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Apple Unveils new M2 Chip in New Macs

Apple’s M2 chip has arrived. It will be deployed in Apple’s most popular Mac models and scale up through the product line over time.

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ApAt Apple’s WWDC 2022 keynote yesterday the Cupertino, California company unveiled two new Mac laptops featuring the latest Apple Silicon processor, the M2.

The M2, like the M1, is built on a 5-nanometer node but is built on enhanced second-generation process technology. Despite this node “enhancement”, Apple has eeked out significant performance improvement over the M1 processor. Let’s dig into what this means for professional apps like CAD and 3D.

First the Macs

So the M2—which will likely be the first in a series of M2-derived chips—goes into the Apple MacBook Air and MacBook Pro 13-in models. Apple is largely following a logic first deployed with the M1, taking new Apple Silicon into the company’s most popular computer products (their lightest and most affordable laptops).

Apple’s new MacBook Pro 13-in. model features the new M2 processor.

The logic of this makes further sense because the new M2 while over-performing the M1 does not over-perform higher-end models based on the M1 Pro and M1 Max. Recall that the M1 Pro offers up to 32GB of unified memory and up to 200GB/s memory bandwidth.

The new M2 offers up to 24GB of unified memory and 100GB/s memory bandwidth, still below the M1 Pro and M1 Max.

M2 Performance

Apple testing shows the M2 to be 1.4x faster than the M1 chip. It has a significantly faster GPU in particular and 50 percent faster memory bandwidth. Now that its memory bandwidth is at 100GB/s it exceeds the theoretical maximum memory bandwidth for Intel Core X-series processors per this Intel calculation.

Apple M2

Apple Silicon has now moved to the M2 chip. Although just based on a process node enhancement, Apple yields non-trivial performance improvements.

Apple says the M2 is 18 percent faster at the CPU level than the M1. In our own M1-based Mac mini tests from a year ago, we achieved a Geekbench 5 score of 1748. An 18 percent improvement on that is another 314.6 (315 Geekbench 5 points, yielding a grand total score of 2,063.

Apple doesn’t use Geekbench 5 to confirm that 18 percent faster CPU performance, but rather Final Cut Pro tests. So we really don’t know if the M2 achieves up to 2,000 on the single-core Geekbench test. If it did, however, it would essentially tie the top Intel i9 12900K chip. (see our Guide to Selecting Optimal CPU for Your Workstation section inside this Xpresso newsletter issue).

New MacBook Pro 13 for CAD/3D

Originally, the M1 while lauded for its single-core and multi-core CPU performance, did not necessarily win over the critics for its GPU performance. So the 35 percent improvement in GPU performance by the M2 is definitely appreciable.

As far as a mobile CAD or BIM laptop is concerned, an M2-based MacBook Pro 13-in model would make an excellent machine to have in the home office or to carry around to job sites. Since most CAD, BIM, and 3D modeling tools like SketchUp are single-threaded codebases, the M2 would run everything from SketchUp to SolidWorks as fast if not faster than just about any chip out there. Now SolidWorks is not written for macOS much less Apple Silicon, but if it was, it would perform very well on the M2. Sames goes for Revit, another frequency-bound, dominantly single-threaded BIM tool that is also not written for macOS.

As we learned from the Vectorworks folks, Apple’s system on a chip (SoC) approach with Apple Silicon has advantages that are simply not there to be had on Intel X86 architectures where the memory for the GPU and the memory for the CPU are separate things with an interconnect between them. As Steve Johnson, senior vice president of Vectorworks told Architosh, “With Apple Silicon, we don’t have to copy so much data around memory because of the System on Chip’s integrated memory architecture.” (see: Architosh, “The Gift That Keeps On Giving—Vectorworks Talks Apple Silicon,” 3 May 2022)

Apple M2 vs M1

The M2 is significantly larger than the M1, with 20 billion transistors versus 16 billion for the M1. A key difference is making room for 10 GPU cores versus the 8 on the M1.

It especially means for BIM projects in AEC, those large models move around much faster when data can be cached. As Johnson says about the BIM program Vectorworks Architect, which is fully native to Apple Silicon, “we love it because the caches make these transitions from 3D views to 2D plan views much faster.”

Apple’s new M2 Macs mark the first step toward a new set of upgrades across their Apple Silicon-based product line. The one Mac not yet on Apple Silicon is the new Mac Pro. We now expect that machine to be introduced only after Apple prepares M2 Pro, M2 Max, and M2 Ultra-based Macs. In other words, Apple must go through its entire Mac product line first and this is because of the modularity of Apple Silicon. The upcoming Mac Pro is rumored to feature 2x Ultra chips (or 4x Max chips).

Architosh Analysis

For a more detailed look at the differences between the M1 and M2 chips, AnandTech has taken a deep dive

The M2 does feature “architectural” changes, including possible new “Avalanche” performance cores and “Blizzard” efficiency cores in the M2 versus the “Firestorm” and “Icestorm” cores of the M1. AnandTech suggests this because of the timing (how long it has been since M1). The publication also notes that the M1 versus the M2 is similar to the A14 versus the A15. 

They state, “the M2 looks a lot like a derivative of the A15 SoC, similar to how the M1 was derived from A14. As a result, at first glance, the M1 to M2 upgrade looks quite similar to the A14 to A15 upgrade. 

The M2 takes the total transistor count from 16 billion in the M1 to 20 billion. This is a significant increase. The M1 Pro has 33.7 billion transistors or essentially 2x times what the M1 has. That provides a bit of comparison for folks on the line between a larger MacBook Pro and the new M2-based MacBook Pro 13-in. 

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