Debunking Apple M1X Naysayers
A lot of people claim Apple’s M1X will be significantly restrained in terms of number of cores and memory. Here is the case against that view.
We have started seeing more rumors about Apple’s M1X chip and specs. We got this story: The M1X Will Be Incredible.
The claim in this story is the following:
The M1X is rumored to have 12 cores in total, with 8 performance cores and 4 efficiency cores.
Every time these rumors and speculations pop up, naysayers are eager to pour cold water on the whole idea. The M1 is already too large, they say. They cannot expand it with that many cores. And even if they could, that means they cannot expand the memory and performance will suffer anyway.
Are we to believe these claims? Now, I am not a chip designer but I can look up the important specs and do my own back-of-the-envelope type of calculations. Based on that, I don’t see how these claims stack up. Let us start with the claim that they cannot add more cores. Let us look up the size of some of Intel’s current lineup.
So what we see from this is that the larger Intel chip has a die area of 206.1 mm². Below is a shot from the M1 die, which suggests it is 11 × 11 mm which gives a die size of 120 mm².
You can read the following articles giving similar numbers:
- AnandTech breakdown of the M1
- Techarp breakdown of AMD Zen3, suggest 16 core AMD Zen3 is a whole 285 mm².
- Intel i9 die sizes from Tom’s Hardware.
If you look at the die shot of the M1, it suggests that the 8 cores with their associated cache consumes about 40% of the M1 silicon space. That is about 48 mm². Let us do some visual comparisons based on these numbers.
Because the i9 has a very different shape, they are hard to compare so I have changed the shapes in the illustration below, while keeping the total area the same to make the comparisons easier. I have also added an area which is 40% of the M1, but the same width for easy comparison to represent possible added cores and cache. So one block represents 8 extra cores (4 firestorm and 4 icestorm) added.
Judging by this, we are able to add about 16 extra cores. That would mean an M1X could have 24 cores in total where 12 are firestorm cores and 12 are icestorm. This is, however, unlikely. They are not going to add extra firestorm cores. Thus the claims in the rumors look totally doable. They still end up much smaller than the biggest Zen3 CPUs from AMD.
What About the Memory?
Okay, whatever, but they cannot fit more memory right? Wrong! The memory is not on the wafer. The limited silicon area we are dealing with here does not involve the RAM. Contrary to many misconceptions, the memory is not part of a single silicon wafer with the rest of the chip. The memory is simply put in the same package.
Thus Apple is not constrained at all in terms of memory the way people think. In fact, there are crazy people who have upgraded this sort of memory on the iPhone already: M1 Mac RAM and storage can be upgraded after purchase, but it’s not easy.
Unless the naysayers can provide us with some compelling arguments, statistics, specs or facts that explain why Apple cannot pull off the rumored M1X with a lot more cores and memory, what we know thus far points to this being totally doable.
Consider these these facts:
M1 power consumption is 3x lower than Intel. Heat production is a key constraint in making larger chips. That Apple should not be able to make a chip at least as large as an Intel chip would then be truly bizarre. If naysayers are claiming that, then they need to step up and give us an explanation.
It is hard to not feel the old “Apple is doomed” vibe from some of the commenters. Read the comments when Apple first announced the M1. There was almost a complete rejection of Apple’s claims of performance. Then independent tests started trickling in confirming what Apple had claimed all along. So the naysayers fell silent. But now they are at it again.
And think about it: why on Earth would Apple switch to a new chip architecture that could barely go beyond M1? Why would M1, their first desktop chip, represent the max of what they could achieve? Why would it not simply be the beginning of a whole range of impressive chips? To believe the naysayers implies assuming that Apple, one of the most valuable companies in the world is run by a bunch of idiots with no foresight. It simply does not add up.