Apple ‘Completes’ Transition From Intel With M2 Ultra-Based Mac Pro, Exec Says

With the updated Mac Pro using Apple’s new and powerful M2 Ultra chip, the client device giant now uses the homegrown M-series chips for all of its Mac desktop and laptop computers after it began replacing Intel CPUs with custom Arm-based processors in its lineup in 2020.

Apple said it has completed the transition from Intel chips to homegrown silicon for its Mac computer lineup with an updated Mac Pro, powered by what it called the “most powerful chip ever created for a personal computer.”

At its WWDC 2023 event on Monday, the Cupertino, Calif.-based client device giant said the Mac Pro—the last PC in its Mac lineup to receive Apple silicon—is powered by the new M2 Ultra, which combines two M2 Max chips on a single die to deliver double-digit performance boosts over the M1 Ultra.

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It’s a momentous occasion for Apple, which began replacing Intel CPUs in its Mac lineup in 2020 with custom Arm-based chips designed in house. Three years later, the company’s entire lineup of Macs is powered by homegrown M-series chips, including its MacBook Pros, MacBook Airs, iMacs and Mac Minis.

“This completes the transition to Apple silicon, which has completely transformed the desktop and laptop experience,” said John Ternus, senior vice president of hardware engineering at Apple. “And we’re just getting started. For Intel-based Mac users, every Mac is now a gigantic upgrade.”

Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger told CRN in 2021 that after losing business from Apple he is focused on enabling PC manufacturers that compete with Apple. At the same time, he has stated a desire to win new business from Apple by convincing the Mac maker to contract Intel to manufacture its custom chips.

On top of the new Mac Pro, Apple also revealed an updated Mac Studio that can use the new M2 Ultra plus an all-new 15-inch MacBook Air running on M2, the second-generation base chip debuted last year.

“It’s the best and most capable lineup in the history of the personal computer, and I couldn’t be more excited about its future,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, said in the WWDC keynote.

All three Macs are available for pre-order today and will be available next week.

M2 Ultra Details

The M2 Max, a much more powerful version of Apple’s M2 base chip announced in January, was already a hefty piece of silicon with 67 billion transistors. By combining two M2 Max chips, this makes the M2 Ultra a “monster of a chip” with 134 transistors, according to Jennifer Munn, Apple’s director of engineering program management.

By contrast, Nvidia’s powerful H100 data center GPU for high-performance AI applications has 80 billion transistors.

With two M2 Max chips, the M2 Ultra has a 24-core CPU consisting of 16 performance cores and eight efficiency cores, giving the chip 20 percent faster CPU performance than last year’s M1 Ultra, according to Apple,

The M2 Ultra’s GPU, on the other hand, comes with either 60 or 72 cores, making it up to 30 percent faster than the M1 Ultra’s, the company said.

The M2 Ultra takes Apple’s unified memory to the next level with a “breakthrough” 192GB of memory capacity, 50 percent more than the M1 Ultra, and 800GB/s of memory bandwidth, more than double what’s capable with the M2 Max, according to Apple.

Munn said the M2 Ultra’s large memory capacity allows it to “do things other chips just can’t do.” This includes training “massive” machine learning workloads like large transformer models—the category of complex AI models that includes the powerful ChatGPT—in a single system.

By comparison, Nvidia’s RTX A6000 GPU with 48GB of GDDR6 memory—which is built for heavy-duty workstation PCs and which Apple called the “most powerful” discrete GPU—“can’t even process” these large transformer models “because it runs out of memory,” Munn said.

As for other specifications, the M2 Ultra has:

a 32-core Neural Engine, which provides 40 percent faster performance than the M1 Ultra;

a “powerful” media engine with hardware-enabled H.264, HEVC, and ProRes encode and decode, letting the chip play back up to 22 streams of 8K ProRes video;

a display engine that supports up to six Pro Display XDRs;

and “best-in-class” security with M2 Max’s Secure Enclave, hardware-verified secure boot and runtime anti-exploitation technologies.

Mac Studio Details

Apple called the new Mac Pro and Mac Studio “the two most powerful Macs ever made,” thanks to their use of the company’s fastest M-series chips.

