The biggest Apple news of 2020 was the start of the transition of the Mac to Apple silicon. Alex Gollner writes about how the transition might go over the next two years. Tell us what you think in the comments below!
I’d say you’re waaaaaaaaay on the LOW end in terms of GPU cores. I feel like I can almost guarantee that they’ll be in the 20s if not even 30s on the high-end.
And are you suggesting that they’ll still be selling INTELS in SPRING of ’22? I don't see that making any sense.
I also don’t see how the Mac Pro is the most difficult to transition either since the current CPUs are in fact socketed. I’d almost bet my left maraca that there will even be AS "upgrade kits" of sorts for existing machines (along with new machines as well of course) so as not to completely piss off the owners of $20+K machines for one. 😏 Pop out the old, pop in the new. Same goes for all current iMac models btw. I already wondered why they suddenly—for the first time ever—got socketed CPUs in the latest models. This may well be the reason?!
Should be a very interesting year full of fun speculation… and amazing hardware! either way. 😉
Interesting article. At first glance I wasn't sure how how semiconductor physics will permit a 64GB SoC by mid-2021, when "unified memory" implies the CPU, GPU and DRAM must all be packaged together. This is an issue because the M1's transistor budget is "only" 16 billion using 5nm fabrication. 3nm won't be available in full production until 2H2022.
If we conservatively predict TSMC's 5nm process could produce an approx. 180 mm^2 die, that might increase the transistor budget of a hypothetical M2 by 50% to about 24 billion. Comparing that to published die shots of the M1 (above), that's very roughly in line with Alex's estimate of 8 CPU "power cores" and 10 GPU cores in the M2.
But good as the M1 GPU is, and even with the efficiency of tile-based deferred rendering (developer.apple.com/videos/play/wwdc2020/10632/) the M-series needs a lot more GPU horsepower for certain tasks. I don't see how it could fit on the current die at 5nm. Given Apple's current direction and the requirement for extreme bandwidth, it seems unlikely this would be a discrete GPU on PCIe or any other published bus. I see three possibilities, all centered around maintaining the "unified memory" approach. In order of increasing bandwidth, these are:
- A physically discrete soldered-in proprietary Apple GPU in a separate package, communicating via a proprietary ultra-speed bus.
- Similar to DRAM, an on-package GPU inside the SoC using an even faster on-package bus.
- "Chiplet" design GPU. IOW a small die integrated onto the same substrate as the SoC die. This would be necessary because of insufficient transistor budget at 5nm to produce a high-core-count on-die GPU: semiengineering.com/the-good-and-bad-of-chiplets/
In theory any of the above would free up the die space currently occupied by the integrated GPU, making that available for more cores or other IP blocks.
Eventually TSMC's 3nm process should increase areal density to about 250 million transistors per square mm by around 2H2022. If we do the math that implies maybe 50 billion transistors on a 180 mm^2 die, which might enable bringing a higher-core-count GPU back on die. The advantages would be higher speed and improved manufacturing economics: fuse.wikichip.org/news/3453/tsmc-ramps-5...r-square-millimeter/
I'm not a semiconductor engineer, this is only speculation.
Although it has been years since Apple did CPU upgrades for current Macs, they might make a M3 board to put into current Mac Pro sockets. That will cheer up those who have invested since December 2019.
On the other hand, I expect there’ll be an Apple silicon Mac Pro with a new logic board. Firstly to make the most of a wider bus into the M3 SoC for PCI cards and MPX modules (beyond the extra power and extra signals to distribute DisplayPort connections). Secondly Apple will be competing with themselves when it comes to the speed of off-SoC memory.
Great article, well thought out, crossing our fingers for sure. In my previous life, when I was an IT project manager, I remember (back in the 90s) reading technical articles by some very smart and experienced engineers saying x number of MBs per second was the limit for current (at that time) CPUs because no one had figured out how to go thinner, and that wouldn't happen for some time. Same with the limit on HDD capacity and speed.
In a fraction of the time predicted by the industries best of the best at that time, poof, we passed all those limitations up and were on to a whole new universe of PCs and Macs.
Only time will tell and it will be exciting to see what happens with Apple Silicon over the next 2-4 years.
As for folks who invested in $20K+ Mac Pros, well... any time you purchase any computer, no matter how cutting edge and badass, you HAVE to know something way better will be along really soon. That's just part of modern life. Does anyone think their mega-bucks MP will be the end all and be all of Macs for more than a year or two?
My thinking is if Apple can afford to wait based on the Osborne effect on their Intel line?
Who will buy a new Intel Mac right now? The only two customer segments I see are software developers (who needs virtualization) and creatives (who have a lot of plugins and specialized programs) .
From a model perspective would I see a launch of a new iMac as most important to all other customer segments, and then both 14” & 16” laptop for them who needs a larger screen than 13” and/or more than one external screen.
After using the Mac Mini M1 for a few weeks, I don’t see the lack of external GPU as the biggest issue. Software compatibility as a video and sound editor is much bigger hurdle, and will be less problem in six months time is my guessing.
If you own an iMac or four port MacBook Pro today, my guess is that you would delay the purchase of a new Mac, but not switch to a PC. PC laptop owners would probably buy the new MacBook Air or new MacBook, so Apple will probably not loose any sales to this customer segment.
This is why I guess we will see a new iMac with Apple Silicon as fast as TMC can ramp up the production. Hopefully in a new design instead of existing one.