Apple unveiled their M1 processor last year, ditching years of partnership with Intel and the x86 Instruction Set. This move came as a relatively anticipated one as the industry had speculated for years that Apple is working on their own silicone for the Mac computers. What wasn’t expected was how good the M1 turned out to be. It blew everyone’s expectations out of the water and offered gains in both performance and efficiency, the likes of which had never been seen before.
In the end, both Apple and the end-consumer got a better product that was more vertically-integrated within Apple’s ecosystem, so it was a win-win for everyone. Intel was the only loser here as they lost a decades-long partner and another competitive segment. Today, AMD, Intel’s biggest and most direct rival finally shared its thoughts on the M1 for the first time since its launch, and they were quite diplomatic about it.
Vice President, David McAfee sat down with The Indian Express and talked about AMD’s strategy against Apple, representing the company’s overall perspective on the M1 and the industry-startling success it has enjoyed.
“What Apple has done is that they have taken a different approach to design a chip. Their approach is something that has strong, single-threaded CPU performance that is right there with the Zen 3 series processor.
McAfee lauded the performance of the M1 and compared it to AMD’s contemporary Zen 3 architecture of CPUs. Moreover, he mentions how Apple’s approach to designing a chip is starkly different from the standard practice of the industry, aka AMD and Intel. While both of these x86 chipmakers try their best to deliver on both single-threaded and multi-threaded performance, Apple seems to put the single-thread numbers in primary focus.
I would say the biggest innovation Apple has brought into the ecosystem is the battery life and power efficiency that comes from the heritage of the mobile handset space and kind of taking it into the PC space from a mobile handset design methodology.
Apple has had custom silicone in their phones and tablets for a long time now. Part of the reason why iPhones sell so well is because Apple has absolute control over them. They design both the software and the hardware which allows them to vertically-integrate these products for better support and optimization. You’ll notice how iPhones regularly get 5-6 years of updates from Apple, yet even the best Androids only enjoy 3 years at most.
McAfee is referring to Apple’s excellence in this department and how the M1 essentially takes all of the improvements made on iPhones/iPads and implements them in its silicone to provide superior efficiency, which, in turn leads to better battery life. The more control you have over your own chip, the better you can optimize it for one specific set of hardware. Because of this same methodology and concept that you find on Apple’s phones, McAfee says that the M1 is designed from a “mobile handset” perspective in mind.
Despite all this, AMD does not feel threatened by the M1’s shadow. McAfee reaffirms that M1 has not had any significant impact on AMD’s strategy against Apple, and that they are confident in producing even better chips in collaboration with other Silicone Valley giants. It’s important to note that AMD and Apple, while in the same race now, are working for two very different goals. AMD is working to create a better product for everyone at the end, while Apple is doing the same for only its own ecosystem. Two different routes, same destination.
I don’t think that what Apple has done changes AMD’s strategy dramatically. There’s an enormous amount of opportunity for us working with Microsoft or us working with Google to deliver a better experience.
Another area where Apple has the lead in for now is transistor count. The M1 is based on a 5nm process node, that’s better than both Intel and AMD’s desktop and mobile offerings at the moment. These numbers are not just marketing material, they actually have a major impact on the overall performance of a chip. The smaller the node, the more transistors you can pack in there, which means the more efficient the chip can get. This helps manufacturers add more cores inside their processors while maintaining lower power consumption. David McAfee had this to say about nanometers in chips:
It’s not a marketing game at all, whether you are making a smartphone, notebook or desktop workstation, no matter what it is, the thing that is most important to driving out of any design is how much performance can you deliver in every watt of power. Moving from seven nanometers, six nanometers, five nanometers to three nanometers…whatever comes next, each of those steps provides significant improvements.
Closing his conversation with The Indian Express, McAfee detailed how even without a competitor as fierce as Apple, at the end of the day, AMD will always strive for innovation. Now, I can’t say whether that is actually true or just some PR assertions. Intel, without competition, snoozed off and eventually declined when AMD swooped under their nose with better value propositions. But, at the same time, Nvidia, despite little to no competition from AMD, kept innovating at the highest standards possible and still do to this day. Whatever the truth may be, we can all say that AMD is quite confident about its future, especially with the success they’re currently sitting on.
There are fundamentals about the product that is absolutely essential, and those pieces have to be there regardless of who the competition is. [AMD is] leading in performance, in power efficiencies, and in manufacturing process technology. We can continue to do those things in spite of whatever moves that Intel or Apple might make…we will end up being in a very strong competitive position.