Friday, October 22nd, 2021 Posted by Jim Thacker

Apple unveils new M1 Pro and M1 Max processors

Apple has unveiled the M1 Pro and the M1 Max, the next two chips in its new line of Apple Silicon processors, which it describes as the “first pro chips designed for Macs”.

The processors, which combine both CPU and GPU cores on a single physical unit, will ship this month in Apple’s new 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro laptops.

Maximally specced new 16-inch MacBook Pros provide up to 64GB of unified memory, shared between CPU and GPU – and, according to Apple, are “4x faster” in graphics applications than previous-gen models.

As evidence, the firm has published speed comparisions for individual Mac-compatible applications, including Affinity Photo, Cinema 4D, Photoshop, Premiere Pro and Redshift: for which, read on.

Apple Silicon processor
M1 Max M1 Pro M1
Unified memory (1) 64GB 32GB 16GB
Memory bandwidth 400GB/s 200GB/s Not stated
CPU cores (1) 10 10 8
GPU cores (1) 32 16 8
GPU compute (1, 2)
10.4 5.2 2.6
Neural Engine cores 16 16 16
Video decode engines 1 1 1
Video encode engines 2 1 1
ProRes encode/decode engines 2 1
Release date 2021 2021 2020

(1) Maximum configuration available in new MacBook Pros
(2) Figure for the M1 processor is estimated

A significant advance over the original M1 chips
Announced earlier this week at Apple’s Unleashed event, the recording of which is embedded at the top of the story, the M1 Pro and M1 Max are the latest in the firm’s new line of Apple Silicon processors.

Each is a considerable advance over the original M1 processor, introduced less than a year ago, and available in new 13-inch MacBook Pros.

Both new chips feature more CPU cores and more GPU cores than their predecessor, with a corresponding increase in GPU compute power for tasks like video encoding and GPU rendering.

In the case of a 32-GPU-core M1 Max – both chips come in multiple editions, but for clarity, we’ve only listed the highest-specced version in the table above – that puts it on a par with discrete GPUs.

Its quoted FP32 compute performance of 10.4 Teraflops is higher than that of some previous-gen Nvidia desktop GPUs, including the GeForce RTX 2080 gaming card and the Quadro RTX 4000 workstation card.

In addition, the 64GB of unified memory available to a M1 Max inside a maximally specced 16-inch MacBook Pro exceeds the on-board memory of even the current top-of-the-range Nvidia RTX A6000.

In the case of the MacBook Pro, that memory has to be shared between CPU and GPU, but it still potentially increases the size of the 3D scenes that can be rendered inside graphics memory.

According to Apple product line manager Shruti Haldea, the 16-inch MacBook Pro “work with scenes and geometry the latest pro PC laptops can’t even run”.

The first system-on-a-chip design suitable for professional graphics work?
The new processors also feature a new dedicated hardware core for encoding and decoding ProRes video, in addition to the existing general-purpose video encode and decode engines.

The number of Neural Engine cores – intended to accelerate machine learning operations – remains unchanged from the M1.

According to Apple, the performance-to-power-consumption ratio of the Apple Silicon processors is also considerably higher than those in equivalent PC laptops.

“No one has ever applied a system-on-a-chip design to a pro system until today with M1 Pro and M1 Max,” said Johny Srouji, Apple’s senior vice president of Hardware Technologies.

“With massive gains in CPU and GPU performance … a new media engine with ProRes accelerators, and other advanced technologies, M1 Pro and M1 Max … are unlike anything else in a pro notebook.”

Speed boosts for creative software
So how does that translate into real-world performance? In the video above, you can see representatives of major software developers talking about the speed boosts for their respective DCC tools.

However, it isn’t clear exactly what is being compared, leading some tech news sites to report that the figures are the speed boosts relative to the first-gen M1 processor.

Based on Apple’s published figures, we think that’s incorrect, and that the comparisons are actually to older, pre-Apple Silicon MacBook Pros.

Most of the figures quoted in the video seem to be comparisons between a maximally specced 16-inch MacBook Pro with an M1 Max processor and a previous-gen model with an AMD Radeon Pro 5600M GPU.

Those for DaVinci Resolve seem to be between a maximally specced 14-inch MacBook Pro with an M1 Max processor and a old 13-inch model with integrated graphics.

Of those, we think the 16-inch MacBook Pro is more meaningful for high-end production work, so below, we’ve tabulated Apple’s published figures comparing the new and old models.

The speed boosts listed represent the maximum increase in performance for a new 16-inch MacBook Pro with a 16-core M1 Pro or 32-core M1 Max processor relative to a previous-gen model with a 2.4GHz 8-core Intel Core i9 GPU, an 8GB Radeon Pro 5600M GPU, 64GB of RAM, and an 8TB SSD.

We’ve also included the figure for Cinema 4D given in the video above, since it’s mentioned in the same breath as Redshift, so we assume that it refers to the same comparative test.

Performance compared to previous-gen 16-inch MacBook Pro
Application Task Speed boost
M1 Max M1 Pro
Affinity Photo Combined vector and raster GPU performance 4.5 2.9
Cinema 4D ‘Nearly 3x’
Final Cut Pro Rendering 8K video 2.9 1.7
Final Cut Pro Object tracking 4.9 3.6
Photoshop Selecting subject in image 2.0 1.5
Premiere Pro Scene edit detection in 1080p ProRes 422 video 4.4 4.4
Redshift (in Cinema 4D) Rendering 4.0 2.5

So which CG applications natively support Apple Silicon?
It’s also worth noting that for a DCC application to take full advantage of the new hardware, its developer needs to have implemented native Apple Silicon support.

Other applications can run on M1 Macs via Apple’s Rosetta 2 translation environment, but the performance gains aren’t usually as significant.

At the time of writing, Autodesk and Foundry have yet to release native Apple Silicon builds of their software, and Adobe has yet to release a native build of After Effects.

US reseller Toolfarm has a regularly updated webpage that shows the current status of common post-production tools, and you can find our own list of CG apps that have announced native M1 support here.

Pricing and availability
The M1 Pro and M1 Max processors are due to ship in the new 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros, available from 26 October 2021.

Pricing for the 14-inch MacBook Pro starts at $1,999 for a model with an 8-core CPU/14-core GPU M1 Pro, with higher-specced M1 Pro and M1 Max processors available as paid upgrades.

Pricing for the 16-inch MacBook Pro starts at $2,499 for a model with a 10-core CPU/16-core GPU M1 Max, with higher-specced M1 Max processors available as paid upgrades.

Read more about the M1 Pro and M1 Max processors on Apple’s website