Last week, Apple made industry news by announcing new Mac products based upon the company’s new Apple Silicon M1 SoC chip, marking the first move of a planned 2-year roadmap to transition over from Intel-based x86 CPUs to the company’s own in-house designed microprocessors running on the Arm instruction set.

During the launch we had prepared an extensive article based on the company’s already related Apple A14 chip, found in the new generation iPhone 12 phones. This includes a rather extensive microarchitectural deep-dive into Apple’s new Firestorm cores which power both the A14 as well as the new Apple Silicon M1, I would recommend a read if you haven’t had the opportunity yet:

Since a few days, we’ve been able to get our hands on one of the first Apple Silicon M1 devices: the new Mac mini 2020 edition. While in our analysis article last week we had based our numbers on the A14, this time around we’ve measured the real performance on the actual new higher-power design. We haven’t had much time, but we’ll be bringing you the key datapoints relevant to the new Apple Silicon M1.

Apple Silicon M1: Firestorm cores at 3.2GHz & ~20-24W TDP?

During the launch event, one thing that was in Apple fashion typically missing from the presentation were actual details on the clock frequencies of the design, as well as its TDP which it can sustain at maximum performance.

We can confirm that in single-threaded workloads, Apple’s Firestorm cores now clock in at 3.2GHz, a 6.66% increase over the 3GHz frequency of the Apple A14. As long as there's thermal headroom, this clock also applies to all-core loads, with in addition to 4x 3.2GHz performance cores also seeing 4x Thunder efficiency cores at 2064MHz, also quite a lot higher than 1823MHz on the A14.

Alongside the four performance Firestorm cores, the M1 also includes four Icestorm cores which are aimed for low idle power and increased power efficiency for battery-powered operation. Both the 4 performance cores and 4 efficiency cores can be active in tandem, meaning that this is an 8-core SoC, although performance throughput across all the cores isn’t identical.

The biggest question during the announcement event was the power consumption of these designs. Apple had presented several charts including performance and power axes, however we lacked comparison data as to come to any proper conclusion.

As we had access to the Mac mini rather than a Macbook, it meant that power measurement was rather simple on the device as we can just hook up a meter to the AC input of the device. It’s to be noted with a huge disclaimer that because we are measuring AC wall power here, the power figures aren’t directly comparable to that of battery-powered devices, as the Mac mini’s power supply will incur a efficiency loss greater than that of other mobile SoCs, as well as TDP figures contemporary vendors such as Intel or AMD publish.

It’s especially important to keep in mind that the figure of what we usually recall as TDP in processors is actually only a subset of the figures presented here, as beyond just the SoC we’re also measuring DRAM and voltage regulation overhead, something which is not included in TDP figures nor your typical package power readout on a laptop.

Apple Mac mini (Apple Silicon M1) AC Device Power

Starting off with an idle Mac mini in its default state while sitting idle when powered on, while connected via HDMI to a 2560p144 monitor, Wi-Fi 6 and a mouse and keyboard, we’re seeing total device power at 4.2W. Given that we’re measuring AC power into the device which can be quite inefficient at low loads, this makes quite a lot of sense and represents an excellent figure.

This idle figure also serves as a baseline for following measurements where we calculate “active power”, meaning our usual methodology of taking total power measured and subtracting the idle power.

During average single-threaded workloads on the 3.2GHz Firestorm cores, such as GCC code compilation, we’re seeing device power go up to 10.5W with active power at around 6.3W. The active power figure is very much in line with what we would expect from a higher-clocked Firestorm core, and is extremely promising for Apple and the M1.

In workloads which are more DRAM heavy and thus incur a larger power penalty on the LPDDR4X-class 128-bit 16GB of DRAM on the Mac mini, we’re seeing active power go up to 10.5W. Already with these figures the new M1 is might impressive and showcases less than a third of the power of a high-end Intel mobile CPU.

In multi-threaded scenarios, power highly depends on the workload. In memory-heavy workloads where the CPU utilisation isn’t as high, we’re seeing 18W active power, going up to around 22W in average workloads, and peaking around 27W in compute heavy workloads. These figures are generally what you’d like to compare to “TDPs” of other platforms, although again to get an apples-to-apples comparison you’d need to further subtract some of the overhead as measured on the Mac mini here – my best guess would be a 20 to 24W range.

Finally, on the part of the GPU, we’re seeing a lower power consumption figure of 17.3W in GFXBench Aztec High. This would contain a larger amount of DRAM power, so the power consumption of Apple’s GPU is definitely extremely low-power, and far less than the peak power that the CPUs can draw.

Memory Differences

Besides the additional cores on the part of the CPUs and GPU, one main performance factor of the M1 that differs from the A14 is the fact that’s it’s running on a 128-bit memory bus rather than the mobile 64-bit bus. Across 8x 16-bit memory channels and at LPDDR4X-4266-class memory, this means the M1 hits a peak of 68.25GB/s memory bandwidth.

In terms of memory latency, we’re seeing a (rather expected) reduction compared to the A14, measuring 96ns at 128MB full random test depth, compared to 102ns on the A14.

