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Thread: Apple's upcoming CPU-architecture change: ARM-based "Apple Silicon"

  1. Top | #11
    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    ARM laptops and desktops? I looked, and there's not much. My first thought was Chromebooks, but they mostly use x86's.

    M1-powered Macs can run Windows apps, with some help from CrossOver | Engadget - CrossOver is a Windows emulator that runs x86-Windows apps.

    Windows Software on Mac & Linux with CrossOver | CodeWeavers

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    Quote Originally Posted by barbos View Post
    Benchmarks seems to show it's faster and a lot more energy efficient than AMD/Intel.
    I wish they had such CPU with linux on it.

    Indeed. The benchmarks I have seen for speed and power usage look very promising. It gives the Mac Pro a run for its money at tasks like video encoding, at literally a tenth (or less) of the cost. Took bad it will only be available on Apple branded computers.

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    Elder Contributor barbos's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lpetrich View Post
    ARM laptops and desktops? I looked, and there's not much. My first thought was Chromebooks, but they mostly use x86's.

    M1-powered Macs can run Windows apps, with some help from CrossOver | Engadget - CrossOver is a Windows emulator that runs x86-Windows apps.

    Windows Software on Mac & Linux with CrossOver | CodeWeavers
    Running separate x86 applications in emulation is not that big of a deal. Full blown and usable x86 OS emulation is what separates ARM from x86.
    Ordinary x86 linux running on ARM CPU without any complains would have been great.

    Anyway, the thing that impresses me most is the power use. Why can't AMD/Intel do the same? I mean Intel stuck at 10nm, but AMD has access to the same fabrication as Apple, the only difference is architecture.

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    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    As to why the ARM chip does so well, I think that it's the CISC vs. RISC issue all over again.

    CISC = complex instruction set computing

    CISC instructions typically have a variety of memory addressing modes, something intended as a convenience for programmers. But supporting such instruction has often required doing "microcoding", having a CPU inside of a CPU for running these instructions.

    The Intel-x86 series has a CISC architecture, and it uses microcode: Intel Microcode Other ones are the Motorola-68K one and various mainframe and minicomputer ones, like the IBM 360/370/390/z-Series, the PDP-11, and the VAX.

    CISC was intended as a convenience for programmers in the first few decades of computers, when a lot of programming was done in relatively low-level fashion. But the success of high-level programming in the 1960's and afterward made that less of an issue.

    So someone got the idea of making this CPU inside a CPU the complete CPU. Thus,

    RISC = reduced instruction set computing

    Not necessarily a small number of instructions. That's

    MISC = minimal instruction set computing

    But instructions that do only a few things at a time. Like the only memory-access ones being load and store ones.

    Several RISC architectures became prominent in the late 1980's and 1990's, like MIPS, POWER/PowerPC, SPARC, PA-RISC, DEC Alpha, and ARM, and it seemed like they would leave CISC architectures like x86 in the dust. But Intel was willing to spent what it took to keep x86 competitive, and RISC chips had only limited success on the desktop. They were most successful in high-end desktop computers called workstations, and also in Apple's PowerPC series of desktop and laptop computers from the mid 1990's to the mid 2000's.

    But workstations faded as a category, and Apple eventually threw in the towel about the PowerPC.

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    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    ARM chips have been successful in low-end applications, where low power consumption is more important than high performance. But Apple Silicon seems like ARM can do both -- and thus revive the RISC-CISC wars.

    But what I find especially interesting is that Apple has chosen to implement both sides of the power/performance tradeoff on the same chip.

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    Elder Contributor barbos's Avatar
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    x86 is RISC inside. And estimates I read are that CISC overhead over RISC is only 10% in terms of energy consumption.
    So it must be combination of manufacturing process and optimizations.
    M1 seems to have 64K L1 data cache, that's 2x more than what AMD/Intel have I think.
    It could be well matched for some benchmarks in terms of power consumption.

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    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    “We are giddy”—interviewing Apple about its Mac silicon revolution | Ars Technica
    "Craig Federighi, Johny Srouji, and Greg Joswiak tell us the Apple Silicon story." - three Apple engineers
    "We want to create the best products we can," Srouji added. "We really needed our own custom silicon to deliver truly the best Macs we can deliver."

    Apple began using x86 Intel CPUs in 2006 after it seemed clear that PowerPC (the previous architecture for Mac processors) was reaching the end of the road. For the first several years, those Intel chips were a massive boon for the Mac: they enabled interoperability with Windows and other platforms, making the Mac a much more flexible computer. They allowed Apple to focus more on increasingly popular laptops in addition to desktops. They also made the Mac more popular overall, in parallel with the runaway success of the iPod, and soon after, the iPhone.

