March 8 Apple event: Pushing the limits of the M1 platform with the M1 Ultra

The new iPad Air looks pretty good as well, and they've updated the iPhone SE.

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No, this ain’t MK Ultra, but the M1 Ultra will probably blow your mind too. Apple’s latest silicon not only bumps the performance benchmarks, it possibly opens the door to more scaling solutions. Will the new M1 Ultra Studio succeed where the cylindrical 2013 Mac Pro tried but failed? Here’s a quick rundown of the announcements.

Apple TV Content

Apple TV isn’t usually the mainstream port of call for streaming content here (no K-drama = big L). It doesn’t help that its best tends to be thought-provoking stuff that appeals to an artistically inclined crowd, though more recently the likes of Ted Lasso did break a few barriers with its charming, accessible vibe.

Tim Cook was on hand last night to remind us that they do movies as well, citing the accolades that Swan Song, The Tragedy of Macbeth and Coda have garnered, while giving us heads up for upcoming movies Spirited (Will Ferrell, Ryan Reynolds), Luck, Argyle (Henry Cavill, John Cena, Dua Lipa) and Cha Cha Real Smooth.

What’s low key interesting is that Apple has stuck its foot in the door for sports with Friday Night Baseball, which boasts two games exclusive to the platform. So… When till we get to the football? The one actually played with feet, I mean.

Green comes to the iPhone

We get two new shades of green for the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro. The iPhone 13 gets a dark shade of green while the Pro gets a lighter, Alpine green colourway.

The iPhone 13 Mini starts from $1,149 while the iPhone 13 Pro starts from $1,649.

The bang for buck SE

Cook mentions that last fall, they’ve “added more new users to the iPhone 13 lineup than in each of the previous five launches.” Perhaps that’s more a reflection of the price tags that the Pro range carry? Either way, they’ve just added another viable alternative with the upgraded Apple SE with 5G.

As expected, the 4.7" phone now sports the A15 Bionic, bringing it up to speed with the current generation of phones. According to Apple, the CPU and GPU performance is 1.8 times and 2.2 times faster respectively when compared to the iPhone 8, while the neural engine is 26 times faster.

More importantly, the new SoC and neural engine give the SE additional smart features like Live Text and computational photography, so the gap between the pricier iPhones doesn’t feel as vast.

Battery life has been improved to 15 hours of video playback (up from 13 hours) and it sports IP67 water and dust resistance. And if you’ve never really bought into Face ID, the SE has a good ol’ fingerprint sensor.

The new SE will be available in Midnight, Starlight and Product Red, and the phones will start from $699 (64GB).

iPad Air

The iPad Air has always been somewhat of the more realistic version of the Pro line and there’s even more reason to not hanker after the Pro machines now: the Air now gets the M1 chip (8-core CPU, 8-core GPU).

Apple says this makes CPU performance 60 per cent faster than its predecessor and graphics are twice as fast. The more outlandish claim is that it is “two times faster than best-selling Windows laptop in price range”. But as we already know by now, these chips are mighty fast, so I’m not going to bother doubting.

Other upgrades include 5G capabilities for its cellular models and it now sports a 12 MP ultra-wide front camera with support for Center Stage. The USB-C is twice as fast and the tablet also supports the second-generation Apple Pencil.

The colours Space Grey, Starlight, Pink, Purple, and Blue. Prices start from $879 (64GB, Wi-Fi).

Anime-level power scaling: M1 Ultra

The new Ultra overcomes key issues in scaling up processors such as latency and the need to code for this setup. Apple’s new die-to-die interconnect technology is called Ultra Fusion and features an interposer that they say has twice the connection density of any tech available. It can connect over 10,000 signals and provides 2.5TB/s bandwidth between the two processing units with very low latency and consumes very little power. Apple claims that the tech has four times the bandwidth of the leading interconnect technology.

The tech seemingly also allows Apple to scale performance with minimal increase to power consumption. They also claim a whopping 90 per cent better performance at what seems to be at 60W when compared with the leading 16-core PC desktop chip, and one-third the power of a “popular discrete GPU” and is faster than the “highest-end discrete GPU” while using 200W less power.

So where’s this wonder chip going into?

The Mac Pro ‘mini’ – Mac Studio

Apple has always wanted a compact powerhouse that you can place on your desktop and the Studio is its latest attempt at the archetype. With a footprint measuring roughly 19.5cm squared and no taller than 9.5cm, it might fit under some monitors, and Apple purports that its performance is silent as well, thanks in part to its unique cooling system as well as Apple’s silicon performance.

Connectivity options look adequate with four Thunderbolt 4 ports at the rear accompanied by two 5Gbps USB-A ports and one HDMI port (4K, 60Hz). There’s a requisite 10Gb ethernet port as well as a pro audio headphone jack, which basically means it can handle high impedance headphones. At the front, you get either two 10Gbps USB-C ports (M1 Max) or two Thunderbolt 4 ports (M1 Ultra) alongside a SDXC card reader. The M1 Max Studio can support up to four Pro Display XDRs (6K, 60Hz) via Thunderbolt 4 and a 4K TV via HDMI.

M1 Max offers 64GB and M1 Ultra 128GB of unified memory for graphics, with up to 8TB of SSD storage supported and transfer speeds of 7.4Gbps.

The Max Studio with M1 Max is up to 2.5 times faster CPU performance than the 27" i9 iMac, and 50 per cent faster than the 16-core Xeon Mac Pro. GPU-wise, the Mac Studio is 3.4 times faster than the 27" iMac with Radeon Pro 5700XT graphics and Mac Pro with Radeon Pro W500X.

With M1 Ultra, you don’t quite get double the performance, but it’s pretty wild all the same, with the processor 90 per cent faster the 16-core Xeon and 60 per cent faster than the 28-core Xeon. For the GPU, it’s 4.5 times faster than the Radeon Pro 5700XT and up to 80 per cent faster than the Radeon Pro W6900X.

Its ultimate flex move is being able to play 18 streams of 8K ProRes 422 videos at once. That, and the fact that it will use up to 1,000kW/h less energy than a high-end PC desktop, according to Apple.

M1 Max version starts from $2,899 (32GB, 512GB) while the M1 Ultra version starts from $5,899 (64GB, 1TB SSD).

Studio Display

A minimalist, slim, 27" 5K display (14.7M pixels) that’s bound to suck the breath out of you with its price tag. It has three stand options; one allows for tilt (up to 30 degrees), the other is also height adjustable on top of the tilt, while the third is the VESA mount.

Along with the usual P3 wide colour space and True Tone treatment, it sports 600 nits brightness and an option for a nano texture glass to further minimise glare.

It has an A13 chip inside to power the camera and audio system. It’s the same 12MP Ultra Wide camera on the iPad (hence it also has Center Stage) paired with a three-mic array while the six speaker-system uses the now-familiar-configuration of four force-cancelling woofers and two tweeters. The A13 adds spatial audio as a feature.

Three 10Gbps USB-C ports and one Thunderbolt 3 port (Upstream) that also supports 96W of host charging – it can fast charge a 14" MacBook Pro.

Prices start from $2,299.

Magic Peripherals

The Magic Keyboard with Touch ID and Numeric Keypad ($269), Magic Mouse ($129) and Magic Trackpad ($199) are now available in a Silver and Black colourway. Unlike the rest, you can buy these today for that full ‘black and silver’ set bonus.

Availability

Pre-orders for the new iPhones and iPads (limited to two iPhones/iPads per person) start from March 11, 9 pm local time and will be available from March 18.

Orders for the Mac Studio and Studio Display (limited to two Studio/Studio Displays) start 14 March, 9am.

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