This month, Apple introduced the M2 chip – the second-generation custom silicon chip for the Mac. After the M1 chip revolutionized the Mac starting in November 2020, how much better really is the M2?
Apple says that the ?M2? chip takes the performance per watt of the ?M1? even further with an 18 percent faster CPU, a 35 percent more powerful GPU, and a 40 percent faster Neural Engine. There are also other significant enhancements such as more memory bandwidth and support for up to 24GB of unified memory.
As the second major iteration of Apple silicon, it may not be clear how significant of an improvement the ?M2? is over the ?M1?, especially as it sticks with a 5nm fabrication process, contrary to some rumors that suggested a bigger performance and efficiency leap would be in store. The ?M2? chip debuts in the 13-inch MacBook Pro and the redesigned MacBook Air, so the extent to which the ?M2? is better than its predecessor could be an important consideration when purchasing a new Mac. Read on to learn more about the differences between the two chips.
Made using TSMC’s 5nm process (N5)
16 billion transistors
4 high-performance “Firestorm” cores
4 energy-efficient “Icestorm” cores
3.2GHz CPU clock speed
CPU cores first seen in the iPhone 12 lineup’s A14 Bionic chip
Support for 8GB or 16GB unified memory
68.25GB/s memory bandwidth
Media engine for hardware-accelerated H.264 and HEVC
Video decode engine
Video encode engine
Image signal processor (ISP)
Made with TSMC’s enhanced 5nm process (N5P)
20 billion transistors
4 high-performance “Avalanche” cores
4 energy-efficient “Blizzard” cores
3.49GHz CPU clock speed
CPU cores first seen in the iPhone 13 lineup’s A15 Bionic chip
Support for 8GB, 16GB, or 24GB unified memory
100GB/s memory bandwidth
40 percent faster Neural Engine
Media engine for hardware-accelerated H.264, HEVC, ProRes, and ProRes RAW
Higher-bandwidth video decode engine
Video encode engine
ProRes encode and decode engine
“New” image signal processor (ISP)
Fabrication Process and Transistors
Like the A14 Bionic, the ?M1? chip is built using TSMC’s first-generation 5nm fabrication process. On the other hand, the ?M2? uses TSMC’s second-generation 5nm process like the A15 Bionic chip. The ?M2? adds four billion additional transistors for a total of 20 billion – 25 percent more than ?M1?. The enhanced 5nm fabrication process is at the heart of many of ?M2?’s performance and efficiency improvements.
The ?M1? and ?M2? both have four high-performance and four energy-efficient cores, but while the ?M1? features “Firestorm” and “Icestorm” cores from the A14 Bionic chip, the ?M2? offers “Avalanche” and “Blizzard” from the A15 Bionic chip. According to Apple, this results in 18 percent greater multithreaded performance than ?M1?.
In early Geekbench benchmarks, the ??M2??, which runs at 3.49GHz compared to 3.2GHz for the ??M1??, earned a single-core score of 1,919, which is roughly 12 percent faster than the 1,707 single-core score of the ??M1?? 13-inch MacBook Pro. The ??M2?? earned a multi-core score of 8,928, up about 20 percent from the 7,419 score of the ??M1?? model. This is right in line with Apple’s claim that the ??M2?? chip is up to 18 percent faster than the ??M1?.
Both chips have high-performance cores with 192KB of L1 instruction cache and 128KB of L1 data cache. The energy-efficient cores have a 128KB L1 instruction cache, 64KB L1 data cache, and a shared 4MB L2 cache. The only difference here is that the shared L2 cache is larger on the ?M2? chip — 16MB instead of 12MB on the ?M1?.
The ?M2? features two more GPU cores over the ?M1?, resulting in a moderate boost in graphics performance. Apple says that the ?M2? has up to 25 percent higher graphics performance than ?M1? at the same power level, and up to 35 percent better performance at its max power. In early Geekbench Metal benchmarks, the ??M2?? chip scored 30,627, a notable improvement over the 21,001 score earned by the ??M1??.
Both the ?M1? and the ?M2? have dedicated video encode and decode engines for hardware-accelerated H.264 and HEVC, but the ?M2?’s video engines are also able to accelerate ProRes and ProRes RAW to enable playback of multiple streams of 4K and 8K video. In addition, the ?M2?’s media engine includes a higher-bandwidth video decoder, supporting 8K H.264 and HEVC video.
The ?M1? and the ?M2? come in configurations with 8GB or 16GB of unified memory, but the ?M2? adds an additional, top-tier 24GB configuration. The ?M2?’s memory controller can also deliver 100GB/s of unified memory bandwidth, a substantial improvement over the ?M1?’s 68.25GB/s memory bandwidth.
?M2? features improvements to several of Apple’s custom silicon technologies. For example, the Neural Engine can process up to 15.8 trillion operations per second — over 40 percent more than ?M1?. The ?M2? also contain’s Apple’s latest Secure Enclave and a new image signal processor (ISP) for better image noise reduction.
Overall, the ?M2? chip offers moderate improvements over the ?M1?, even if most ?M1? users are unlikely to notice significant improvements when upgrading to the ?M2?. The ?M2?’s advancements are generally worthwhile, if not transformative, and the chip is certain to provide a more up-to-date experience with lower-spec Apple silicon machines – especially for those coming from an Intel-based machine.
While the ?M2? offers improvements across the board thanks to its enhanced 5nm process, updated cores, and additional GPU cores, the major upgrades come to users who need to work with video, as well as those who have memory-intensive workflows. The ?M2?’s higher-bandwidth video decoder and dedicated engine for ProRes and ProRes RAW video offer meaningful improvements for video editors, while the 24GB unified memory tier and 100GB/s of memory bandwidth significantly boost the capacity of ?M2? machines to deal with memory-hungry applications and intense multitasking.Related Roundups: 13″ MacBook Pro, MacBook AirTags: Apple Silicon, M1, M2Buyer’s Guide: 13″ MacBook Pro (Buy Now), MacBook Air (Buy Now)Related Forums: MacBook Pro, MacBook AirThis article, “M1 vs. M2 Chip Buyer’s Guide: How Much Better Really Is M2?” first appeared on MacRumors.comDiscuss this article in our forums
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Author: Hartley Charlton