Apple M2 vs Apple M1 - What are the differences?

Posted by Stefan on 2022-06-09, Last updated:
During WWDC 2022 on June 6th, 2022 Apple surprisingly presented its new Apple M2 processor. This will initially be installed in a completely revised Apple MacBook Air with 13.6 inches, a even thinner form factor and new colors. Apple also updated the already known (old) Apple MacBook Pro 13.3 with touch bar.

Many observers had counted on Apple not presenting its new second-generation M processor until the fall. But things turned out differently. And there is very likely a reason for that: the improvements in the Apple M2 are limited compared to the predecessor.

However, the two devices now presented should not be exclusive to the Apple M2, because if Apple updates it's productline similar to the past, a new Apple iPad Pro and Apple mac mini should also get an update to the Apple M2 this year. The Apple iPad Air (6th gen) could follow a little later, which only got the M1 processor in March 2022.

The technical specifications of the Apple M2


In the official press release for the Apple M2 the manufacturer from Cupertino priced many details of the Apple M2, but there are also some more details that we don't want to withhold from you here. On its slides, Apple names a performance improvement of 18% (CPU) or 35% (GPU) compared to the Apple M1.

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© Apple, 2022


The main differences between the Apple M1 and the Apple M2


You can of course quickly see the most important differences between the two processors directly in our CPU comparison between the Apple M1 and the Apple M2. Nevertheless, there is some additional information specific to the Apple M2.

Apple M2Apple M1
CPU
CPU cores4 + 44 + 4
CPU clock frequency3.5 GHz3.2 GHz
Memory
Max. memory24 GB16 GB
MemoryLPDDR5-6400LPDDR4X-4266
Memory bandwidth102.4 GB/s68.2 GB/s
iGPU
GPU coresmax. 10max. 8
GPU clock frequency1.4 GHz1.3 GHz
GPU Shadermax. 1280max. 1024
Further data
Level 2 Cache16 MB + 4 MB = 20 MB12 MB + 4 MB = 16 MB
TDP22 Watts15 Watts
Manufacturing5 nm (TSMC) N5P5 nm (TSMC)


The special thing about the Apple M2


With all the hype surrounding the Apple M processors, many are sure to ask themselves: what is so special about the Apple M2 chip? Basically, both the Apple M1 and the Apple M2 rely on a hybrid CPU core model. This means that the CPU has CPU cores of different sizes. The bigger cores are fast, but also consume more energy. The smaller CPU cores take care of background tasks and are very energy efficient. However, all CPU cores can also work together on one task at the same time.

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© Apple, 2022

Another big difference to other modern processors from AMD and Intel is that Apple uses the ARM architecture in its processors. While this has been the standard for smartphones and tablets for several years, normal computer processors have so far used an x86-64 instruction set. As Apple used Intel processors in the past, many programs for the Apple M processors have to be recompiled and optimized to work well with the new architecture.

With Rosetta 2, Apple offers a software framework for emulating programs that are optimized for a different processor architecture, but the native optimization for the Apple M processors (ARM) is usually significantly more powerful .

Faster Neural Engine and larger cache for the performance cores


Since the Apple M2 processor is based on the Apple A15 processor of the iPhone 13 (in scaled form, of course), the Apple M2 gets the neural engine of the Apple A15. With 15.8 trillion arithmetic operations per second, this in the Apple M2 is just as fast as the latest iPhone processor and thus around 44 percent faster than the neural engine in the Apple M1 (or Apple A14). The Neural Engine still has 16 cores, so the performance boost must come from optimizing the NPU or a higher operating frequency.

Apple first introduced the Neural Engine in 2017 in the Apple A11 processor. The NPU accelerates certain arithmetic operations in the field of machine learning, which is used in Apples facial recognition "Face-ID" or animations (Animojis) .

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© Apple, 2022

Apple has increased the cache which is shared by the four performance cores of the Apple M2. The Level 2 cache has grown from 12 MB to now 16 MB. Combined with the 4 MB cache of the efficiency cores, the Apple M2 now has 20 MB cache in total.

High energy efficiency of the Apple M2


Apple had already amazed some experts with the Apple M1 processor when it was presented in 2020 when it comes to energy efficiency and power usage. And the competition in form of AMD and Intel probably had to take a deep breath first, because what Apple succeeded with the M1 processor right away, the established manufacturers have been working on for years.

To be fair: Apple benefits a lot from the new production process in the fine 5 nm process from contract manufacturer TSMC, because Apple had reserved nearly the complete 5 nm production capacities of TSMC and thus had an advantage compared to Intel and AMD (who manufactured their processors in a 7 nm process at the same time).

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© Apple, 2022

In the end also the hybrid structure of the processor played a huge role because it boosts the efficency a lot. Intel is going the same way with its new Intel Core i processors from the 13th generation. AMD will also switch to this hybrid structure with the Zen 5, which offers extreme advantages in terms of battery life and cooling solution, especially in the mobile sector for notebooks.

The Apple M1 processor only consumes 15 watts, which roughly corresponds to what AMD and Intel grant their smallest mobile processors. But: the performance of the Apple M1 and now the Apple M2 comes closer to the 45 watt processors from AMD and Intel in many areas. And: Apple has not increased the power consumption of the CPU part of the M2 compared to the predecessor, despite the increase in performance.

