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Apple reportedly testing Intel-beating high core count Apple Silicon chips for high-end Macs

By Darrell Etherington

Apple is reportedly developing a number of Apple Silicon chip variants with significantly higher core counts relative to the M1 chips that it uses in today’s MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and Mac mini computers based on its own ARM processor designs. According to Bloomberg, the new chips include designs that have 16 power cores and hour high-efficiency cores, intended for future iMacs and more powerful MacBook Pro models, as well as a 32-performance core top-end version that would eventually power the first Apple Silicon Mac Pro.

The current M1 Mac has four performance cores, along with four high-efficiency cores. It also uses either seven or eight dedicated graphics cores, depending on the Mac model. Apple’s next-gen chips could leap right to 16 performance cores, or Bloomberg says they could opt to use eight or 12-core versions of the same, depending primarily on what kinds of yields they see from manufacturing processes. Chipmaking, particularly in the early stages of new designs, often has error rates that render a number of the cores on each new chip unusable, so manufacturers often just ‘bin’ those chips, offering them to the market as lower max core count designs until manufacturing success rates improve.

Apple’s M1 system on a chip.

Regardless of whether next-gen Apple Silicon Macs use 16, 12 or eight-performance core designs, they should provide ample competition for their Intel equivalents. Apple’s debut M1 line has won the praise of critics and reviewers for significant performance benefits over not only their predecessors, but also much more expensive and powerful Mac powered by higher-end Intel chips.

The report also says that Apple is developing new graphics processors that include both 16- and 32-core designs for future iMacs and pro notebooks, and that it even has 64- and 128-core designs in development for use in high-end pro machines like the Mac Pro. These should offer performance that can rival even dedicated GPU designs from Nvidia and AMD for some applications, though they aren’t likely to appear in any shipping machines before either late 2021 or 2022 according to the report.

Apple has said from the start that it plans to transition its entire line to its own Apple Silicon processors by 2022. The M1 Macs now available are the first generation, and Apple has begun with its lowest-power dedicated Macs, with a chip design that hews closely to the design of the top-end A-series chips that power its iPhone and iPad line. Next-generation M-series chips look like they’ll be further differentiated from Apple’s mobile processors, with significant performance advantages to handle the needs of demanding professional workloads.

AWS brings the Mac mini to its cloud

By Frederic Lardinois

AWS today opened its re:Invent conference with a surprise announcement: the company is bringing the Mac mini to its cloud. These new EC2 Mac instances, as AWS calls them, are now available in preview. They won’t come cheap, though.

The target audience here — and the only one AWS is targeting for now — is developers who want cloud-based build and testing environments for their Mac and iOS apps. But it’s worth noting that with remote access, you get a fully-featured Mac mini in the cloud, and I’m sure developers will find all kinds of other use cases for this as well.

Given the recent launch of the M1 Mac minis, it’s worth pointing out that the hardware AWS is using — at least for the time being — are i7 machines with six physical and 12 logical cores and 32 GB of memory. Using the Mac’s built-in networking options, AWS connects them to its Nitro System for fast network and storage access. This means you’ll also be able to attach AWS block storage to these instances, for example.

Unsurprisingly, the AWS team is also working on bringing Apple’s new M1 Mac minis into its data centers. The current plan is to roll this out “early next year,” AWS tells me, and definitely within the first half of 2021. Both AWS and Apple believe that the need for Intel-powered machines won’t go away anytime soon, though, especially given that a lot of developers will want to continue to run their tests on Intel machines for the foreseeable future.

David Brown, AWS’s vice president of EC2, tells me that these are completely unmodified Mac minis. AWS only turned off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. It helps, Brown said, that the minis fit nicely into a 1U rack.

“You can’t really stack them on shelves — you want to put them in some sort of service sled [and] it fits very well into a service sled and then our cards and all the various things we have to worry about, from an integration point of view, fit around it and just plug into the Mac mini through the ports that it provides,” Brown explained. He admitted that this was obviously a new challenge for AWS. The only way to offer this kind of service is to use Apple’s hardware, after all.

