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Apple M1 Extreme: Four dies, ultimate power for Mac Pro?

Ever since Apple began the transition to its own silicon chips inside its Macs, we’ve been wondering about the chip that will come to the next Mac Pro. This will be the ultimate test of Apple’s chipmaking abilities, as highly demanding professional users will not be pleased if the company struggles to meet their requirements.

Fortunately, all the current rumors suggest Apple has a monster of a chip waiting in the wings, rumored to comprise two M1 Ultra chips joined at the hip. We’ve found all the latest news on this chip (dubbed the M1 Extreme, among other names), so if you want to know what’s coming next, you’re in the right place.

Price and release date

Apple Mac M1 Ultra Graphic.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Reporter Mark Gurman chimed in with his thoughts earlier this year, noting: “I’d expect Apple to finish its transition to its own silicon from Intel chips as early as June at WWDC 2022.” He later clarified that the chip will be revealed at WWDC, but not launched at that point. However, the M1 Extreme was notably absent from the event.

An announcement at this time would have made sense. WWDC — otherwise known as the Worldwide Developers Conference — is a developer-focused event that Apple often uses to show off its upcoming pro-level hardware. The Mac Pro and its accompanying chip would have fit right in.

Likewise, display industry analyst Ross Young believed a new Mac Pro was coming alongside a new 27-inch display, both in June 2022. Since Apple explained at its Peek Performance event that the Mac Pro is the only Mac yet to transition to Apple Silicon — and remember Apple only has until the end of the year to hit its two-year deadline for the switch — this Mac Pro will surely bear the M1 Extreme chip.

However, since it did not appear at WWDC, we can probably expect the Mac Pro to appear later this year if Apple wants to meet its self-imposed deadline.

Based on what my resource reports, here is some official information on the new Mac Pro 2022

This is the bridge that connects 2 M1 Ultra together and will be found in the new 2022 Mac Pro.

Processor name: "Redfern"
Coming with new Macs Pro this September #Apple #AppleInternal

— Majin Bu (@MajinBuOfficial) March 12, 2022

Since the M1 Extreme and the Mac Pro weren’t announced at WWDC, when will it release? Twitter leaker Majin Bu has claimed that will arrive in September, and we wouldn’t expect anything sooner. In all likelihood, it may come even later than that. Apple announced the M2 for the 13-inch MacBook Pro and the newly redesigned MacBook Air, with both devices becoming available next month. Since the Mac Pro wasn’t announced alongside these, you shouldn’t expect it for at least a few more months.

Now for the daunting part: The price. Right now, the M1 Ultra chip commands a $1,400 premium over the M1 Max in the Mac Studio — and that’s just for the base M1 Ultra. Similarly, the very first CPU upgrade you can make in the 2019 Mac Pro costs $1,000. The top-end chip is $7,000 more than the base-level Intel Xeon W.

Bearing that in mind, and considering there could be at least two M1 Extreme chips available (as is the case with the M1 Ultra), a $1,000 upgrade price from one to the other would not be unexpected.

The name: M1, M2, or something else?

Apple M1 chip.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Apple said at its Peek Performance event that it was adding “one last chip” to the M1 family. That turned out to be the M1 Ultra. Does this mean therefore that the next Mac Pro’s high-end chip will be in the M2 family? It’s certainly possible but depends on how literally we take Apple’s statement.

Let’s take a strict approach and assume there will be no more M1 chips of any sort. YouTuber Vadim Yuryev of the Max Tech channel believes Apple could give this chip a completely new family name, such as X1 or Z1. This is based on a leak from Twitter user Appleakation, who doesn’t have much of a track record, so we’re skeptical.

However, Yuryev makes the good point that a separate name would allow Apple to put the chip on a different release schedule to the rest of its products. Since the Mac Pro doesn’t get updated as often as the MacBook Pro, this new name could help its chip not feel quite so outdated as the years progress.