High graphics performance of the Apple M2 iGPU


Apple was able to increase the graphics performance of the Apple M2 again. With 3.6 TFLOP/s (10-core GPU), the Apple M2 is on par with the fastest iGPU from AMD, the AMD Radeon RX 680M (3.7 TFLOP/s). Market leader Intel is clearly at a disadvantage here: the fastest iGPU from Intel in current processors is the Intel Iris Xe Graphics 96 (Alder Lake) in the Intel Core i7-1280P which has an FP32 computing power of only 2.2 TFLOP/s.

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© Apple, 2022


When it comes to graphics performance, the Apple M2 definitely benefits from its new and improved memory interface, which connects the LPDDR5-6400 memory with 102.4 GB/s to the processor and the internal graphics unit. The graphics performance of the Apple M2 is more than sufficient for some games however there often was an inadequate support of games by macOS or in general by the M processor architecture.

What the Apple M2 unfortunately still lacks


AV1 encoding


Apple doesn't say a word about the disadvantages of the normal M processor, some of which were already criticized in the predecessor. On the one hand, the support for the free AV1 video codec, which is already used on YouTube and is accelerated in hardware by current AMD and Intel processors, is still missing. The Apple M2 still can't decode the AV1 codec in hardware, which increases the required CPU power when playing AV1 videos, which then also reduces the battery life.

Apple relies on its own ProRes video format in the Apple M1 and Apple M2 and it remains to be seen whether and when Apple will also support the free AV1 video codec, at least in hardware decoding.

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Apple M1 processor with approx. 60% utilization when playing a YouTube AV1 video in FullHD

Multi-display support


And unfortunately nothing has changed when it comes to multi screen support: the Apple M2 still supports only 2 screens. As this includes the internal screen of the Apple MacBook, only 1 external monitor can be connected to the system. The only exception should again be Apple's mac mini. Since it does not have an internal display itself, it will probably be able to control two monitors at the same time again. However, one of them can only be connected via the HDMI 2.0 interface with a limited resolution of 4096 x 2160 pixels at 60 Hz.

In the past, only the Apple M1 Pro, Apple M1 Max and Apple M1 Ultra supported multiple external displays in high resolutions. We could not find out whether this is due to the structure of the GPU of the Apple M2 or an intentional limitation.

Limited game support


Yes, and unfortunately not much has happened in terms of game support either. An Apple Mac with an M processor may still not suitable if you occasionally want to play computer games. Apple's dedicated Metal graphics interface is not yet supported by many games, although some well-known games such as Blizzard's World of Warcraft now support the M processors, most games still don't run smoothly. A list of supported games for Apples M processors can be found in the list of games that run on Apple's M processors.

At the WWDC 2022, Apple presented the 3rd version of its graphics interface Metal 3. Apple also brought along a counterpart to Nvidia's DLSS and AMD's FSR 2.0: MetalFX Upscaling. It works identically to what we already know: with a native resolution of 2160p, the system can now render an internal resolution that is significantly lower, for example 1080p. This internal resolution is then scaled up using various functions, including machine learning and anti-aliasing, without a major loss of quality being visible compared to the native resolution.

So the somewhat outdated but still popular game No Man's Sky was announced for the mac. Resident Evil Village is to follow in the course of 2022. Both games can be run natively on the new Apple M processors and use the MetalFX upscaling of the new Metal 3 interface. Resident Evil Village can be rendered and displayed smoothly on the new Apple MacBook Air in 1080p.


Supported programs that work with the Apple M2


macOS is now well adapted to Apple's M chip family. In addition to the operating system itself, all Apple apps such as Final Cut Pro have long been running natively on the Apple M processors. But the Microsoft Office Suite (Word, Excel, OneNote, Outlook or PowerPoint) is also optimized for the M processors.

The same applies to the Adobe Cloud, in which the most popular programs such as Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator already run natively on the Apple M1 or Apple M2.

New functions in macOS Ventura (available as an update in autumn 2022) are of course optimized for the Apple M processors as well and can, for example, use the processor's neural engine to accelerate tasks.

When should you buy a computer with Apple M2?


The Apple M2 is more than just the small entry-level chip you might think it is. Thanks to the decent computing power of the 8 CPU cores, the processor is definitely also suitable for users who have higher requirements. The first limit here is the maximum possible memory capacity of 24 GB, which the processor and graphics unit also have to share. Professional users may reach their limits here, even if 24 GB is currently more than enough for most programs nowadays.

But if you only want to surf the web, cut a video here and there or edit a photo, the performance of the Apple M2 will be more than sufficient. In addition, the Apple M2, like its predecessor Apple M1, is very energy-efficient and ensures a long battery life in a notebook. Depending on screen brightness and MacBook, up to 20 hours of runtime can realistically be achieved.

For whom is the Apple M2 currently not suitable?


Neither the operating system (macOS) nor the M chip family is particularly recommended for gamers. New games mostly do not support macOS or Apple's M processors. Apple doesn't seem to be providing enough incentives for game developers to improve the situation quickly. This is not the case with Apple's mobile operating system iOS, where there is a very large selection of mobile games.

The Apple M processors are fast, but only as long as they can be addressed natively. If you want to use special niche programs that also require a lot of computing power, you should also avoid the M processors or find out in detail beforehand whether the respective application is already supported at a sufficient speed.

The Apple WWDC 2022 on YouTube


If you are interested in more details about the Apple M2, I recommend the Apple WWDC 2022 video on YouTube, because in addition to the processor itself, the macOS Ventura operating system including all innovations and optimizations is presented here:



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