Image Credits: AWS

It’s also worth noting that AWS is not virtualizing the hardware. What you’re getting here is full access to your own device that you’re not sharing with anybody else. “We wanted to make sure that we support the Mac Mini that you would get if you went to the Apple store and you bought a Mac mini,” Brown said.

Unlike with other EC2 instances, whenever you spin up a new Mac instance, you have to pre-pay for the first 24 hours to get started. After those first 24 hours, prices are by the second, just like with any other instance type AWS offers today.

AWS will charge $1.083 per hour, billed by the second. That’s just under $26 to spin up a machine and run it for 24 hours. That’s quite a lot more than what some of the small Mac mini cloud providers are charging (we’re generally talking about $60 or less per month for their entry-level offerings and around two to three times as much for a comparable i7 machine with 32GB of RAM).

Image Credits: Ron Miller/TechCrunch

Until now, Mac mini hosting was a small niche in the hosting market, though it has its fair number of players, with the likes of MacStadium, MacinCloud, MacWeb and Mac Mini Vault vying for their share of the market.

With this new offering from AWS, they are now facing a formidable competitor, though they can still compete on price. AWS, however, argues that it can give developers access to all of the additional cloud services in its portfolio, which sets it apart from all of the smaller players.

“The speed that things happen at [other Mac mini cloud providers] and the granularity that you can use those services at is not as fine as you get with a large cloud provider like AWS,” Brown said. “So if you want to launch a machine, it takes a few days to provision and somebody puts a machine in a rack for you and gives you an IP address to get to it and you manage the OS. And normally, you’re paying for at least a month — or a longer period of time to get a discount. What we’ve done is you can literally launch these machines in minutes and have a working machine available to you. If you decide you want 100 of them, 500 of them, you just ask us for that and we’ll make them available. The other thing is the ecosystem. All those other 200-plus AWS services that you’re now able to utilize together with the Mac mini is the other big difference.”

Brown also stressed that Amazon makes it easy for developers to use different machine images, with the company currently offering images for macOS Mojave and Catalina, with Big Sure support coming “at some point in the future.” And developers can obviously create their own images with all of the software they need so they can reuse them whenever they spin up a new machine.

“Pretty much every one of our customers today has some need to support an Apple product and the Apple ecosystem, whether it’s iPhone, iPad or  Apple TV, whatever it might be. They’re looking for that bold use case,” Brown said. “And so the problem we’ve really been focused on solving is customers that say, ‘hey, I’ve moved all my server-side workloads to AWS, I’d love to be able to move some of these build workflows, because I still have some Mac minis in a data center or in my office that I have to maintain. I’d love that just to be on AWS.’ ”

AWS’s marquee launch customers for the new service are Intuit, Ring and mobile camera app FiLMiC.

“EC2 Mac instances, with their familiar EC2 interfaces and APIs, have enabled us to seamlessly migrate our existing iOS and macOS build-and-test pipelines to AWS, further improving developer productivity,” said Pratik Wadher, vice president of Product Development at Intuit. “We‘re experiencing up to 30% better performance over our data center infrastructure, thanks to elastic capacity expansion, and a high availability setup leveraging multiple zones. We’re now running around 80% of our production builds on EC2 Mac instances, and are excited to see what the future holds for AWS innovation in this space.”

The new Mac instances are now available in a number of AWS regions. These include US East (N. Virginia), US East (Ohio), US West (Oregon), Europe (Ireland) and Asia Pacific (Singapore), with other regions to follow soon.

Daily Crunch: Reviewing Apple’s new Macs

By Anthony Ha

We review each of Apple’s new M1-powered Macs, Twitter launches its new Stories-like format and Amazon launches a pharmacy service. This is your Daily Crunch for November 17, 2020.

The big story: Reviewing Apple’s new Macs

We’ve got three big hardware reviews today, each one highlighting a new Mac with Apple’s M1 chipset.

First up, there’s the MacBook Air, which Brian Heater says offers strong performance gains and is probably the right Apple Mac for most consumers. Then there’s the new Mac mini desktop, which Matt Burns writes is also a winner.

