In 2020 Apple began using its own desktop processors in its Macs, starting with the arrival of the M1 processor in the MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro, Mac mini, and 24-inch iMac. We’ve since seen the debut of the higher-end versions in the form of the M1 Max and M1 Pro, which arrived in the 14-inch MacBook Pro and 16-inch MacBook Pro in October 2021, and finally the M1 Ultra, which debuted with the new Mac Studio in March 2022.
Now Apple has revealed the details of the second generation of Apple silicon. We’ve gathered all the news about what to expect from Apple’s M2 system on chip and all its variants, including the first Macs to feature them.
Be sure to read our review of the M2 MacBook Pro for the full benchmarks of the M2 chip.
M2 chip: Release date
Apple has confirmed that the first M2 chips will ship with the MacBook Air and 13in MacBook Pro. Pre-orders for the M2 MacBook Pro start on June 17. Apple has promised the MacBook Air will ship in July.
M2 chip: Specs
As with the M1-series, the M2 will, like the M1, be aimed at consumers rather than professionals. Its focus is on energy efficiency as well as general performance enhancements over the M1 it will replace. See: M2 vs M1, M1 Pro, M1 Max, M1 Ultra.
While the manufacturing process remains at 5 nanometers, the M2 uses the second-generation 5-nanometer technology, as expected. TSMC’s next generation N4P process, is an enhanced version of the 5 nanometer process and is supposed to deliver about 11 percentage points more performance and almost 22 percentage points more efficiency compared to the conventional 5 nanometer process (used for the production of A15 and M1, M1 Pro and Max). Apple makes claims that seem to meet these expectations.
According to Apple the M2 offers: “an 18 percent faster CPU, a 35 percent more powerful GPU, and a 40 percent faster Neural Engine.” There is also 50 percent more memory bandwidth compared to M1, and up to 24GB of fast unified memory, which will please many who felt limited by the 16GB cut off offered by the M1.
Apple is likely to build on the M2 chip and introduce the Pro, Max and Ultra variants of that.
We had seen reports that Apple will keep the same 8 CPU cores as on the M1 and this is the case, however, the improvements offered by the M2 should mean that the new Macs are much more powerful and energy efficient than the predecessor.
The N4P process, mentioned above, allows for a greater transistor density, which could allow individual cores to be clocked a little faster than in the M1. There are 25 percent more transistors than in the M1, which allow for improvements to the memory controller and memory bandwidth.
As with the M1, the CPU cores are split into high performance and high efficiency variants. The faster performance cores are paired with a larger cache, while the efficiency cores see even greater performance gains, according to Apple.
Apple claims: “Compared with the latest 10-core PC laptop chip, the CPU in M2 provides nearly twice the performance at the same power level.”
Compared to PCs with more CPU cores, the M2 is able to provide almost as much performance with a fraction of the power consumption. According to Apple: “M2 provides nearly 90 percent of the peak performance of the 12-core chip while using just one-fourth the power.”
In our tests of the M2 MacBook Pro we could see that the multi-core result was still below that of the M1 Pro, although when it came to single-core it beat the M1 Pro.
Apple has also expanded the graphics card performance to ten graphics cores, two more than the current M1. This was anticipated.
Apple claims the 10-core GPU delivers “up to 25 percent higher graphics performance than M1 at the same power level”, thanks to the larger cache and higher memory bandwidth. At maximum power this is 35 percent better, claims Apple.
Apple also claims that the GPU delivers 2.3x faster performance compared to the latest integrated graphics (while using a fifth of the power).
Thanks to the additional GPU cores, 10-cores rather than the 8-core limit of the M1, the M2 performs better than the M1, but it’s still below the M1 Pro with 14-cores. None of which should be a surprise.
There are bound to be people hoping that the M2 will support more RAM than the M1 currently does (the M1 maxes out at 16GB RAM, while the M1 Pro can support 32GB, the M1 Max 64GB and the M1 Ultra 128GB). The good news is that the M2 does support more memory – up to 24GB worth.
In addition, the memory controller 100GB/s of unified memory bandwidth, which is 50 percent more than M1.
Apple’s claims about power efficiency might lead you to expect better battery life, but battery life is still 18 hours.
Which Macs will get the M2 processor?
Apple has confirmed M2 updates for the MacBook Air and 13in MacBook Pro. We expect that the M1 Mac mini and 24-inch Mac will also see a similar update, likely by the fall.
Plus, with the iPad Pro currently sporting the M1 chip, it could be that the anticipated iPad Pro (2022) goes down the M2 route.
What about the M2 Pro, M2 Max, and M2 Ultra?
There will be readers who want to know what is in store for the Pro, Max and Ultra variants on the M2. The M1 Pro and M1 Max have already proven to be very capable, and there are great expectations for the M1 Ultra, so the future developments of Apple’s strategy here look very exciting. We’re likely to see these variations across 2023.
And the M3…
The M2 will be great, we have no doubt about that, but just a year later we could see something even better that will bring an even more massive leap in performance compared to the current generation.
TSMC is said to be testing processors made using the 3nm process, which should allow even higher transistor density, and these are likely to be destined for the M3 and A17 chips, according to Digitimes. TSMC had previously had to postpone its 3nm plans due to the complexities with the process. The Information has reported that Apple’s M3 chips have the code names Ibiza, Lobos and Palma.
According to Digitimes, the first products using the 3nm processor will be released in the first quarter of 2023 with production starting at the end of 2022. Qualcomm, Samsung and Intel are all set to use the 3nm process.
The M3 chip is likely to bring a significant increase in performance compared to the M1 chips, with the high-end chips being built with two boards and offering up to 40 CPU cores.