What is Apple Silicon?

Here you can see "Apple M1 Max" next to "Chip" - no word from Intel, so we have an Apple Silicon Mac in front of us here.

You've probably heard the term "Apple Silicon" before, but some might be wondering what exactly it means. Since we also use it in various blog posts, we also want to directly provide an article explaining what "Apple Silicon" is.

Short and sweet – “Apple Silicon” explained

To explain the term very briefly:

Apple Silicon is the name for Apple's own family of ARM-based processors used in Mac computers. These chips are known for their high performance and energy efficiency. Examples of Apple Silicon processors are the M1, M2 and M3.

That was basically the explanation of what Apple Silicon is. If you'd like more background information and a bit of history, you're more than welcome to read on.

apple silicon image
Apple Silicon is the chip architecture that Apple relies on after switching from Intel (source: Apple).

ARM, RISC and PowerPC

Interesting fact: Before Apple switched to Intel in 2005, they had PowerPC processors, which were also developed according to the RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computing) principle, as is the case with the ARM processors. I would like to briefly explain what all these terms are all about:

  • RISC principle: Both ARM and PowerPC are based on the RISC principle. RISC stands for an architecture that uses a smaller set of instructions to speed up processing. It enables more efficient use of processor power and energy.
  • ARM: ARM (Advanced RISC Machine) is a modern implementation of the RISC principle and is used in many mobile devices. Apple Silicon is also based on the ARM architecture and is known for its energy efficiency and performance.
  • PowerPC: PowerPC was a RISC-based processor architecture developed by Apple in collaboration with IBM and Motorola. It was used in Macs until 2005 before Apple switched to Intel. PowerPC offered good performance but struggled to keep up with the development of Intel chips.
  • Intel and CISC: Intel chips are based on the CISC (Complex Instruction Set Computing) principle, which uses a larger number of more complex instructions than RISC. This allows for more flexibility, but can also lead to higher energy consumption.

With the move to Apple Silicon, Apple returned to its RISC roots, using an architecture similar to the PowerPC in philosophy but with modern technology and design.

The decision also shows Apple's willingness to use different technologies to achieve the best performance and efficiency for their products.

ARM, Apple Silicon, RISC - all of this is briefly explained here (Photo: Unsplash).
ARM, Apple Silicon, RISC - all of this is briefly explained here (Photo: Unsplash).

What is an ARM chip?

As mentioned above, ARM stands for "Advanced RISC Machine", and it is a type of processor architecture that contains a small instruction set, but scores in terms of energy efficiency. Unlike complex instruction set architectures (CISC), RISC uses a smaller number of instructions that can be executed in a single clock cycle. This leads to more efficient processing.

ARM itself does not manufacture physical processors. Instead, the company licenses its architecture to other manufacturers, who then produce their own chips based on the ARM designs. This has led to wide acceptance of the technology in the industry.

The ARM architecture is highly scalable. This means it can be used in a wide variety of applications, from simple embedded systems to powerful servers. In addition, ARM chips often contain other components such as graphics processing units (GPUs) and signal processors that allow for tighter integration and optimization for specific tasks - such as the neural engine in the Apple Silicon ARM chips.

In practice, ARM processors can be found in a variety of devices, from smartphones and smart TVs to IoT devices and laptops. With Apple devices, they are used in the Apple Watch as well as in the iPad, iPhone, Apple TV, Mac and even in the AR/VR glasses Vision Pro.

With the M1 chip and subsequent versions, Apple incorporated the ARM architecture into its Mac computers under the name "Apple Silicon," demonstrating the importance of ARM in modern computing technology.

The differences between Apple silicon chips and Intel chips are currently still clearly noticeable. However, this could change in the future.
The differences between Apple silicon chips and Intel chips are currently still clearly noticeable. However, this could change in the future.

Differences between Apple Silicon and Intel processors

Apple Silicon and Intel processors are two different approaches to computer architecture, each with their own characteristics.