Lastly, there’s the MacBook Pro, where Matthew Panzarino was most impressed by the battery life:

I personally tested the 13” M1 MacBook Pro and after extensive testing, it’s clear that this machine eclipses some of the most powerful Mac portables ever made in performance while simultaneously delivering 2x-3x the battery life at a minimum.

The tech giants

Twitter’s new Stories feature ‘Fleets’ is struggling under the load — Many Twitter users are reporting Fleets are lagging and moving slowly.

Amazon launches Amazon Pharmacy, a delivery service for prescription medications — Customers can add their insurance information, manage prescriptions and choose payment options all through Amazon’s service.

Google updates Maps with more COVID info and finally launches its Assistant driving modeGoogle is updating the COVID layer in Google Maps with some new information, including the number of all-time detected cases in an area and links to resources from local governments.

Startups, funding and venture capital

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon docks with the International Space Station for first operational missionSpaceX’s astronaut-ferrying Crew Dragon spacecraft is now docked to the International Space Station in Earth’s orbit.

Hover secures $60M for 3D imaging to assess and fix properties — Hover has built a platform that uses eight basic smartphone photos to patch together a 3D image of your home that can then be used by contractors, insurance companies and others.

Trust & Will raises $15M as digital estate planning hits mainstream — Estate planning is a growth business in 2020.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Construction tech startups are poised to shake up a $1.3-trillion-dollar industry — Too many of the key processes involved in managing multimillion-dollar construction projects are carried out on Excel or even with pen and paper.

Why some VCs prefer to work with first-time founders — It all depends on the type of venture capitalist you ask.

Five questions from Airbnb’s IPO filing — The company’s S-1 detailed an expanding travel giant with billions in annual revenue that was severely disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Conan O’Brien will launch a weekly variety show on HBO Max — “In 1993 Johnny Carson gave me the best advice of my career: ‘As soon as possible, get to a streaming platform.’ ”

Lego expands its Super Mario world with customization tools, new Mario power-ups and more characters — Lego’s partnership with Nintendo delivered a pretty awesome debut earlier this year, and now it’s following up with additional sets.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Yeah, Apple’s M1 MacBook Pro is powerful, but it’s the battery life that will blow you away

By Matthew Panzarino

Survival and strategy games are often played in stages. You have the early game where you’re learning the ropes, understanding systems. Then you have mid-game where you’re executing and gathering resources. The most fun part, for me, has always been the late mid-game where you’re in full control of your powers and skills and you’ve got resources to burn — where you execute on your master plan before the endgame gets hairy.

This is where Apple is in the game of power being played by the chip industry. And it’s about to be endgame for Intel. 

Apple has introduced three machines that use its new M1 system on a chip, based on over a decade’s worth of work designing its own processing units based on the ARM instructions set. These machines are capable, assured and powerful, but their greatest advancements come in the performance per watt category.

I personally tested the 13” M1 MacBook Pro and after extensive testing, it’s clear that this machine eclipses some of the most powerful Mac portables ever made in performance while simultaneously delivering 2x-3x the battery life at a minimum. 

These results are astounding, but they’re the product of that long early game that Apple has played with the A-series processors. Beginning in earnest in 2008 with the acquisition of PA Semiconductor, Apple has been working its way towards unraveling the features and capabilities of its devices from the product roadmaps of processor manufacturers.  

The M1 MacBook Pro runs smoothly, launching apps so quickly that they’re often open before your cursor leaves your dock. 

Video editing and rendering is super performant, only falling behind older machines when it leverages the GPU heavily. And even then only with powerful dedicated cards like the 5500M or VEGA II. 

Compiling projects like WebKit produce better build times than nearly any machine (hell the M1 Mac Mini beats the Mac Pro by a few seconds). And it does it while using a fraction of the power. 

This thing works like an iPad. That’s the best way I can describe it succinctly. One illustration I have been using to describe what this will feel like to a user of current MacBooks is that of chronic pain. If you’ve ever dealt with ongoing pain from a condition or injury, and then had it be alleviated by medication, therapy or surgery, you know how the sudden relief feels. You’ve been carrying the load so long you didn’t know how heavy it was. That’s what moving to this M1 MacBook feels like after using other Macs. 

