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Wednesday, March 16, 2022
Apple’s M1 Ultra chip could upend the computer industry
Apple’s (AAPL) new M1 Ultra processor hits the market Friday. The chip, which you can get in the new $3,999 Mac Studio, is expected to be an absolute powerhouse that can take on the best of what Intel (INTC), AMD (AMD), and Nvidia (NVDA) have to offer.
That’s good news for consumers and nerdy tech editors looking for new gaming rigs and high-end systems to run video and photo editing software. It’s also a huge accomplishment for Apple, which only started offering laptop and desktop chips in 2020.
It also means a huge cost savings for people who want a monster computer that can tackle the most intense tasks. In fact, Apple says a fully-loaded Mac Studio with an M1 Ultra priced at $7,999 can smack around a $25,599 Mac Pro with an Intel chip and AMD graphics card when it comes to video encoding.
And yes, $7,999 is pricey, but it’s wild to get that kind of performance from a system that’s considerably less expensive than the Mac Pro.
“Apple is beating chip companies at their own game with the M1 series,” Wedbush analyst Dan Ives told Yahoo Finance.
Of course, what’s good for Apple is bad for its competitors. That’s because, according to experts, the M1 Ultra could ditch their Windows-based PCs in favor of Cupertino’s Macs.
“Apple has this internal silicon business. It’s very capable, it’s leading in that application processor design,” Gartner senior director analyst Jon Erensen told Yahoo Finance.
Apple’s chips give consumers an option beyond Windows
For years, users in need of a high-end computer capable of crunching huge amounts of data needed a powerful CPU coupled with a discrete graphics card. And Windows PCs provided that.
Sure, Apple sold systems with Intel chips and AMD graphics, but the company didn’t update them as frequently as PC makers that swapped out their computers with incremental processor upgrades every year. That made Windows machines the best option if you were looking for the most powerful computers on the market.
With the M1 Ultra, though, Apple has control over both the CPUs and GPUs it drops into its systems, which means it can update its Macs as it sees fit. It also means better integration between the M1 Ultra and Apple’s software, which should also be a boon for performance.
Apple created the M1 Ultra by snapping two M1 Max chips together using an architecture technology called UltraFusion.
In total, the M1 Ultra packs a whopping 20 CPU cores and 64 GPU cores. According to Apple, that means the M1 Ultra can handle intense processes like editing 8K videos or running 3D modeling apps without breaking a sweat.
Apple says a Mac Studio with an M1 Ultra will outperform a Windows PC outfitted with an Intel Core i9 desktop chip and Nvidia’s formidable RTX 3090 graphics card, while consuming less overall power.
That not only means the Mac Studio will run at lower temperatures than competing PCs, but it will also maintain peak performance longer than its PC counterparts.
Apple has always done well among creative professionals thanks to its products’ designs and capabilities. But Windows-based machines caught up to Apple in recent years, with manufacturers like Microsoft pushing out systems with powerful processors and graphics cards.
But with the M1 Ultra, Apple has a chip that could outperform its PC rivals and give Apple the performance crown. And that’s more than enough reason for gamers and creators to jump to Apple’s side.
Apple is putting pressure on Intel, Nvidia, and AMD
There’s just one caveat: the M1 Ultra is only available in the Mac Studio. You can’t buy one off the shelf and slap it into any old computer. That’s a major letdown for enthusiasts who build their computers.
According to Ives, however, Apple may eventually make the M1 Ultra available to other computer makers, giving consumers the ability to build their own M1 Ultra-based systems while putting Apple in direct competition with Intel, AMD, and Nvidia.
“This latest M1 Ultra is a game changer on the graphics front and ultimately is competitive versus Nvidia,” Ives said. “Now it’s about how big Apple goes outside Cupertino and selling its chip to third parties.”
Of course, Apple could simply hold on to its chips and use them to lure prospective customers. After all, it’s done that with the iPhone for years. Apple also previously licensed its Mac OS operating to third parties in the ’90s, but killed the program, because it was cannibalizing its own Macintosh computer sales.
But if Apple does begin selling its processors to third-parties, it could take a slice out of Intel, Nvidia, and AMD’s respective market shares. And if the M1 Ultra’s performance is as good as Apple claims, that could happen more quickly than you’d think.
By Daniel Howley, tech editor at Yahoo Finance. Follow him @DanielHowley
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