Apple showed off its new M1-powered iMac yesterday, and it sure does come in a lot of beautiful colours. Aside from the processor, there are a few neat features, like a magnetic power cord and an Ethernet port in the power block, and the entire thing has been slimmed down to just 11.5 millimetres thick. The redesign is subtle enough to attract the attention of Apple fans and sceptics alike, but dynamic enough to stand out from previous generations of iMacs.
But Apple played it safe with the hardware inside the new iMacs, perhaps not feeling the need to introduce yet another home-grown chip less than a year after it debuted the M1. As we now know, previous rumours of a souped-up M1 processor were wrong. Instead of a 12-core behemoth with eight high-performance cores and four efficient cores, and a 16-core GPU with 256 EUs (execution units), the new iMacs got the same M1 as the MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, Mac Mini — oh, yeah, and the new iPad Pro, too.
Yeah, it’s weird, though probably not as weird for Apple die-hards compared to PC enthusiasts. We’ve all had a long time to accept the sheer amount of different processor configurations for both PC and Mac, and while rumours don’t help, there’s an expectation that higher-end (and more expensive) computers get higher-end components. Based on how Apple is handling its M1 roll-out, it appears that’s not the approach the company wants to take anymore.
Take a look at Apple’s 27-inch Intel-based iMacs: There are configurations with six, eight, and 10 cores, and each processor has boost core clocks up to 4.5GHz, 4.8Ghz, or 5.0GHz. Each model has a different GPU with its own clock speeds and VRAM. Us PC hardware enthusiasts are used to picking apart every little spec, analysing how many frames per second we can get out of an extra 100 or 200MHz of core frequency. We know the computer with the 10-core processor is going to cost more because it’s the more powerful device.
That same logic doesn’t apply to macOS and iOS devices now. Other than choosing what SSD or how much DRAM you want in your device, the price goes up literally by size of the device, not what’s necessarily what’s inside of it. Laptop and desktop PCs, especially gaming PCs, can cost the same or close to the same depending on what components are inside. (Current CPU and GPU market conditions aside.)
If you’re a Mac user, especially if you’ve bought into the entire Apple ecosystem, having every Apple device outfitted with the same hardware means you’ll get consistent performance from one device to the next. Apple is all about seamless transitions, and it has that down pat on the software side. (We’ve even seen macOS embrace more of an iOS aesthetic, down to the icons.) Now that continuity extends to the hardware level to take the guesswork out of choosing what device best suits your needs.
Going back to the new iMac and iPad: Both have the same M1 8-core processor, with a 7-core or 8-core GPU depending on what model you go with. (The lower-priced models have the 7-core.) The MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, and Mac Mini are all configured the same way. Not only is Apple living up to its reputation for creating devices that are intuitive and easy to use, but it’s also further differentiating itself from the PC and Windows market. Now that it has its own processor, it doesn’t have to translate what the difference is between an Intel Core i5 and an Intel Core i7, or the difference between cores and threads. The M1 is the M1, and for all intents and purposes, that’s all an Apple user needs to know.
With Intel and AMD, there are a bunch of different processors for one system. With Apple, there’s one processor for a bunch of different systems. A prospective Apple consumer would be less likely to be paralysed by choice because they can reasonably have the same set of expectations for multiple Apple devices.
PC processors, Intel and AMD alike, have many, many variations at different price points. There are CPUs with integrated graphics and without, and CPUs that only work with certain motherboards and chips sets because the socket gets redesigned every few years. And that’s just the desktop processors. There’s a whole other ecosystem for laptops. If you’re not a hardware-minded person or have been out of the PC loop for the last few years, it’s almost like you’re studying for a test trying to catch up with all the changes.
Maybe Apple didn’t have it’s 12-core CPU monsters ready for the iMac yet, or perhaps the company is being extremely careful with its rollout due to the current chip shortage. There’s nothing worse than introducing your new iMac to the world only to have supply hamstrung by the foundries’ production capabilities and raw material supply. It might be easier to produce a lot of the same chip for the time being. It’s also possible the 12-core M1 will only be available in a 27-inch iMac form in the future.
Apple doesn’t need a new chip right now. It can afford to wait a bit longer and ride out the chip shortage as more and more programs and apps are ported to run natively on its M1 processor. Then, fingers crossed, it’ll blow us away with a 12-core monster that any PC enthusiast would have to respect.