purely a marketing decision.
But what it means is, 4 Icestorm efficiency cores, 16 Firestorm performance cores, 64 G13 graphics cores, 64 GB of unified memory, quad H.264 and H.265 encode blocks, and quad ProRes encode and decode blocks… at the entry level. The entry level!
That is, if Apple doesn’t also offer binned down 12 active p-core and… or… 48 active GPU core variants to sneak in below their base price point.
But on the high end — on the high end — 8 e-cores and 32 p-cores for a massive 40 CPU cores, 128 GPU cores, 256 GB of unified memory, eight H.264 and H.265 encode blocks, eight ProRes encode and decode blocks, and a partridge in a flipping pear tree.
And that’s if, enormous if, Apple hasn’t figured out some brilliant or even hella ugly way to add off-package RAM options into the unified system, and some form of the current Intel Mac Pro’s Expansion Module system for even more compute. Either right away or at some point in the future with M2 or M3 architectures.
And yeah, there are whole bunch of questions about how Apple will tie all those dies together on package to really get all the performance possible out of them, but it looks like that’s, in part, exactly how they were engineered to begin with. So, just, fabric all the things!
But either way, any way, that’d be 2x the performance of the new MacBook Pro for the dual version, 4x the performance for the quad version, because… math… with all the unified memory to feed the CPU and 400/Gbps bandwidth to feed the GPU, but both also benefiting both… and that’s just nothing we’ve ever seen from a pro workstation before.
And at a performance-per-watt ratio that just… ratio’s Alder Lake, while almost certainly remaining way cooler, way whisper quieter, and able to fit in an enclosure that would make Intel throttle faster than... most people click out of their hyper-cringe Justin Long ads.