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iGBMacBrief history of Mac Processors: Motorola 68K to M2 Ultra

Brief history of Mac Processors: Motorola 68K to M2 Ultra

The Apple Macintosh has been the heart of the Apple ecosystem for decades. Started in 1984 by Steve Jobs, this line of personal computers underwent significant transitions physically and technologically. Each software upgrade proved Apple’s incomparable excellence in innovation. If you look at MacBook processors by year, you will understand how Apple improved each parameter, impacting users at each level. Interested to know more about the evolution of Mac processors? Here, I will share the history of Mac processors in detail.   

2020-present: Apple Silicon 

On June 22, 2020, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced a ‘two-year transition plan’ to Apple Silicon from Intel. The idea was to make “Everything Apple” by substituting Intel x86-64 processors with Apple’s native ARM64 chip-based architecture.

Keeping its word, Apple unveiled its first Mac with an Apple-designed chip processor, “M1,” in November 2020. Later, we saw powerful variations of the M1 family in 2021. Apple introduced its next powerhouse, “M2” chipset, to level up the game. 

The detailed list of Apple Silicon chip architecture is given below: 

M2 (June 2022)  

Image Credit: Apple

The latest transition stage to Apple Silicon started with the launch of the M2 processor in MacBook. It houses an 8-core CPU with a configuration of 4 performance cores and 4 efficiency cores. Apple claims that M2’s CPU gives two times more promising performance than the latest 10-core PC laptop processor.   

In addition, the M2 processor offers an unparalleled work performance with an 8-or-10-core GPU, 16-core neural engine, and 100GBps bandwidth. The different RAM variations of M2 chips are 8GB, 16GB, and 24 GB. 

M2 Pro (January 2023) 

M2 Pro has a robust 10-core or 12-core CPU, including 6 or 8 performance and 2 efficiency cores. Like the M1 Pro, the M2 Pro has an inbuilt media engine that accelerates H.264, HEVC, and ProRes video encoding and decoding. Besides, the chip provides improved power efficiency when playing 4K and 8K ProRes streams thanks to the 16- or 19-core GPU.

Further, the M2 Pro has a 16-core neural engine, 200 GBps memory bandwidth, and comes in 16 or 32 GB of RAM variants. Apple claimed the M2 Pro offered exceptional image processing capabilities. The M2 Pro is only equipped with a MacBook Pro to handle its high efficiency.   

M2 Max (January 2023) 

M2 Pro and M2 Max are next-generation chips
Image Credit: Apple

M2 Max added another layer of efficiency to the Apple Silicon range. Its core specifications included a 12-core CPU with 8 performance and 4 efficiency cores. Like its predecessor, the M2 Max comes with two ProRes and video-encoding engines.   

Regarding graphics, it supports a 30- or 38-core GPU to give you the most detailed output. While the GPU support is better than M1 Max, the 16-core neural engine remains the same for both variants. In addition, Apple introduced the chip in 3 RAM variants- 32 GB, 64 GB, and 96 GB.   

Moreover, Apple asserted that the M2 Max was 30% better than the M1 version when using color grading in DaVinci Resolve. Also, it offers 400 GB of memory bandwidth, ensuring quick processing.   

M2 Ultra (June 2023) 

M2 Ultra
Image Credit: Apple

In the recent WWDC 2023, Apple launched its most efficient iteration of the Apple Silicon series – M2 Ultra. It offers the power of two M2 Max chips interwoven using the robust UltraFusion architecture. Regarding specifications, M2 Ultra features a 24-core CPU and a maximum of 76-core GPU support.

Also, it carries 134 billion transistors, up to 192GB of unified memory, and an impressive 800 GB of memory bandwidth. You can experience this beast in the latest Mac Studio and Mac Pro. According to Apple, Mac Studio with M2 Ultra is 3x faster than its earlier version.

Besides, it can run 22 streams of 8K ProRes video together. Also, the M2 Ultra chip allows Mac Pro to offer 3D simulations and video transcoding at up to 3x faster speeds. Moreover, the processor can consume 24 inputs of 4K cameras simultaneously and encode them to ProRes simultaneously. 

M1 (November 2020)

MacBook Pro M1, M1 Pro, M1 Max Processor

The M1 processor was Apple’s first venture into chip designing for Mac. Indeed, it was a big blow for Intel! Regarding specs, M1 chips offer an 8-core CPU with 4 performance and 4 efficiency cores and a 7-or-8-core GPU support.

Besides, the 16-core Neural Engine embedded in the M1 series accelerates and optimizes machine learning operations on Mac. In addition, the chip offered 68.25 GB of memory bandwidth. But it only supported two RAM variations- 8GB and 16GB. However, the small storage capacity didn’t go down well with many Mac users.  