Every click is more responsive. Every interaction is immediate. It feels like an iOS device in all the best ways. 

At the chip level, it also is an iOS device. Which brings us to…

iOS on M1

The iOS experience on the M1 machines is…present. That’s the kindest thing I can say about it. Apps install from the App Store and run smoothly, without incident. Benchmarks run on iOS apps show that they perform natively with no overhead. I even ran an iOS-based graphics benchmark which showed just fine. 

That, however, is where the compliments end. The current iOS app experience on an M1 machine running Big Sur is almost comical; it’s so silly. There is no default tool-tip that explains how to replicate common iOS interactions like swipe-from-edge — instead a badly formatted cheat sheet is buried in a menu. The apps launch and run in windows only. Yes, that’s right, no full-screen iOS apps at all. It’s super cool for a second to have instant native support for iOS on the Mac, but at the end of the day this is a marketing win, not a consumer experience win. 

Apple gets to say that the Mac now supports millions of iOS apps, but the fact is that the experience of using those apps on the M1 is sub-par. It will get better, I have no doubt. But the app experience on the M1 is pretty firmly in this order right now: Native M1 app>Rosetta 2 app>Catalyst app> iOS app. Provided that the Catalyst ports can be bothered to build in Mac-centric behaviors and interactions, of course. But it’s clear that iOS, though present, is clearly not where it needs to be on M1.

Rosetta 2

There is both a lot to say and not a lot to say about Rosetta 2. I’m sure we’ll get more detailed breakdowns of how Apple achieved what it has with this new emulation layer that makes x86 applications run fine on the M1 architecture. But the real nut of it is that it has managed to make a chip so powerful that it can take the approximate 26% hit (see the following charts) in raw power to translate apps and still make them run just as fast if not faster than MacBooks with Intel processors. 

It’s pretty astounding. Apple would like us to forget the original Rosetta from the PowerPC transition as much as we would all like to forget it. And I’m happy to say that this is pretty easy to do because I was unable to track any real performance hit when comparing it to older, even ‘more powerful on paper’ Macs like the 16” MacBook Pro. 

It’s just simply not a factor in most instances. And companies like Adobe and Microsoft are already hard at work bringing native M1 apps to the Mac, so the most needed productivity or creativity apps will essentially get a free performance bump of around 30% when they go native. But even now they’re just as fast. It’s a win-win situation. 

Methodology

My methodology  for my testing was pretty straightforward. I ran a battery of tests designed to push these laptops in ways that reflected both real world performance and tasks as well as synthetic benchmarks. I ran the benchmarks with the machines plugged in and then again on battery power to estimate constant performance as well as performance per watt. All tests were run multiple times with cooldown periods in between in order to try to achieve a solid baseline. 

Here are the machines I used for testing:

  • 2020 13” M1 MacBook Pro 8-core 16GB
  • 2019 16” Macbook Pro 8-core 2.4GHz 32GB w/5500M
  • 2019 13” MacBook Pro 4-core 2.8GHz 16GB
  • 2019 Mac Pro 12-Core 3.3GHz 48GB w/AMD Radeon Pro Vega II 32GB

Many of these benchmarks also include numbers from the M1 Mac mini review from Matt Burns and the M1 MacBook Air, tested by Brian Heater which you can check out here.

Compiling WebKit

Right up top I’m going to start off with the real ‘oh shit’ chart of this piece. I checked WebKit out from GitHub and ran a build on all of the machines with no parameters. This is the one deviation from the specs I mentioned above as my 13” had issues that I couldn’t figure out so I had some Internet friends help me

As you can see, the M1 performs admirably well across all models, with the MacBook and Mac Mini edging out the MacBook Air. This is a pretty straightforward way to visualize the difference in performance that can result in heavy tasks that last over 20 minutes, where the MacBook Air’s lack of active fan cooling throttles back the M1 a bit. Even with that throttling, the MacBook Air still beats everything here except for the very beefy MacBook Pro. 

