In 2020 Apple started using its own desktop processors in some of it Mac range with the arrival of the M1 chip as seen in the 24in iMac, 13in MacBook Pro, Mac mini and MacBook Air. We've since seen the debut of the Pro level versions in the form of the M1 Max and M1 Pro, which arrived in the 14in MacBook Pro and 16in MacBook Pro models that were launched in October 2021.
Now rumours are beginning to flow about the second generation of Apple silicon. We gather together all the news and views about what to expect in the Apple M2 system on chip.
Apple M2 release date
There's no set date or even official confirmation from Apple about the M2 chip. But we know that Apple isn't a company that sits on its laurels, as we've seen by the yearly iteration of the A-series chips that have powered the iPhone for several years.
Most of the rumours we've seen about a possible release date of the M2 seem linked to the next version of the MacBook Air. The Air was one of the first to move to the M-series with the MacBook Air (2020) M1, which launched in November 2020. Rumours suggests that the MacBook Air (2022) could be the first to show-off Apple's latest silicon design.
We've seen rumours from the likes of @Dylandkt which state that the new Air could make its debut in the first half of 2022, replete with the M2 chip.
Just wanted to share some details on when to expect the next generation M2 (not the M1X which is reserved for the Pro Mac devices). This processor is on track to release in the first half of 2022 alongside the upcoming colorful Macbook (Air).— Dylan (@dylandkt) July 5, 2021
This is counteracted somewhat by industry heavyweight Ming Chi-Kuo who thinks the new device will not arrive until the third quarter of 2022, albeit with a colourful new design similar to what we've already seen with the 24in iMac (2021).
So, at the moment, it seems that the new MacBook Air, and with it the M2 chip, is most likely to be unveiled between June and September 2022.
Apple M2 features and spec
The M1 Pro and M1 Max processors (or SoCs to be more accurate) focused on performance enhancements that saw the M1 Pro being around twice the speed of the M1 when it came to graphics tasks, while the M1 Max doubled this once more.
This was due to the extra cores in the newer processors and more powerful GPUs, not to mention the fact that Apple was able to include almost twice the number of transistors into the M1 Pro compared to the standard M1's 16 billion transistors.
This is all great if you work in video or graphic-design based jobs and need the fastest performance from a Mac. But, obviously this kind of speed comes at a cost that is prohibitive for most users, and they really don't need that kind of hardware to surf the web, stream Netflix movies, keep up with friends on social media or work from home on documents and spreadsheets.
So, the current expectation is that the M2 line of processors will be aimed at consumers rather than professionals, and as such will focus more on energy efficiency as well as general performance enhancements over the M1 it will replace.
We have seen some reports that Apple will keep the same 8 CPU cores as on the M1, but may add more GPU cores to beef up the capabilities of the M2. For example, in May 2021 Bloomberg's Mark Gurman suggested that the M2 (apparently codenamed Staten), will include the same eight cores as the M1 chip, but it will run faster.
We think one clue to what Apple could do to the M2 CPU is apparent if you look at the M1 Pro and M1 Max which both have 10-cores. However, where the M1 has four high performance cores and four high efficiency cores, the M1 Pro and Max have twice the number of high performance cores (eight), but fewer efficiency cores (two). The next gen M2 could increase the number of high efficiency cores.
In the report mentioned above Gurman added that the M2 will see an increase in the number of graphics cores from seven or eight to nine or 10.
There are bound to be people hoping that the M2 might support more RAM than the M1 currently does (the M1 maxes out at 16GB RAM, while the M1 Pro can support 32GB and the M1 Max 64GB). It is probably unlikely that the M2 will support 32GB RAM, and probably unnecessary for such a Mac. We would like to see the price of the 16GB RAM update fall though.
As with any iterative upgrade, we'd hope that the M2 will deliver improved battery life and power efficiency over the M1.
Which Macs will get the M2 processor?
When discussing the M2 chip Gurman claimed that it would be destined for the next MacBook Air and that it would also be used for an update to the low-end 13in MacBook Pro.
Following the new MacBook Pros getting the supercharged M1 Pro and M1 Max, we think that makes sense that the M2 will be the processor that appears on consumer-level Macs.
So we expect M2 updates for the MacBook Air, Mac mini and 24in Mac to arrive over the next year or so. Plus, with the iPad Pro currently sporting the M1 chip, it could be that the anticipated iPad Pro (2022) goes down the M2 route rather than M1 Pro or M1 Max. That will be interesting to see and hopefully it won't be too long until we can test out the new silicon and find out exactly what improvements Apple has made.
This doesn't mean you need hold off until the later part of 2022 though, as you'll see in why the upcoming M2 chip shouldn't stop you from buying a Mac now. If you agree, then where to buy the M1 MacBook Pro, Air and Mini and Where to buy Apple's 24in iMac (2020) are great places to start.
What about the M2 Pro and M2 Max?
There will be readers who want to know what is in store for the Pro and Max variants on the M2. The M1 Pro and M1 Max have already proven to be very capable, so there are high expectations for the next generation of these.
However, we may not have to wait for the next generation to get Macs with even better Apple chips. One of the most interesting theories right now is that the replacement for the 27in iMac and the Intel variant of the Mac mini could double up the M1 Pro or M1 Max for even more CPU and GPU cores and yet more RAM.
So we could soon be seeing the M1 Pro Duo or the M1 Max Duo in a pro focused iMac and updated Mac Pro. Exciting times!
And the M3...
The M2 will be great, we have no doubt about that, but just a year later we could see something even better that will bring an even more massive leap in performance compared to the current generation.
TSMC are said to be testing processors made using the 3nm process and these are likely to be destined for the M3 and A17 chips, according to Digitimes. TSMC had previously had to postpone its 3nm plans due to the complexities with the process.
According to Digitimes, the first products using the 3nm processor will be released in the first quarter of 2023 with production starting at the end of 2022.
Qualcomm, Samsung and Intel are all set to use the 3nm process.
The M3 chip is likely to bring a significant increase in performance compared to the M1 chips, with the high-end chips being built with two boards and offering up to 40 CPU cores.
The Information has reported that Apple's M3 chips have the code names Ibiza, Lobos and Palma.