M1 Pro (October 2021)

Next in line in the M1 series was M1 Pro. This chipset supported 8-or-10-core CPUs, configured as 6 or 8 performance and 2 efficiency cores. Besides, Apple included a 14-or-16-core GPU, which is 2x faster than M1. Also, the new GPU was up to 7x more quickly than the integrated graphics on the 8-core laptop chip.

Besides, it featured a ProRes accelerator in the media engine for faster video processing. Its memory bandwidth of up to 200 GB is nearly 3x better than the M1. This time, Apple expanded its storage capacity with M2, introducing 16GB and 32GB chips. 

M1 Max (October 2021)

The M1 Max and M1 Pro chip was launched together. It had a 10-core CPU with 8 performance and 2 efficiency cores, a 24-or-32-core GPU, and a 16-core Neural Engine. Besides, the graphics performance of the 32GB GPU is up to 4x faster than the M1 chip.   

Its two ProRes accelerators can deliver up to 2x faster video encoding than M1 Pro. Moreover, the processor offers up to 400 GB of memory bandwidth, two times more than the M1 Pro and 6x improved than the M1. Besides, the 64GB RAM adds some extra credit points.   

Apple introduced the M1 Max chip only for the MacBook Pro and Mac Studio.   

M1 Ultra (March 2022)

M1 Ultra (March 2022)
Image Credit: Apple

The M1 Ultra was launched as a standard option for the Mac Studio. This powerful processor has UltraFusion architecture connecting the two M1 Max chips. It houses a 20-core CPU with 16 performance and 4 efficiency cores. For graphics, Apple added a massive 48- or 64-core GPU support.

So, you get improved latency, reduced bandwidth, and better power consumption. Furthermore, the chip has up to 128GB of unified memory built, offering twice the media engine performance of the M1 Max.   

2006-2020: Intel x86

Intel x86

At WWDC 2005, Apple announced its transition to Intel chips, and the first Intel Macs were announced in early 2006. These included an iMac and the MacBook Pro, which boasted almost four-fold enhanced performance from their predecessors. 

Further, from Mac OS X 10.4.4, Apple included an advanced emulation technology called Rosetta. It helped maintain software compatibility between generations. Soon, Apple introduced programs with universal binaries that could run on both PowerPC and Intel Macs.

As the transition to x86 eventually came a full circle, Rosetta was removed from Mac OS X 10.7 Lion going forward. So far, about 80 Mac models have featured Intel CPUs. This changed with the introduction of ARM-based Macs.

1994-2005: Power PC

Power PC

In the late 1980s, new trends began taking over the computing industry, overshadowing the legacy CPU architectures. Apple partnered with IBM and Motorola to design a common CPU platform that could rival the “Wintel” (Microsoft-Intel) domination. 

The Power Macintosh 6100 used the PowerPC architecture, following which around 87 different Mac models were launched. Clock speeds increased from 60 MHz all the way up to 2.7 GHz, which was remarkable for that era. The final Apple PowerPC model was released back in November 2005. 

1984-1995: Motorola 68 K 

Motorola 68 K Processor

The 1984 Apple Macintosh computer had an 8 MHz Motorola 68000 CPU. While in development, an early Mac prototype used an 8/16-bit Motorola 6809 CPU. But after a designer noticed the impressive graphics routines that were being created for the 68000-based Apple Lisa, the more expensive 16/32-bit 68000 was chosen. 

While the Apple Lisa used only a 5 MHz 68000, the new Mac prototype could run at 8 MHz. This appealed to Steve Jobs, who was eager to upstage the Lisa team. 

Over the following decade, every Macintosh used successors of the 68000, including the pure 32-bit 68020, 68030, and 68040 chips. These got faster and more complex over time. Overall, at least 72 different Macs used 68k CPUs, with the last being the PowerBook 190 in 1995. 


What is the oldest Mac software?

The oldest Mac software is Mac OS X Server 1.0.

What is the fastest Apple processor?

The M2 Ultra, announced in 2023, is the fastest Apple processor.

What is the full form of Mac?

The complete form of the Mac is Macintosh.

The best is yet to come! 

The history of Apple processors beautifully captures the true ideology of the tech giant. The Mac has witnessed everything from the laptop size to its architecture. I hope you enjoyed reading this article as much as we liked traveling the Mac timeline while penning it down for you. Let’s wait for WWDC 2024 for another incredible Mac chip version to surprise us.  

Please share your reviews in the comments section. Till then, enjoy reading.  

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  • Srishti

    Srishti is a writing enthusiast who has been creating user-friendly content for more than 5 years in the tech space. At iGeeksBlog, she helps readers explore the Apple ecosystem, understand the jargon, and improve their experience. With expertise in buying guides, she helps you find the best accessories amid the pool of choices for Apple products. Her talent for making complicated tech understandable shines through in her writing. When away from her MacBook, you can find her doing a hands-on experience with new products.

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