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Apple’s M3 chip is a bigger deal than you might think


apple reality, India and security emerge as three of the biggest stories for Apple in 2023, but there’s one more: Apple Silicon, primarily moving to 3nm process technology in the upcoming A17 and M3 processor upgrades (series). We’re starting to hear whispers suggesting what those chip upgrades mean.

More computer for less power

We already know what to expect: more computing power at lower wattage than before, essentially allowing Apple’s devices to do more work for less energy.

No, as the migration from M1 to M2 showed, we’re not expecting the same giant leap the company made in moving from Intel processors to its own chips in Macs, but the improvements are generous nonetheless.

How generous? According to claimed* Geekbench scores, we’re looking at a 20% performance boost on the upcoming iPhone chip, A17. That boost will manifest itself in useful functions, such as fast image editing and even more beautiful visual effects.

*The claims seem to come from China so we have not been able to verify their veracity. But they seem reasonable given the expected benefits of moving to 3nm process technology. It might be worth noting that this leaker also warned of an upcoming yellow iPhone, which it did then entered.

Leaked A17 benchmarks look promising

The leaker lists single-core scores of 3,019 and multi-core scores of 7,860 on Geekbench 6. That’s higher on iPhone 14 Pro’s A16 Bionic, which achieves 2,504 and 6,314, respectively, but lower than previously leaked scores claimed of 3,986 and 8,841.

While these scores may not be accurate or real, they appear to correlate closely with what is expected from the shift to 3nm chips. The processors are about 35% more efficient Digitimes.

That’s for the iPhone. So is Apple is expected to introduce its first M3 Mac processors this year and most speculation suggests these will also be based on a 3nm process. Just as the M1 chips are a mature version of Apple’s mobile processors, the M3 will use some shared resources.

That means it’s reasonable to imagine Macs equipped with those processors will see similar performance gains.

A little contextual information

Think Photoshop to put these expected benefits into context. Adobe was excited about the massive 50% performance boost it experienced when it brought Photoshop from Intel to M1 Macs.

When the MacBook Air with the M2 chip was introduced in 2022, Apple claimed that some key Photoshop transitions would be five times faster than on an Intel Mac – and 20% faster than on the previous M1 systems. Now we’re looking at another 20% improvement.

It’s pretty clear that Apple’s silicon teams are moving forward, and as the computational performance per watt in each chip improves, it also means that these new systems will compete even more aggressively against high-end systems.

Packing all this performance into systems that require measurably less power still has major implications for businesses that operate large numbers of computers. The best recent insight came from MacStadium’s revelation that server centers hosting the Mac mini servers complained that the computers didn’t use as much power as MacStadium paid for under its hosting plans. On a scale, this is good for the energy bill and also good for the environment.

These performance gains are significant. They put Apple right at the top of the pack for low-power silicon speed, and competing systems can’t seem to match them in power consumption.

Strategic investments, solid roadmap

That strategic importance is reflected in Apple’s investment. TSMC held a ceremony on Dec. 29 at the new Fab 18 construction site in Southern Taiwan Science Park to announce that mass production of 3nm chips had begun, estimating that it would generate $1.5 trillion in sales within the next five years. would generate revenue.

Digitimes then claimed Apple bought the entire proceeds of 3nm processors from chip manufacturer TSMCwhich gives it a unique position as the only manufacturer that can mass-market mobile devices and computers equipped with 3nm chips.

That investment is important because it also gives Apple access to a clear path to future improvements in its chips. In a rackTSMC said, “Compared to the 5nm (N5) process, TSMC’s 3nm process provides up to 1.6x logical density amplification and 30-35% power reduction at the same speed, and supports the innovative TSMC FINFLEX architecture.”


FINFLEX delivers distinctive advantages for Apple by creating a roadmap for future improvements to chips built below 3nm. That roadmap means we’ll get M1, M1 Pro, M1 Max, M1 Ultra, M2, M2 Pro and the M2 Max as the FINFLEX architecture already lets Apple’s silicon teams accurately optimize performance and power consumption.

TSMC isn’t sitting still either – previous reports claimed the company is already preparing to introduce N3E, an enhanced version of its existing 3nm manufacturing technology at the end of this year. Apple would also be the first customer for that.

So, what is the conclusion of this dizzying array of facts, rumors and speculation?

Where is this puck going?

Not only is Apple poised to gain a unique advantage as the sole vendor with 3nm chips in bulk, but it is also able to make incremental improvements to those processors, with a clear roadmap for new processor designs next year.

We can’t be sure if this means Apple plans to upgrade some or all of its Macs with new chips each year, as it already does with iPhones, but the frequency with which it introduces new chips says it does.

Perhaps it plans to upgrade notebooks more often, while delivering the greatest relative improvement on desktops that are updated less frequently. But whichever approach it takes, the days when Macs fell behind on performance improvements are gone. There is no AIM Alliance roadblock, no need to wait for Intel. And TSMC is preparing to build chip manufacturing in the US, which will help Apple secure future supply of processors.

As a result, Apple appears to be able to deliver powerful Mac, iPad, and iPhone upgrades as often as once a year. That means if Macs aren’t yet delivering the performance your business needs, it’s only a matter of time (which will probably be a short time) before they do.

Apple’s processor story will inevitably translate into increased Mac market share, even as overall PC market growth slows. And that is not virtual reality.

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