AGE OF ULTRA

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Apple is dominating the silicon race with its M1 Ultra processor

 

With a market capitalisation of over 2 trillion dollars at the time of writing, Apple is among, if not the most, significant companies in the world. The apple with a bite out of it has become one of the brightest beacons of technology, music and growth, and continues to (usually) elevate standards in every industry it plays in.
Revolutionising consumer electronics with the introduction of the Macintosh in 1984, Apple today leads the world in technological innovation. However, analysts over the past decade have been fretting that Apple’s best days are behind it, with the company looking like it had lost its ability to innovate any further. The California-based giant seemed to have resorted to producing and marketing smoke-and-mirror gimmicks over the years, with a growing tendency to remove features and call it innovation – far from the first mover stance it once had in terms of technology.

 

 

Putting all the chatter to dust, Apple did it again! No, not the artful deception with marketing and suave keynotes that the company is notorious for, but rather a product that destabilised the global computing industry at the time. I’m talking about – you guessed it – Apple Silicon. There had been talks about the company moving out of outsourcing to making its proprietary chips for some time, but sceptics were ready to stay firmly put in their camps. Little did they know, Apple was going to change the world as we know it… again. The journey, or Apple’s resurrection if we may dub it, began with the 2020 MacBook Air and Mac Mini, powered by Apple’s new in-house processor, the M1, which took the industry by storm.

The company started with a shift to a completely new CPU architecture based on ARM, the technology that was used in the brand’s iPhone and iPad devices. Using a simpler instruction set than its predecessor (Intel’s Core series of CPUs), the chip was immediately observed to be miles ahead in terms of performance and power efficiency, which, combined with Apple’s hardware-software synergy, snatched the crown from giants like Intel and AMD. When building the M1, Apple had combined the processor, memory, storage, GPU, and AI engine on a single unified chip, helping to minimise the operational latency between each component, further maximising its performance.
The revolutionary M1 was followed in 2021 by the M1 Pro and the M1 Max, with an increased number of transistors, which directly translated into performance gains that dwarfed the original M1’s already-stellar metrics. But then came the biggest gun of all, in March 2022, when Apple unleashed its apex predator – the M1 Ultra. With the M1 series itself already being a giant leap for the industry, the M1 Ultra chooses to travel the path of absolute overkill – in a vulgar display of power that sends its competitors running to their caves.

 

 

Apple has a new packaging architecture – UltraFusion, which interconnects the dies of two M1 Max chips, generating unprecedented, not to mention incredible, levels of performance with head-turning efficiency. The new Mac Studio – easily the smallest desktop computer to pack such an obscene amount of power – boasts a performance-per-watt index that has soundly overthrown all industry standards. The new SoC (system on a chip, the name given to silicon chips that contain a multitude of different subcomponents) consists of 114 billion transistors – the most that have ever existed in a personal computer chip. The M1 Ultra behaves like a single massive chip, boasting 2.5TB/s of low-latency interprocessor bandwidth between the two halves of the chip, 800GB/s memory bandwidth, and 64GB or 128GB of available memory for the whole unit. This bandwidth is more than four times that of even the highest multi-chip interconnection technology from a competitor. As an added bonus, it is a breeze for developers who do not have to rewrite their codes to take advantage of its performance. The Ultra also features 20 CPU cores (16 powerful high-performance cores and 4 power-sipping high-efficiency cores) and 48 or 64 GPU cores, all synergised to function as one. The 64-core GPU alone is eight times the size of the M1 and delivers faster performance than some of the highest-end GPUs currently available, all the while consuming 200 fewer watts of power under peak load.

The M1 Ultra’s unique architecture has enabled Apple to deliver multi-threaded performance that is a whopping 90% higher than the fastest competing product in the same category. Peak performance with this chip is reached using 100 fewer watts, meaning significantly less energy is consumed to deliver the same or higher levels of performance. The fans of the Mac Studio run quietly, even when loaded with heavily demanding software like Final Cut Pro or Logic Pro. Regardless of the task thrown at it, the computer rips through it all without even breaking a sweat. If this isn’t enough to sweep you off your feet, knowing that this incredible achievement of technology comes housed inside a compact box and not a giant tower might. Apple deserves kudos for finally gaining back its reputation for industry-leading innovation.

Apple claims that over the course of a year, the Mac Studio will consume up to a thousand kilowatt-hours less energy than a high-end computer built using competitor components. What this translates into actually goes far beyond the user experience, as it has a massive impact on the environment as well. Apple is already carbon neutral for global corporate operations, and within the next eight years, there are plans to have a net-zero climate impact throughout the entire business, including manufacturing and across the life cycles of all its products. The vision is to be 100% carbon-neutral for the production and deployment of every chip built by Apple.

 

The M1 Ultra behaves like a single massive chip, boasting 2.5TB/s of low-latency interprocessor bandwidth between the two halves of the chip, 800GB/s memory bandwidth, and 64GB or 128GB of available memory for the whole unit.

 

Whenever we talk about the Mac experience, the perfect marriage of hardware and software comes to mind. MacOS Monterey (or MacOS 12), the current version of Apple’s desktop operating system, has been designed to take advantage of the M1 Ultra’s full potential. While many programs running under the new version of the OS are yet to be updated to utilise both halves of the M1 Ultra, the revolution has already started, and the gains speak for themselves. With M1 users now having the largest collection of apps at their disposal, including iPhone and iPad apps (which are supported natively by the M1 family), Apple has managed to establish an ecosystem that is truly unified across all its platforms.

When the M1 was released, Apple had boldly stated that it was just the beginning, and the company has not disappointed so far with its subsequent iterations, handily stripping competitors of their glory. It is safe to say that if ARM is not adopted as a marketwide standard for CPU architectures, and Apple is not caught up with it, the likes of AMD and Intel might as well throw in the towel. Interestingly, Qualcomm has claimed that it is on the verge of making chips that will match Apple Silicon by no later than 2023. However, until that happens, Apple can keep riding its wave of silicon supremacy. Apple Silicon has been introduced to every Mac in the current lineup, and it is safe to assume that the tech titan has many more tricks saved up its sleeve for the years to come. We will just have to wait and see.

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