Of further note is the 12MB L2 cache of the performance cores, although here it seems that Apple continues to do some partitioning as to how much as single core can use as we’re still seeing some latency uptick after 8MB.

The M1 also contains a large SLC cache which should be accessible by all IP blocks on the chip. We’re not exactly certain, but the test results do behave a lot like on the A14 and thus we assume this is a similar 16MB chunk of cache on the SoC, as some access patterns extend beyond that of the A14, which makes sense given the larger L2.

One aspect we’ve never really had the opportunity to test is exactly how good Apple’s cores are in terms of memory bandwidth. Inside of the M1, the results are ground-breaking: A single Firestorm achieves memory reads up to around 58GB/s, with memory writes coming in at 33-36GB/s. Most importantly, memory copies land in at 60 to 62GB/s depending if you’re using scalar or vector instructions. The fact that a single Firestorm core can almost saturate the memory controllers is astounding and something we’ve never seen in a design before.

Because one core is able to make use of almost the whole memory bandwidth, having multiple cores access things at the same time don’t actually increase the system bandwidth, but actually due to congestion lower the effective achieved aggregate bandwidth. Nevertheless, this 59GB/s peak bandwidth of one core is essentially also the speed at which memory copies happen, no matter the amount of active cores in the system, again, a great feat for Apple.

Beyond the clock speed increase, L2 increase, this memory boost is also very likely to help the M1 differentiate its performance beyond that of the A14, and offer up though competition against the x86 incumbents.

Benchmarks: Whatever Is Available
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  • Rrrumble - Tuesday, January 25, 2022 - link

    You may have missed the part where apple started the "business" (the smart phone, with the iPod as a first step) and grew and expanded it with savvy products and marketing while others tried catch up.
  • Henry 3 Dogg - Friday, November 27, 2020 - link

    "...Apple have tonnes of free cash that they could use to buy something they don't really need that makes money, but they don't do it. Instead they buy back their own stock. ..."

    Not true. Yes, Apple does buy back their own stock but they also have a subsidiary called Braeburn Capital which is sitting on around $250 Billion worth of investments.
  • theonetruestripes - Tuesday, December 1, 2020 - link

    Apple _likes_ focus. When I worked there SJ made the point that Apple had incredible brand loyalty, but making some products that "make money" but are not as good as the rest of the products damages that brand loyalty. That seems pretty obvious to me at the time. Th other point he made is projects cost attention. If Apple launched a line of drink bottles it would take his time, designers time, marketing time, and many others. Some of that you can "just hire" if you have enough money, but you can't "just hire" more hours into the CEO's day, or SVP's days.

    To a certain extent that might not matter for something as distant from Apple's core business as say owning a CPU design firm. If Apple bought ARM and the ARM reference designs are "meh" very few people will decide that means the new MacBook Pro is "meh" by association. However it would still require some CEO time to decide "this new ARM subsidiary can't be called anything Apple related, and needs to make sure nobody is allowed to buy products from them and claim they are Apple related - we absolutely don't want a new "Apple Powered Dell" marketing campaign anywhere!"; how much money is that time worth? I'm sure there is some number at which you could say "if buying ARM makes this much per year it is worth 300 hours of Tim's time to close the deal and 16 hours per Q to make sure it doesn't screw anything up", but it may be a much higher number then ARM actually generates.

    (or it might not, I expect a large part of Apple not being excited about buying ARM is lack of likelihood of getting regulatory approval, likelihood of needing to appear before congress to defend the purchase if in fact it is approved, and lack of any meaningful value to Apple (i.e. Apple has all the ARM license it needs to do anything it decides to))
  • alysdexia - Monday, December 28, 2020 - link

    cares !-> they; 1 != 2; and you liar
  • dysonlu - Sunday, February 21, 2021 - link

    If Apple buys Arm, not only does it have to keep licensing out Arm's designs but it may risk being forced to license its own CPU design/innovation as well since with Apple+Arm being a single entity, there is no longer any distinction in CPU intellectual properties between the two companies.
  • Henry 3 Dogg - Friday, November 27, 2020 - link

    Apple owned 43% of ARM for several years. There are more reasons than licensing technology to buy a all or part of a company.

    There are some very good reasons why Apple might choose to own 20% of ARM.
  • danbob999 - Tuesday, November 17, 2020 - link

    Actually it's the opposite. It's the cheapeast/narrowest license from ARM. More expensive license include access to full Cortex cores, and not only instruction set.
  • Spiderman10 - Tuesday, November 17, 2020 - link

    No helios24 is correct. The Arch. license is at the top of the licensing pyramid. Anandtech actually wrote a piece about this here:
  • ws3 - Tuesday, November 17, 2020 - link

    Danbob is confused by the fact that Apple doesn't use the ARM designs. He assumes that lack of use results from lack of access.
  • RedGreenBlue - Tuesday, November 17, 2020 - link

    They still based some designs closely to the generic ones. I think the A7 was shown to be only slightly modified in Anandtech’s review (the first 64-bit with Arm-v8(?))

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