I've read many articles and watched a lot of YouTube videos, and I've read all of Apple's technical specifications. It's complicated it's confusing and frankly even some IT professionals I work with have failed to understand what the hell is going on with Apple's new processor architecture. Here's what's going on, basically. (I'm taking some liberties with details in this to keep it simple, forgive me if you think this too easy to understand, but I hope to not be at all misleading.)

Apple has been moving it's tablet stuff and it's desktop stuff closer and closer together for years. It hasn't been hard to read the signs, and though they've moved slowly and they moved forward and then taken steps backwards at times, the goal of unification in order to maximize their ability to reuse the same things across a broader product range just makes good business sense and it's pretty obvious from an outsiders perspective.

Apple Silicon made it onto the iPad and to the first M1 Mac in late 2020, and Apple moved things even further forward March 2022 with the introduction of the M1 Ultra. With apples M processor line we have a M1, we have an M1 Pro, an M1 Max and the M1 Ultra.

As they state in their article about their processor line:

"Apple has introduced Apple silicon to nearly every Mac in the current lineup, and each new chip — M1, M1 Pro, M1 Max, and now M1 Ultra — unleashes amazing capabilities for the Mac. M1 Ultra completes the M1 family of chips, powering the all-new Mac Studio, a high-performance desktop system with a reimagined compact design made possible by the industry-leading performance per watt of Apple silicon."

Apple's Article here.

What you can see in this image is that Apple has basically joined two M1 Max dies together to make the M1 Ultra, and the fact that they can do this at all has wide ranging implications for the options they have for their processor offerings. There is absolutely nothing at all technically standing in the way of making fused versions of the M1 Pro and regular M1, making offerings that are 2x as good as the original version a super real possibility. So there are plenty of potential options to prognosticate about.

 

Whats so different about the M architecture you ask? Why is this the biggest thing in CPU design to come out since the invention of the motherboard? Well, because your computer no longer has separate parts for the GPU or RAM anymore. Which means you can't change those components out, or ever upgrade them, but even more so they kind of aren't even a GPU or RAM anymore. At least visually, they're part of the CPU. Now technically I know that is wrong, but think about it. If someone at an Apple factory handed you the CPU, lets say an M1, you'd be holding it all in the palm of your hand. In one flat impossibly thin, impossibly light, impossibly visibly "ONLY ONE THING", you'd be holding all of it, the CPU, GPU, RAM, and more. It's one thing. All of the distinctions are so small you almost can't even see them. Gone are the days when you would be able to pop out your RAM and upgrade it, or a install a new high end graphics card that gets plugged into the PCIe slot on your motherboard. Now granted, those days have really been gone for a long time for most Apple customers because Apple started soldering things like storage, RAM and GPU's into the motherboard making replacement an all or nothing proposition. If you use a laptop, it's been years since there was an upgradable model. Desktop users have had limited upgradability for years as well. The Mac Pro tower, which is currently being sold with Intel Inside, is a last hold out, being very modular and upgradeable, and Apple's latest pro line addition the Studio, is so much more powerful than that MacPro, it's almost unfair to make a comparison.

What is really different though is covered well in this article. Feel free to read there, but here's the nuts and bolts of it. 

Basically it's this. Computers have always had a pretty standard layout inside. You could open up a physical computer and teach a computers 101 class by just popping things out and holding them up for the class to see. Basic rules were followed for components to make things work. You had a brain (the CPU) to process calculations or "do" stuff. You had a long term storage device, to keep stuff (a hard drive, or SSD most typically). The computer had an intermediate place to put stuff it was actively working on and thats called RAM or random access memory, and once we got color computers and video games people got the bright idea that having a separate processing system to "DO" stuff with video would be a good idea to accelerate and improve video performance especially where motion graphics were involved which were highly processor intensive. That gave birth to GPU's or graphics processing units. Before Apple's M architecture, all of those things were different things. They might be removable, or upgradeable, or not removable at all because they might have been soldered to the board that holds it all together (the motherboard), but the point is, they were items Apple might source from other companies. Samsung could be a source for ram. So could Crucial and a bunch of other companies. Western Digital could be a source for storage devices, so too Samsung. GPU's came from ATI/AMD or Intel or Nvidia. Intel actually might be considered the beginning of the idea of putting separate components on the CPU itself. Intel Iris integrated graphics is actually on the Intel CPU and shares RAM with the rest of the system.

With M1 and after, Apple has wiped the board clean so to speak, and started from scratch making zero assumptions about how things should be laid out. Essentially, they reimagined what SHOULD be on a motherboard, and the result is shockingly better.

With Apple's M1 and later chips, the CPU is on the same small die chip as the GPU, and the RAM and a bunch of other really cool stuff that also used to be separate. Now it is all on the same chip, it's all accessible at "on-chip" speeds, never having to bounce down to the motherboard to make the trip to and fro between the CPU, GPU and RAM. It's all as if it's the same thing. That makes everything faster, and everything better computationally. What it does to upgradability though is not good for people who used to love to upgrade their macOS systems, and the news is Dire for companies that make their bread and butter on upgrading Apple hardware.

Starting with Apple's M series, you can just flat out forget about upgrading your macOS computer internally. Any upgrade, if possible at all, will be plugged into a port, not attached to the motherboard. For that reason, you need to budget for, and buy the best Mac you can possibly afford when you buy a new one, and be especially careful to get more RAM in your configuration than you think you will need, ever. The same can likely be said of the GPU. So for you, the difference between a M1 Max and an Ultra may simply come down to how many displays do you need to drive at once, and how much RAM do you REALLY need to be as efficient as possible in Photoshop, or After Effects. Or, the last version of the most demanding application you expect to EVER use on that hardware. If you need tea leaves, I have a good supplier.

So, the bottom line. Every computer Apple makes now is a better performer in every way measurable. Faster computationally, faster getting data moved around on the system to do things faster, less resistance for data movement so it's more efficient so it's better on power use, which also means it generates less thermal energy, so it runs cooler even at the higher performance levels, so the fans don't have to be so loud or run as often. Heck some of the M architecture systems don't even have fans!

Your new Mac will be your favorite Mac ever. Period. Unless you cheap out and fail to get it configured with the amount of RAM, or GPU cores, or Storage space that you truly will ever need. If you make that guess right, you'll be happy until this Mac lives out its useful life and we're talking about the next great thing. That'll maybe be in 5 to 7 years, or, who knows what Apple is up to, maybe it'll be in 2. Regardless, watch those RAM, GPU and storage configurations before you make that purchase, because they are the only possible thing about your purchase decision that could give you a reason for regret.