Computer Architect’s View on Apple M1 Ultra Chip

Apple Silicon M1 Series

The long Intel chip history in apple products is gradually coming to an end with the M1 Series of Apple’s in-house silicon chips. It is exciting to see the breakthrough change that Apple brings into their MacBooks, iPads, and many more devices.

But how did Apple adapt the RISC architecture for their high-performance laptops and nail the benchmark scores?

Let’s analyze the Apple M1 Chip Structure from a Computer architect’s point of view.

Computer Architectures — RISC and CISC

There are two main CPU design architectures in-use today. Based on the Instruction Set Architecture, this categorization is done as below.

  1. Reduced Instruction Set Computing (RISC)
  2. Complex Instruction Set Computing (CISC)
Two different CPU designs

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CPU Organization of M1 Ultra and Performance

The System on Chip (SoC) M1 chipset is remarkably efficient due to its energy-efficient and high-performance cores. M1 chip is already a considerable performance gain featured on MacBook Air 2020 models. It evolved so much until the M1 Max, which now features on MacBook Pros.

M1 Chip Series (Image from Apple Newsroom)
M1 Ultra SoC Design (Image from Apple Newsroom)

The UltraFusion Architecture

This is a custom-built packaging architecture that Apple used to design the M1 Ultra Chip. A most conventional way of improving performance is to connect two chips via motherboard busses. Still, it gives a number of bottlenecks in terms of data transfer latencies and less power-efficient designs. However, Apple’s invented a state-of-the-art architecture that uses a silicon interposer and connects the chips across more than 10,000 signals, providing a massive 2.5TB/s of low latency, 4x inter-processor bandwidth of the leading multi-chip interconnect technologies. This made the M1 Ultra chip a truly groundbreaking product.

Final Thoughts

We are not surprised to witness dramatic performance improvements in computer processors every year. Moore’s Law also presents this fact.

The number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit (IC) doubles every two years. — Gordon Moore in 1965

However, the Apple M1 Ultra Architecture brings a big performance leap in an energy-efficient manner. This article analyzed this breakthrough innovation from a computer architect’s perspective.

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