The chip in the new Mac Pro will not be part of the M1 or M2 family

— Bob (@appleakation) March 31, 2022

Conversely, Mark Gurman believes the Mac Pro will come with two new chips, one of which now seems to match the specifications of the M1 Ultra. If that’s correct, why would Apple mix and match chip family names, for example by kitting the Mac Pro out with an M1 Ultra and, say, an X1 Extreme? It seems confusing and goes against what Apple has always done, which is to keep its devices on the same chip family with each update.

Gurman has proposed another possibility. Apple could put an M1 Ultra into the Mac Pro, plus a doubled-up M1 Ultra option that would keep the M1 Ultra name and just be presented as a more performant version. That way, we get the extreme performance that has been so heavily rumored, and Apple keeps its word that there will be no new chips names in the M1 family.

However, as we’ll come to next, there could be some technical limitations preventing this. That gives us one last option: Apple will wait until the M2 Ultra and dual-chip M2 Ultra are ready, then put them into the Mac Pro. That could mean a lengthy wait, though.

But since the M2 was announced at WWDC, the likelihood of the M1 Extreme actually being in the M2 family (or something else entirely), is far more likely.

How will it work?

Apple M1 family die shots.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The M1 Ultra is something of a Frankenstein chip, combining two M1 Max dies into one system-on-a-chip. The M1 Extreme, though, would take that a step further by combining two M1 Ultras together, meaning it would be comprised of four chip dies.

According to developer Hector Martin, this might be impossible to achieve with M1-generation tech because its architecture simply isn’t designed for four-die chips like the rumored Mac Pro chip. For that reason, Martin believes combining four M1 Max chips into one system-on-a-chip can’t be done. Instead, Apple might have to use M2-generation tech for this chip.

Martin made those statements in March 2022, but soon after had a partial change of heart. Reacting to reportedly leaked schematics showing four M1 Max dies arranged together in a square formation, Martin conceded it might be possible, but would be a “weird retrofit” on Apple’s part that makes little sense.

So, we know that Apple is likely to stitch several chip dies together. What we don’t yet know is which generation of chips it will use, nor do we know how efficient and effective its methodology will be. That’s something we might get a better idea of in the coming weeks.


Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The most exciting part about this upcoming chip is its potential performance. Mark Gurman has given plenty of hints about this, and everything he’s said points toward an incredibly powerful product.

One of Gurman’s most prominent claims is that the chip will comprise 40 CPU cores (made up of 32 high-performance cores and eight high-efficiency cores), plus a frankly ridiculous 128 graphics cores. That amount of power could produce performance we’ve never seen before in an Apple computer — and would hopefully live up to the promises the M1 Ultra couldn’t keep.

Elsewhere, leaker Majin Bu has claimed the chip would offer up to 1TB of memory. If true, that could solve a clear problem with Apple’s chips when it comes to the Mac Pro.

Currently, you can configure the Intel-based Mac Pro with up to 1.5TB of RAM. Yet the M1 Ultra chip in the Mac Studio only allows up to 128GB of memory. Even if the M1 Extreme doubles that as expected, that’s a maximum of 256GB — far below the current Mac Pro’s maximum amount.

Apple's M1 Ultra chip highlighted at Peek Performnance.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

However, according to Majin Bu, the M1 Extreme will be able to access a separate memory controller, which could boost the amount of RAM it can access. That might go some way to meeting demanding users’ needs.

What else could we see? Well, the Mac Pro’s chip could also support the MPX Modules that the 2019 Mac Pro introduced, allowing users to drill down into certain use cases with specialized add-in cards and expansion units.

The Mac Pro’s target audience is used to getting other things that regular Macs don’t offer: PCIe slots, 10Gb Ethernet, SATA ports, and more. The M1 Extreme (or whatever it’s called) will need to support all of these and more if it is to be accepted as a proper pro-level chip.

So far, Apple Silicon chips have only supported some of these things. For instance, the M1 Extreme chip would be Apple’s first chip to work with PCIe slots (if Apple includes them in the next Mac Pro, of course). That would make it a trailblazer in more ways than one, alongside its massive four-die layout and tremendous performance.

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