The company first introduced the Mac Studio last year as a compact and short but powerful PC that takes up a small footprint on a desk.

Whereas last year’s Mac Studio used Apple’s M1 Max and M1 Ultra from the first generation of the company’s M-series chips, the new version makes use of the more powerful M2 Max and M2 Ultra from this year.

Apple said the new Mac Studio is up to six times faster than the “most powerful Intel-based 27-inch iMac,” which released in 2020. Compared to last year’s Mac Studio, the new model is up to three times faster.

With the M2 Max’s 12-core CPU, 38-core core GPU and up to 96GB of unified memory, the Mac Studio can render graphics up to 50 percent faster in Adobe After Effects than the previous model, Apple said. It’s up to 25 percent faster for building new versions of app’s using Apple’s Xcode environment.

With the M2 Ultra, Apple said the Mac Studio reaches “new heights” for a Mac computer. Compared to last year’s model, it can render 3-D graphics up to three times faster in OctaneRender and process video for color correction up to 50 percent faster in DaVinci Resolve, according to Apple.

The Mac Studio’s high-bandwidth HDMI connection enables up to an 8K resolution and 240Hz frame rates. With the M2 Ultra, it can support up to six of Apple’s Pro Display XDRs. With the M2 Ultra or M2 Max, it also comes with Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.3, four Thunderbolt 4 ports, a 10Gb Ethernet port, two USB-A ports, two USB-C ports and an SD card slot.

The new Mac Studio starts at $1,999. An education discount is available.

Mac Pro Details

With the new Mac Pro, the vendor is combining the M2 Ultra chip with seven PCIe expansion slots in Apple’s cheese grater-like workstation design that is available in a tower enclosure or rack-mounted enclosure.

By using the M2 Ultra’s 192GB of unified memory, the Mac Pro can “do things simply not possible before,” Apple’s Munn said. This includes rendering the island scene from Disney’s 2016 computer-animated film, Moana, “with massive geometry and textures.”

The Mac Pro also makes use of the M2 Ultra’s media engine to perform the work of seven of Apple’s Afterburner cards that were used for video processing in the company’s previous Intel-based Mac Pro.

Compared to 2020’s Intel-based Mac Pro, the new M2 Ultra-powered model can run workloads such as video transcoding and 3-D simulations up to three times faster. It can also “invest 24 4k camera feeds and encode them to ProRes in real time” when using six video I/O cards.

The Mac Pro’s expansion slots support PCIe Gen 4, which the company said is two times faster than what the Intel-based Mac Pro enabled.

The Mac Pro comes with two high-bandwidth ports that support up to an 8K resolution and up to 240Hz frame rates It also has eight Thunderbolt 4 ports, which can support up to six Pro Display XDRs. Other features include Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.3, three USB-A ports, two high-bandwidth HDMI ports, two 10Gb Ethernet ports and a headphone jack.

The new Mac Pro starts at $6,999 for the tower enclosure and $7,499 for the rack enclosure. Discounts are available for education users.

15-Inch MacBook Air Details

For the first time, Apple is introducing a 15-inch MacBook Air, which the company called the “world’s best 15-inch laptop.”

At 11.5 millimeters thin, the new MacBook Air is “astonishingly thin” and, as a result, represents the “world’s thinnest 15-inch laptop,” according to Kate Bergeron, Apple’s vice president of hardware engineering.

Bergeron added that it’s “easy to carry around” weighing 3.3 pounds.

The laptop comes with a 15.3-inch Liquid Retina display with up to 500 nits of brightness and support for 1 million colors, “incredible performance” enabled by Apple’s 2022 M2 chip, up to 18 hours of battery life, a “silent, fanless design” and a new six-speaker sound system.

According to Apple, the M2 chip enables the 15-inch MacBook Air to provide up to 12 times faster performance than Apple’s fastest Intel-based MacBook Air, which came out in 2020.

Compared to what Apple said was the “best-selling 15-inch PC laptop” with an Intel Core i7 processor, the new MacBook Air is “up to twice as fast.” The company did not specify the model of the “best-selling” laptop.

Other features include MagSafe charging, two Thunderbolt ports for connecting accessors and up to a 6K display and a headphone jack.

The 15-inch MacBook Air starts at $1,299. An education discounts is available.