But, the big deal here is really this second chart. After a single build of WebKit, the M1 MacBook Pro had a massive 91% of its battery left. I tried multiple tests here and I could have easily run a full build of WebKit 8-9 times on one charge of the M1 MacBook’s battery. In comparison, I could have gotten through about 3 on the 16” and the 13” 2020 model only had one go in it. 

This insane performance per watt of power is the M1’s secret weapon. The battery performance is simply off the chart. Even with processor-bound tasks. To give you an idea, throughout this build of WebKit the P-cluster (the power cores) hit peak pretty much every cycle while the E-cluster (the efficiency cores) maintained a steady 2GHz. These things are going at it, but they’re super power efficient.

Battery Life

In addition to charting battery performance in some real world tests, I also ran a couple of dedicated battery tests. In some cases they ran so long I thought I had left it plugged in by mistake, it’s that good. 

I ran a mixed web browsing and web video playback script that hit a series of pages, waited for 30 seconds and then moved on to simulate browsing. The results return a pretty common sight in our tests, with the M1 outperforming the other MacBooks by just over 25%.

In fullscreen 4k/60 video playback, the M1 fares even better, clocking an easy 20 hours with fixed 50% brightness. On an earlier test, I left the auto-adjust on and it crossed the 24 hour mark easily. Yeah, a full day. That’s an iOS-like milestone.

The M1 MacBook Air does very well also, but its smaller battery means a less playback time at 16 hours. Both of them absolutely decimated the earlier models.

Xcode Unzip

This was another developer-centric test that was requested. Once again, CPU bound, and the M1’s blew away any other system in my test group. Faster than the 8-core 16” MacBook Pro, wildly faster than the 13” MacBook Pro and yes, 2x as fast as the 2019 Mac Pro with its 3.3GHz Xeons. 

Image Credits: TechCrunch

For a look at the power curve (and to show that there is no throttling of the MacBook Pro over this period (I never found any throttling over longer periods by the way) here’s the usage curve.

Unified Memory and Disk Speed

Much ado has been made of Apple including only 16GB of memory on these first M1 machines. The fact of it, however, is that I have been unable to push them hard enough yet to feel any effect of this due to Apple’s move to unified memory architecture. Moving RAM to the SoC means no upgradeability — you’re stuck on 16GB forever. But it also means massively faster access 

If I was a betting man I’d say that this was an intermediate step to eliminating RAM altogether. It’s possible that a future (far future, this is the play for now) version of Apple’s M-series chips could end up supplying memory to each of the various chips from a vast pool that also serves as permanent storage. For now, though, what you’ve got is a finite, but blazing fast, pool of memory shared between the CPU cores, GPU and other SoC denizens like the Secure Enclave and Neural Engine. 

While running many applications simultaneously, the M1 performed extremely well. Because this new architecture is so close, with memory being a short hop away next door rather than out over a PCIE bus, swapping between applications was zero issue. Even while tasks were run in the background — beefy, data heavy tasks — the rest of the system stayed flowing.

Even when the memory pressure tab of Activity Monitor showed that OS X was using swap space, as it did from time to time, I noticed no slowdown in performance. 

Though I wasn’t able to trip it up I would guess that you would have to throw a single, extremely large file at this thing to get it to show any amount of struggle. 

The SSD in the M1 MacBook Pro is running on a PCIE 3.0 bus, and its write and read speeds indicate that. 

 

Thunderbolt

The M1 MacBook Pro has two Thunderbolt controllers, one for each port. This means that you’re going to get full PCIE 4.0 speeds out of each and that it seems very likely that Apple could include up to 4 ports in the future without much change in architecture. 

This configuration also means that you can easily power an Apple Pro Display XDR and another monitor besides. I was unable to test two Apple Pro Display XDR monitors side-by-side.

Cooling and throttling

No matter how long the tests I ran were, I was never able to ascertain any throttling of the CPU on the M1 MacBook Pro. From our testing it was evident that in longer operations (20-40 minutes on up) it was possible to see the MacBook Air pulling back a bit over time. Not so with the Macbook Pro. 

