The Apple M1 Pro is a system-on-a-chip designed by Apple based on the Apple M1 SoC for the fifth-generation 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro devices. Launched on 18 October 2021 during a virtual event, it is marketed as a professional-focused chip alongside the more powerful and technically advanced Apple M1 Max.
Architecture and Specs: Understanding the Difference Between the Apple M1 Pro and the Apple M1
Note that the M1 Pro is not a new generation of the Apple M series of systems-on-chips. It is largely based on the Apple M1 and utilizes the same five-nanometer process node. Because of this base design, it is also considerably similar to the A14 Bionic chip found in the iPhone 12 series of smartphones and the 4th generation iPad Air.
It is still based on the ARM instruction set architecture and microarchitecture, and the overall reduced instruction set computing or RISC architecture. Remember that Apple started ditching Intel Core processors for ARM with the introduction of its Apple Silicon for its Mac line of desktop and laptop computers. The launch of the Apple M1 in 2020 marked the transition from the x86 architecture of Intel and CISC architecture to ARM and RISC architectures.
Nevertheless, despite not being a next-generation Apple Silicon system-on-a-chip, it is still considerably technically superior to its predecessor. Nonetheless, to understand the similarities and differences between the Apple M1 Pro and the Apple M1 better, it is important to take note of its key hardware and technical specifications.
Hardware and Technical Specifications
Central Processing Unit: Similar to the base configuration of the Apple M1, the base variant of the Apple M1 Pro has the same 8-core configuration similar to the big.LITTLE heterogeneous computing feature of ARM. However, the more advanced version has a 10-core configuration with 8 high-performance “Firestorm” cores called and 2 energy-efficient “Icestorm” cores. Apple noted that it delivers up to 70 percent faster CPU performance than the M1.
Graphics Processing Unit: The base variant has a 14-core GPU and the high-tier variant has a 16-core GPU compared to the 7-core to 8-core GPU configuration of the M1. The graphics performance is said to be up to 2 times faster than the M1 and up to 7 times faster than the integrated graphics processor found in the MSI GP66 Leopard device.
Neural Engine: It has the same 16-core Neural Engine across all variants similar to the Apple M1 chip for on-device machine learning acceleration that can execute 11 trillion operations per second.
Random Access Memory: The base variant of the M1 Pro has a 16GB unified memory compared to the 8GB of the base variant of the M1. Consumers have the option to choose an M1 Pro device with 32GB memory. The memory bandwidth is up to 200GB/s. In addition, the unified memory is also based on LPDDR5-6400 SDRAM compared to the LPDDR4X SDRAM of the Apple M1.
Media Engines and ProRes Accelerators: Another difference between the M1 Pro and the M1 is that the latter has dedicated advanced media engines and a ProRes accelerator engine that enable faster professional video processing while maximizing battery life. The dedicated ProRes accelerator specifically allows playback of multiple streams of high-quality 4K and 8K ProRes video.
Other Components: There is also a new display engine to allow multiple external displays, the addition of integrated Thunderbolt 4 controllers to provide better I/O bandwidth, the same custom image signal processor that uses computational video alongside the Neural Engine to enhance the performance of the built-in camera, and the latest Secure Enclave coprocessor for hardware-based key management.
A Further Look: Understanding the Difference Between the Apple M1 Pro and the Apple M1 Max
Remember that both the Apple M1 Pro and the Apple M1 Max are the upgraded versions of the Apple M1. It is also important to note that the the variants of the Pro and the Max are available in the 5th-generation 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models. Nevertheless, when compared, the Apple M1 Max is the faster and better chip than the Apple M1 Pro.
Future models of high-end and professional-grade Mac desktop computers will feature the M1 Max. Nonetheless, the availability of the two chips essentially tells that the Max version is marketed for heavy users such as professional graphic designers and video editors.
But what exactly is the difference between the M1 Pro and the M1 Max? For starters, both have the same 10-core CPU configuration for the base variants, but the latter starts with a 16-core GPU configuration. The Max version also starts with a 32GB unified memory.
It is also important to highlight the fact that the M1 Max has 57 billion transistors, which is 70 percent more than the number of transistors in the M1 Pro. Take note that the Apple M1 only has 16 billion transistors. The memory bandwidth is up to 400 GB/s compared to the 200GB/s of the M1 Pro, thereby allowing it to be configured with up to 64GB of unified memory.
The physical dimension of the Apple M1 Max is also larger than the M1 Pro and further dwarfs the physical dimension of the earlier M1 version. Hence, this is the reason that it packs more transistors and more advanced integrated hardware components than the M1 Pro and the M1 despite using the same 5nm process nodes.
Pros and Cons: Understanding the Advantages and Disadvantages of the Apple M1 Pro
An Overview of the Advantages
Of course, because it is based on the Apple M1 SoC, it naturally inherits the advantages of RISC architecture and ARM architecture. Compared to the x86 architecture of Intel and other CISC-based processors, RISC-based processors are easier to design and deploy. They also have lower per-chip costs because they require smaller hardware components.
Power efficiency is also another advantage when compared to x86 and CISC architectures. The M1 Pro inherently has a good performance per watt and produces less heat than chips from Intel or other x86-based chips from other manufacturers.
The introduction of the Apple M1 Pro marks another turning point in the transition of Apple to ARM-based desktop and laptop computers, thereby encouraging software developers to code and deploy apps based on the ARM architecture.
It is also aligned with the similar ARM-based Apple A Bionic series of system-on-chips designed for the iPhone and the iPad. Fundamentally, this means that apps developed for iOS and iPadOS can theoretically run natively on the macOS. Users will benefit from cross-platform compatibility and better availability of apps.
The initial benchmark tests and real-world applications of M1-powered Mac Mini, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro from software developers and tech enthusiasts revealed interesting results. A number of observers have expected the same for the M1 Pro.
Nevertheless, Geekbench showed the 8-core M1 Pro has a single-core performance score of 1767 compared to the score of the 8-core M1. In addition, for the multi-core performance, it achieved a score of 9948 compared to 7582 of the M1. However, when compared to the M1 Max and other specific benchmark standards, the M1 Pro seems to fall short.
A Look Into the Disadvantages
Devices equipped with the Apple M1 Pro cannot compete head-on with dedicated gaming laptops running Windows operating system. The performance crunch can be noticeable on considerably lower frames-per-second.
Maximizing the advantages of the Apple M1 Pro would require consumers to choose the variant with the higher configuration, particularly the one with the 10-core CPU, as well as higher GPU cores and higher unified memory. However, this comes with a considerable drawback: MacBook devices equipped with this chip are expensive.
To illustrate further, the 10-core CPU and 10-core GPU M1 Pro found in the 1TB 14-inch MacBook Pro retails at USD 2499.00, while the similarly-configured M1 Pro found in the 1TB 16-inch MacBook Pro retails at USD 2699.00.
It is also worth mentioning that RAM upgrades are expensive. Choosing a unified memory with a higher capacity means letting go of hundreds of dollars. For example, the base M1 Pro 14-inch MacBook Pro with 16GB of RAM retails at USD 1999.00 but configuring it with 32GB of RAM will mean adding USD 400.00 to the final price tag.
Undeniably, the Apple M1 Pro is a state-of-the-art piece of hardware that demonstrated advancements in chipmaking technologies. It is indeed a very powerful and capable SoC. However, its high price tag relative to performance is a major drawback.