Apple M1: Former Apple Engineer Explains Secrets of Success

Rumors of Apple’s departure from Intel processors had been around for years before Apple announced the move to the world in June 2020. However, according to a former Apple engineer, the company took steps in this area long before most people realized it.

In an extensive Twitter thread, Shac Ron, who was Senior Kernel Engineer at Apple from 2007 to 2017, shed light on the history of the M1 chip and Apple’s efforts to develop its own alternative to Intel processors. The thread originated in response to a tweet from machine learning expert David Kanter, who claimed that M1’s performance had a lot more to do with its cache than its architecture.

The premise here is wrong. arm64 is the Apple ISA and was developed to enable Apple’s micro-architecture plans. There’s a reason Apple’s first 64-bit core (Cyclone) was years ahead of everyone else, and it’s not just caches.

– Shac Ron @ (@stuntpants) January 5, 2021

In response, Ron stated that Apple began work on the M1 10 years ago in 2010 when it contacted ARM about creating a custom 64-bit instruction set architecture (ISA). At this point, Ron said ARM hadn’t even finished developing its own core chip design to be licensed to a third party.

Ron went on, when Apple released this 64-bit chip – the Apple A7 in the 2013 iPhone 5S – rivals Samsung and Qualcomm were completely ignorant of its performance. The A7 was the first 64-bit System-on-a-Chip (SoC) to be introduced in a consumer smartphone, and Apple claimed at the time that it was twice as fast and offered twice the graphics performance of its predecessor, the A6 .

ARM has developed a standard that serves its customers and receives feedback from them on the ISA evolution. In 2010, few cared about a 64-bit ARM core. Samsung & Qualcomm, the largest wireless carriers, were certainly not affected when Apple shipped in 2013.

– Shac Ron @ (@stuntpants) January 5, 2021

Ron added more details, claiming that Apple’s insistence on a highly efficient “OoO” architecture (out of order) with low clocks and the potential to add ever more cores to the chips gave the company an edge. In fact, Ron then claims that “the performance of M1 is not because of the ARM ISA, but rather because of Apple’s core performance plans a decade ago.”

The thread lights up because it shows how far Apple has organized its processor change. Apple often plans big steps years in advance – the iPad was edited no later than 2004, six years before it was launched – and happily waits until the technology is ready before a product is released. Given the outstanding performance of the M1 in the latest MacBook Pro and MacBook Air, we’d say it was worth the wait.

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