Apple Rolls Out M2—Its Second-gen Mac Processor
Continuing its commitment to in-house silicon for the Mac, Apple has released its second-generation processor: the M2. However, how does it stack up compared to the M1?
When Apple first announced that it’d be switching from Intel’s silicon to its own in-house silicon for the future of its Mac processors, people raised a lot of questions. Fast forward almost two years later and what has ensued has been the M1 family of processors, which arguably offers some of the best performance of anything on the market.
Apple M1 vs M2 processors. Image used courtesy of Apple
Now Apple is doubling down on its in-house silicon efforts. Yesterday, Apple announced the release of its next MacBook Air, a device that will be the first to feature its new, second-generation processor family: the M2.
In this article, we’ll look at what is known about M2, its architecture, performance, and how it improves on M1.
M2 vs M1 Architecture
From what we currently know, the Apple M2 processor is very similar architecturally to the M1. However, a key difference is that M2 leverages a higher transistor count at the 5 nm node and a larger die size to integrate more functionality into the system-on-a-chip (SoC).
According to Apple at its WWDC 2022 event [video], the M2 features a total of 20 billion transistors, a number which is roughly 25% greater than the M1. This increase in transistor count results in improvements such as more on-chip memory, more shared L2 cache, and more graphics processing unit (GPU) cores compared to the M1 architecture.
Overview of the M2 processor. Screenshot used courtesy of Apple [video]
From a high level, the M2 is a highly integrated SoC built on a heterogeneous architecture, leveraging several hardware accelerator blocks to boost performance. Within this, the M2 is based around an 8-core central processing unit (CPU), which consists of 4 “performance cores” for more intense processing and 4 “efficiency cores” for low power tasks.
Additionally, the CPU cluster features 16 MB of shared L2 cache for the performance cores, up from 12 MB on M1, and 4 MB shared for the efficiency cores.
Apple claims that the 10-core GPU then complements the CPU cluster compared to the 8-core GPU offering in M1, a 16-core Neural Engine, and 24 GB of total unified memory capacity (~50% more than M1). Other features include an updated image signal processor (ISP) and an improved Secure Enclave security chip.
M2 vs M1 Performance
From a performance perspective, Apple could leverage the higher transistor count and other system-level innovations to boost performance.
Starting with the CPU cluster, Apple states that improvements to the efficiency cores and increased subsystem cache allow the M2’s cluster to achieve an 18% improvement in multithreaded performance over M1 while at the same power expenditure.
M2 features better GPU performance vs power than M1. Image used courtesy of Apple
This performance is matched at the GPU, where the increase from 8 to 10 cores and suspected clock rate increases. These increases can then allow the M2’s GPU a baseline improvement in the performance of 25% over M1 and up to 35% at max power (~15 W).
According to Apple, the GPU can process up to 3.6 TFLOPS compared to M1’s 2.6 TFLOPS. Improvements in the Neural Engine have also allowed processing capabilities up to 15.8 TOPS compared to M1’s 11 TOPS, marking a gain of over 40%.
Beyond this, the whole system is said to benefit from a large memory coupled with a memory controller that offers 100 GB/s of unified memory bandwidth, 50% more than M1.
Altogether, Apple claims that M2 can deliver 90% of the peak performance of competing for 12-core chips while using 25% of the power. This combination of power efficiency and performance has enabled the new MacBook Air the impressive distinction of being a fanless design.
The In-house Silicon Momentum Keeps on Rolling
While more details and benchmarks are likely to be released in the coming months, what we know about Apple’s M2 processor is that it appears to be an imposing piece of silicon. Building off of the momentum of the M1 family, Apple seems to have continued its trend of hardware excellence with its new M2 family.
What do you think about Apple's M2 processor? What are your thoughts on Apple ramping up its in-house silicon movement? Let us know in the comments down below.