    And for a long time, Intel's performance was top-notch. But in recent years, Intel's CPU roadmap has been less reliable, both in terms of performance gains and consistency. Mac users took notice. But all three of the men we spoke with insisted that wasn't the driving force behind the change.

    "This is about what we could do, right?" said Joswiak. "Not about what anybody else could or couldn't do."

    "Every company has an agenda," he continued. "The software company wishes the hardware companies would do this. The hardware companies wish the OS company would do this, but they have competing agendas. And that's not the case here. We had one agenda."
    Saying that one wants to do the best possible job seems like a platitude, but it must be noted that for Apple to survive, its products *have* to be good. Otherwise, the Macintosh line would be much like inferior PeeCees or Chromebooks, and iPhones and iPads much like inferior Android smartphones and tablets.

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    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    Then the article described how the chip was designed. It's an offshoot of chip designs used in the iPhone and iPad series, but tweaked for Mac workloads.

    Then, "tile-based rendering", working on one tile at a time of an image. This improves performance because each tile can live in the chip's memory as it is being worked on, making rendering faster.

    Heat-rejection capability makes a difference in performance.
    In other words, the MacBook Air and Pro should perform similarly when bursts of speed are needed, but the Pro can maintain that performance for longer—critical for many demanding workflows like video editing. In such scenarios, the Air would throttle sooner to stay cool. According to Apple, the M1 scales to better performance the more power you can give it.
    In tests, the new low-end Macs with M1 chips performed comparably to high-end ones with Intel chips. Apple eventually hopes to introduce M1 versions of all its Macs.

    With Apple Silicon, iOS apps can run natively on Macs with little or no rebuilding needed.

  9. Top | #19
    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    Windows, however, is a problem.
    But while Apple Silicon Macs can run existing Mac, iPhone, and iPad software, the new architecture cannot immediately run applications built for x86 operating systems besides macOS, and Rosetta 2 doesn't offer any help on this front. The ability to run Windows software was a small part of the success of Intel-based Macs, so some users—particularly those with certain professional workflows—will see that as a loss.
    The M1 chip can do virtualization of other OSes that run on the ARM architecture. Running OSes for other chip architectures requires use of emulators of those architectures, and Rosetta 2 apparently lacks such OS-level emulation capabilities.

    But some people have written such emulators for MacOS version that run on earlier chip architectures that Apple has used, Motorola 68K and PowerPC, and those may end up being ported to ARM.


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    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    While running Linux is important for many, other users are asking about Windows. Federighi pointed to Windows in the cloud as a possible solution and mentioned CrossOver, which is capable of "running both 32- and 64-bit x86 Windows binaries under a sort of WINE-like emulation layer on these systems." But CrossOver's emulation approach is not as consistent as what we've enjoyed in virtualization software like Parallels or VMWare on Intel Macs, so there may still be hills to climb ahead.
    CrossOver uses WINE, "Windows Emulator" or "WINE Is Not an Emulator". It runs Windows apps without being a complete implementation of Windows. WINE was originally developed for Linux, but it also runs in MacOS and xBSD.
    As for Windows running natively on the machine, "that's really up to Microsoft," he said. "We have the core technologies for them to do that, to run their ARM version of Windows, which in turn of course supports x86 user mode applications. But that's a decision Microsoft has to make, to bring to license that technology for users to run on these Macs. But the Macs are certainly very capable of it."
    Mac mini and Apple Silicon M1 review: Not so crazy after all | Ars Technica - "The M1 is amazingly fast. More importantly, it's a compatibility slam dunk."

    Rosetta 2 generally works very well. But from macOS 11.0 Big Sur: The Ars Technica review | Ars Technica
    There are a few things that Rosetta 2 won’t do. Rosetta 2 won’t translate kernel extensions, x86 virtualization software like Parallels or VMWare Fusion, or apps that use newer Intel instruction sets like AVX, AVX2, and AVX512. For apps that already know to check for AVX support, since those instruction sets aren’t available on all Macs that run Big Sur, the apps should see that the instructions aren’t supported and run without issue.
    Also, a lot of iOS and iPadOS apps didn't work very well, even though they run in M1 Big Sur.

    In summary,
    • The good
      • Great performance across the board
        Legacy x86 macOS app support and performance are generally rock solid
      • Low footprint in every respect: size, power, thermals
      • Everything that was good about the Mac mini before is still good
    • The bad
      • RAM and port options are limited
      • The iOS and iPadOS app experience is a mess
    • The ugly
      • The path for emulating x86 Windows is still unclear, and that’s an essential part of a lot of people's workflows

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