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Apple's M1 Pro, M1 Max chips are the culmination of a vision hatched in 2008

The Apple leadership team in 2007 at the time of the first iPhone launch. (Image: Jonathon Sprague/Redux)
The Apple leadership team in 2007 at the time of the first iPhone launch. (Image: Jonathon Sprague/Redux)
A lot has rightly been written about the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips found in Apple’s new MacBook Pro models. However, while the spotlight is rightly on them now, their origins date back to a decision made in 2008 under the leadership of Apple co-founder, the late Steve Jobs and his team, which included Tony Fadell.

Apple Silicon is well and truly in the minds of the wider tech world these days thanks to outsized performance advantage of its iPhones have enjoyed over the competition for many years now. It is a performance advantage that was subsequently hit home by processors like the 'X' variants of iPhone chips that were further bolstered for its iPad line (A8X, A10X, A12X, A14X/M1). Now, we have just held witness to how advanced Apple’s silicon technology is with the launch of the new M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, which are in a class of their own.

While the excellent Apple M1 chip launched last year in the MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro and Mac mini gave us some insight into what to expect from Apple’s 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro, Apple exceeded expectations with the M1 Pro and M1 Max. Although now clearly Apple’s entry-level Mac chip, the M1 was already competitive with some of Intel’s best laptop chips. But the new M1 Pro and M1 Max chips managed to blow away Anandtech, a specialist chip technology website, which recently said, “We expected large performance jumps, but we didn’t expect some of the monstrous increases the new chips are able to achieve.” 

While Apple is already cooking up something that could be as much as four times as powerful as the M1 Max (or more) for the next Mac Pro, the M1 Pro and M1 Max are very much the culmination of a vision that dates back to 2008. Tony Fadell, the ‘Father of the iPod’, had already convinced the late Steve Jobs that Apple needed to adopt Arm-based chips for both its iPhone and iPad. Jobs is said to have initially planned on using Intel Atom in the first iPad as he had an affinity with the company, but Fadell famously threatened to leave Apple if Jobs went ahead with his plans instead of using Arm-based silicon which Fadell favored.

Apple’s senior leadership team at the time naturally included Steve Jobs, along with Tony Fadell, Jony Ive, Scott Forstall, Eddy Cue and Phil Schiller. It was this braintrust that made the decision to develop custom Arm-based chips to help differentiate the iPhone and iPad from the competition. While Apple had dabbled in processor design in partnership with other companies in the past, it made the decision to acquire P.A. Semi in 2008 to create an in-house team dedicated to custom chip design. At the time, P.A. Semi had a team of around 150 people and specialized in making powerful and efficient processors. Sound familiar?

Apple further bolstered this team with the subsequent acquisition of Intrinsity in 2010 which employed around 100 staff. Unsurprisingly, Intrinsity also specialized in creating highly efficient chips that needed fewer transistors and offered low power consumption. In an interesting aside, just prior to being acquired by Apple, Intrinsity had partnered with Samsung in 2009 to develop the 1 GHz Arm Cortex-A8 based chip found in the Google Nexus S. Apple must have liked what it saw in that design while Samsung must be kicking themselves that they didn’t take the opportunity to gobble up Instrinsity before Apple swept in.

The decision to go in-house, and acquire Intrinsity and P.A. Semi is why we now have Apple's devices unified under a single custom Apple architecture. And, of course, the incredible powerful M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, with more to come. To conclude the article, I will leave you with a tweet from Tony Fadell that he posted in response to a question in which I asked what he thought of the new M1 Pro and M1 Max chips:

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> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > News > News Archive > Newsarchive 2021 11 > Apple's M1 Pro, M1 Max chips are the culmination of a vision hatched in 2008
Sanjiv Sathiah, 2021-11- 4 (Update: 2021-11- 5)