Apple says that it has designed a new ‘cooling system’ in the M1 MacBook Pro, which holds up. There is a single fan but it is noticeably quieter than either of the other fans. In fact, I was never able to get the M1 much hotter than ‘warm’ and the fan ran at speeds that were much more similar to that of a water cooled rig than the turbo engine situation in the other MacBooks. 

Even running a long, intense Cinebench 23 session could not make the M1 MacBook get loud. Over the course of the mark running all high-performance cores regularly hit 3GHz and the efficiency cores hitting 2GHz. Despite that, it continued to run very cool and very quiet in comparison to other MacBooks. It’s the stealth bomber at the Harrier party.

In that Cinebench test you can see that it doubles the multi-core performance of last year’s 13” MacBook and even beats out the single-core performance of the 16” MacBook Pro. 

I ran a couple of Final Cut Pro tests with my test suite. First was a 5 minute 4k60 timeline shot with iPhone 12 Pro using audio, transitions, titles and color grading. The M1 Macbook performed fantastic, slightly beating out the 16” MacBook Pro. 

 

 

With an 8K timeline of the same duration, the 16” MacBook Pro with its Radeon 5500M was able to really shine with FCP’s GPU acceleration. The M1 held its own though, showing 3x faster speeds than the 13” MacBook Pro with its integrated graphics. 

 

And, most impressively, the M1 MacBook Pro used extremely little power to do so. Just 17% of the battery to output an 81GB 8k render. The 13” MacBook Pro could not even finish this render on one battery charge. 

As you can see in these GFXBench charts, while the M1 MacBook Pro isn’t a powerhouse gaming laptop we still got some very surprising and impressive results in tests of the GPU when a rack of Metal tests were run on it. The 16″ MBP still has more raw power, but rendering games at retina is still very possible here.

The M1 is the future of CPU design

All too often over the years we’ve seen Mac releases hamstrung by the capabilities of the chips and chipsets that were being offered by Intel. Even as recently as the 16” MacBook Pro, Apple was stuck a generation or more behind. The writing was basically on the wall once the iPhone became such a massive hit that Apple began producing more chips than the entire rest of the computing industry combined. 

Apple has now shipped over 2 billion chips, a scale that makes Intel’s desktop business look like a luxury manufacturer. I think it was politic of Apple to not mention them by name during last week’s announcement, but it’s also clear that Intel’s days are numbered on the Mac and that their only saving grace for the rest of the industry is that Apple is incredibly unlikely to make chips for anyone else.

Years ago I wrote an article about the iPhone’s biggest flaw being that its performance per watt limited the new experiences that it was capable of delivering. People hated that piece but I was right. Apple has spent the last decade “fixing” its battery problem by continuing to carve out massive performance gains via its A-series chips all while maintaining essentially the same (or slightly better) battery life across the iPhone lineup. No miracle battery technology has appeared, so Apple went in the opposite direction, grinding away at the chip end of the stick.

What we’re seeing today is the result of Apple flipping the switch to bring all of that power efficiency to the Mac, a device with 5x the raw battery to work with. And those results are spectacular.

Apple brings back its ‘I’m a PC’ spokesman for Arm-based Mac launch event

By Lucas Matney

Apple brought back actor John Hodgman for a brief cameo in today’s Arm-based Mac launch event, reprising his role as the dorky “I’m a PC” character, now tasked with poking fun at Intel-based PCs in the face of an Apple silicon future for the company.

The short slot aired following the end of Tuesday’s “One More Thing” event where they showed off their new M1 chip and new designs for their upcoming MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and Mac Mini. Hodgman’s character appeared in a white room amid the vintage ad campaign’s signature tune, while touching on some of the new machines’ advances in power management.

There was notably no cameo from Justin Long, and it’s unclear whether Hodgman’s appearance will only grace today’s event or whether Apple has plans for a throwback ad campaign. Nevertheless, it was a fun nod to a popular campaign from Apple.

You can catch the appearance below at the 45:27 mark.

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