Eleven months after the launch of the first Mac M1s that ushered in Apple’s silicon era for Mac, Apple has addressed how it plans to meet the needs of users for whom iPad-level performance, impressive as it may be, simply is not sufficient. .
With the announcement of the M1 Pro and M1 Max, Apple has connected the dots and revealed two new chips that propel the MacBook Pro to new heights. Two connected points form a straight line, and that line points to the future of the Mac. Here’s a look at what might happen next.
Pushing the Pro
It seems obvious that the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips are intended for computers beyond the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros. Although designed for the power envelope of a laptop, they are so powerful – faster than the Mac Pro! – which will fit well on almost any desktop that Apple sees fit to make.
Let’s start with one of the last Intel Macs still standing: the 27-inch iMac. Earlier this year, Apple tapped the 21.5-inch iMac with its magic wand and turned it into a 24-inch M1 model. The 27-inch model is rumored to be heading into new life as a 30-inch model, and given the high-end Intel chips available at the top of the iMac lineup, it’s hard not to see at least the M1 Pro entering a new larger iMac.
The M1 processor is limited in both RAM and in terms of ports, and a larger iMac needs both. For years Apple has seen a growing number of professional Mac users (I’m one of them!) Gravitate towards the larger iMac, which has provided them with some pretty impressive processors and graphics cards in high-end configurations. (There’s a reason the current 27-inch iMac Pro has two Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C ports, four USB-A ports, and an SD card reader!) As a result, the M1 Pro seems like a perfect fit for a iMac.
If Apple can fit the M1 Max and its 32 GPU cores in the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros, it can also fit inside an iMac. When it arrives, I’d expect the new larger iMac to be available in a similar base model to the MacBook Pro base model – an M1 Pro, perhaps with similarly reduced CPU and GPU core counts. But high-end configurations abound, probably matching all those offered on the MacBook Pros.
With such power, Apple could qualify the largest iMac as an iMac Pro. Or perhaps Apple will reserve that name only for high-end iMac models with the M1 Max. Or Apple could simplify it and call it the new 30-inch iMac. But whatever it’s called, I expect the new iMac to be available in a configuration with a 10-core M1 Max processor with 32-core GPU and 64GB of RAM. It costs a lot, but it’s probably worth it.
Making room for the Max
The smaller iMac could also be in line for a faster chip. In the past, smaller iMac models could be configured to be quite powerful, if not as powerful as larger iMacs. I think the question comes down to how much space is inside the very slim 24-inch iMac for an M1 Pro motherboard, and whether the iMac’s cooling system can keep it cool. Looks like possible That Apple might update the 24-inch iMac to offer some new, high-end configurations that use the M1 Pro, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple focused more on shipping the new, larger iMac right now. In the long run, I wouldn’t be surprised if the smaller iMac has a more powerful processor as an option, but you may have to wait until the next generation of chips.
And then there is the Mac mini. Apple released a new M1-based Mac mini last November, alongside the 13-inch MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. What you might not have noticed is that the old Intel-based Mac mini, which has more ports and processor power than the M1 version, is still on Apple’s price list! Now that the M1 Pro is here, it seems like a new high-end Mac mini is inevitable.
And it is … in a way. Does Apple have a little more ambition for its little desktop Mac? The easiest thing the company can do is use some of the ample free space in the current Mac mini cabinet, put an M1 Pro motherboard in there, and launch a new model of the Mac mini in space gray with lots of ports and lots of power.
A more difficult trick would be to turn the Mac mini into something new, a mini desktop designed around the M1 Pro and maybe even the M1 Max. Consider it the screen-less equivalent to the large iMac, a powerful system that might not replace the Mac Pro, but would offer power to spare for just about any high-end Mac user. There have been reports that Apple has been working on a Mac somewhere between the M1 Mac mini and the Mac Pro. Could this be? Possibly. But it would also be fine with an M1 Pro in the old Mac mini case.
Beyond the M1
Clearly, there will be more Macs using the M1 Pro and M1 Max, but what’s next? There are two answers to that question. If you’re wondering where the entire chip line goes from here, you’d expect that sometime in 2022 we’ll see the debut of the M2 processor. We’ll see Apple gradually upgrade all of its Macs with even faster chips, probably starting again at the low end with the MacBook Air and 24-inch iMac.
But there is still an Intel Mac looming and it is the hardest to replace. Given that Apple seems committed to its promised two-year window for this chip transition, that means it has about a year to create a new Mac Pro. According to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, that new Mac Pro would be powered by some monster chips, models 20- and 40-core with up to 128 graphics cores.
But if you do the math, you’ll notice something about the Mac Pro chips reported by Gurman: They are multiples of the M1 Max. That 20-core model is two M1 Max chips that work together; the 40-core model is four M1 Max chips. This means that we may have already seen the future of the Mac Pro – it’s the M1 Max … multiplied.
If Apple’s numbers are to be believed, and I believe they are, then the new MacBook Pro models will prove that Macs powered by Apple-designed chips can be put into professional-grade systems. Not only will they be as good as the Intel versions, they will be better: faster, cooler, and with longer battery life. And more, much more, is on the way.