M1 Ultra – a closer look at Apple’s crazy fast chip

M1 Ultra – a closer look at Apple’s crazy fast chip
M1 Ultra - a closer look at Apple's crazy fast chip 1

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At its “Peek Performance” event this week, Apple had more to show off than a new Iphone SE and a thicker Mac Mini, now known as the Mac Studio. But Apple’s latest desktop Mac is much more than a Mac Mini: it holds and cools the M1 Ultra, a surprisingly new high-performance chip.

As with the rest of the M1 line, it’s not just the performance of Apple’s new multi-chip that impresses. What’s really impressive is that it makes up a fraction of the power consumption that competitors use. With the M1 Ultra, Apple will stand up to PC hardware, which uses hundreds of watts, while consuming much less than 100 watts. It’s a performance-per-watt advantage that AMD, Intel and Nivida are unlikely to catch up with in the near future.

Why buy an M1 Max when you can buy two?

The already impressive M1 Max takes the M1 architecture to a whole new level. The M1 Max has 10 cpu cores (eight performance and two efficiency cores), 32 gpu cores, two media / video motors, a 16-core Neural Engine, all connected to either 32 or 64 gigabytes of memory with a crazy wide interface that provides a bandwidth of 400 gigabytes / sec. It has 57 billion transistors. That’s about twice as many as a Geforce GTX 3090.

So what has Apple done? They designed the M1 Max with the possibility of connecting it to another chip, what do we get then? A massive 114-billion dual-performance transistor chip!

The M1 family
The M1 family.

It’s not quite that simple, of course. Apple’s processor link is called Ultrafusion, it “bakes” together two M1 Max in the same package, which gives a bandwidth of 2.5 terabytes / sec. Apple claims that it has twice the connectivity density, which gives enough speed for the software to see it as a big chip, and give all the cores unlimited access to the memory.

It’s reminiscent of AMD’s “infinity fabric” design, but Apple’s much faster.

All cores, all bandwidth

The fact that the M1 Ultra is two M1 Max chips in one package means that it basically has twice as much as everything the M1 Max has. There are 20 cpu cores (16 performance, four efficiency cores), 64 gpu cores, 32 Neural Engine cores and 64 or 128 gigabytes of working memory, with an incredible bandwidth of 800 gigabytes / sec. It is many times more bandwidth than the fastest desktop processors, and less than only the most expensive graphics cards have.

Apple claims that it will significantly surpass the performance of a Core i9-12900K and use 100 watts less power when it matches Core i9-12900K performance.


It also means four instead of two media processing engines. These are responsible for encoding and decoding ProRes, H.264, AVC and other media formats. If you have video production as a livelihood, the M1 Ultra will perform large complex 4k exports very quickly. In fact, Apple says the M1 Ultra can play 18 simultaneous streams of 8k ProRes 422 video.

Not just performance, performance per watt

Of course, you expect the M1 Ultra to deliver about twice the performance of the M1 Max, and that’s essentially what Apple says. That means you can expect a Geekbench 5 single-threaded result just under 1,800 – individual cores have not been made faster, there are only more of them – and a multi-core score around 24,000. It’s about 80 percent faster than leading desktop consumer processors from AMD and Intel.

For better performance, look at Intel’s Xeon or AMD’s Threadripper processors, or server CPUs, which all have many more cores and use hundreds of watts.

And that’s the key to the M1 Ultra. If you look at Apple’s charts, it never really seems to draw more than about 100 watts of power. It’s half an Xbox Series X or Playstation 5.

The graphics processor, with its 64 cores and 800 gigabytes / sec bandwidth, can handle about 21 teraflops, according to Apple. It’s about double the PlayStation 5 and on par with the Geforce GTX 3070 or Radeon 6800 XT. Of course, Apple’s gpu does not have all the features of Nvidia or AMD’s latest (there is no radiation tracking, for example), and teraflops is not the best way to measure gpu performance. But Apple’s chip consumes a couple of hundred watts less power, while delivering this type of performance.

M1 Ultra GPU performance
We’re skeptical that the M1 Ultra matches the GTX 3090’s performance, but in performance per watt it’s extremely hard to beat.

However, we must make a reservation as we do not know exactly how fast it will be, even if one unverified Geekbench points who showed up late on Tuesday night looks extremely promising. According to the results, the M1 Ultra is within spitting distance of AMD’s Ryzen Threadripper 3990X 64-core processor, which costs as much as the entire Mac Studio. What Apple has delivered is a chip that delivers the same performance as a workstation and an advanced gaming GPU makes up a fraction of the power consumption. It’s almost certain that we’ll see faster chips from Intel or AMD soon, and desktop GPUs are already running faster, but it’s going to take a long time before they match Apple’s performance and power consumption.

Translated and edited by Petter Ahrnstedt

M1 Ultra - a closer look at Apple's crazy fast chip 1

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