Here are some of the main differences:

  • development and control: While Intel chips are manufactured by an outside company, Apple silicon chips are developed internally by Apple. This allows Apple to better integrate hardware and software. At the same time, when planning their devices, they are not dependent on another company and its chip development. Win-win for Apple.
  • architecture: Apple Silicon is based on the ARM architecture optimized for mobile devices, while Intel is based on the x86 architecture traditionally used in desktop computers. The Intel processors come with the corresponding disadvantages that this type of processors bring with them: strong heat development and poor energy efficiency.
  • OS integration: Apple silicon is specifically tuned for macOS, allowing for tighter integration with the operating system. This enables functions and security features such as Secure Enclave that would otherwise not be possible. With Intel, there is broader compatibility with different operating systems, but without the specific optimization for macOS.
  • power consumption: Apple Silicon is known for its energy efficiency, while Intel chips tend to consume more energy. As a result, the battery life of Apple laptops is better than that of Intel laptops.
  • Price: Because Apple manufactures the Apple Silicon chips themselves, they can better control costs, which may affect the final price of Macs. But let's not get our hopes up that Apple will give us a super special price - in the end, they're more likely to rake in more profits than pass the price advantages on to us.

These differences lead to a number of considerations when choosing between an Apple Silicon-powered Mac or an older Intel-based Mac.

Personally, I've used Macs with both types of processors, and I would never go back to an Intel Mac. The Intel downfall security issue is another nail in the coffin for Intel Macs. So if you are about to make a purchase: Take an Apple Silicon Mac.

Incidentally, the differences should even out over time, because Intel also seems to be planning to develop an ARM chip, as you can see in this video erfährt.

The advantages of ARM-based chips

With Apple Silicon you benefit from improved energy efficiency, faster response times and better overall performance of your Mac. These benefits go well beyond mere speed.

The ARM architecture, on which Apple Silicon is based, brings with it a number of advantages that are evident in several places in everyday life:

  • Tighter integration of hardware and software: Starting from an Apple Silicon Mac is more like booting an iPad. Everything starts relatively quickly and opening apps and files is quick and easy.
  • Improved energy efficiency: Longer battery life so you can work or play longer.
  • Efficient heat dissipation: A quieter system because the fans don't need to come on as often. Some Mac models even do without fans completely.
  • Increased security: Special hardware functions protect your data (see Secure Enclave, Touch ID).
  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning support: Opens the door to new and exciting applications as the chips have special cores for machine learning (Apple Neural Engine).
  • Better compatibility and stability: Tight alignment between macOS and Apple Silicon processors appears to allow for optimization that results in fewer unresponsive apps and crashes.
  • Increased performance for demanding tasks: Smoother work with video editing or 3D rendering - anyone who has rendered a video on an Intel Mac and once on an Apple Silicon Mac should confirm that.

In my view, these advantages together make Apple Silicon a powerful and future-oriented technology that has raised the Mac to a new level of performance.

The Secure Enclave is a proprietary processor built into the Apple silicon chip - something not currently found in Intel processors.
The Secure Enclave is a proprietary processor built into the Apple silicon chip - something not currently found in Intel processors.

The successful move from Intel to Apple Silicon

Moving all Macs to Apple Silicon was a strategic decision by Apple to have more control over the hardware.

From my point of view (and probably many other Mac users as well) the transition went smoothly and without any major problems - which is a nice change from the switch from PowerPC to Intel in 2005 and 2006, which wasn't fun at the time. Endless crashes, programs that no longer work and much more that made everyday work very tough.

For Apple, however, the recent switch from Intel to Apple Silicon was not a leap in the deep end. The company had already gained valuable experience with iOS and the Ax processors of the iPhone and iPad. This experience allowed Apple to make the transition smooth and without major issues.

All Mac models are now equipped with Apple Silicon, which is a great advantage for Apple, because in a few years they can completely remove support for Intel Macs from macOS. Then macOS can be completely optimized for Apple Silicon.

Price question: Do I have an Apple Silicon or Intel Mac?

To find out, do the following:

  1. opens the Apple menu ()
  2. then select “About This Mac”
  3. For Mac computers with an Intel processor, the name of an Intel processor is displayed under Chip or Processor. If it says something about “Apple”, then it is an Apple silicon chip.

Did I miss something in the post that should be said about Apple Silicon? Then please leave me a comment here.

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