Saturday, March 12, 2022

Apple's M1 processors and the very expensive Mac Pro.

The bottom line is that I want a more powerful computer.  I can get by with what I have, but my 2017 iMac is only about twice as fast as my rapidly dying late 2009 iMac.  Considering the difference in years, I expected more progress.  I assumed that this would be enough, but it is a bit underwhelming.  Compared to most modern computers, it is way below average.  I have talked to a local repair shop about upgrading the processor to an i7-7700K, which would cost at least $400 with labor, but it would only boost my speed by about 60%.  That might be enough, but if I am getting into that kind of money then I might be better off buying another computer.

For this reason, I get excited when I see big progress being made in computer processors.  The last decade saw only incremental improvement, but what Apple has done with its recent M1 chips is just extraordinary.  The M1 chip is about 2.5 times faster than my 2017 iMac and uses far less power.

However, I'm not rushing out to buy a new Apple computer.  I also need Intel-based Windows compatibility.  My chess programs and other games need this platform.  It is possible to install an Arm-based Windows on an M1 Macintosh, which does come with some Intel emulation, but trying to run Intel-based games on this setup has been described as not worth the trouble.  There are compatibility and performance issues.

Instead, I am waiting for the other manufacturers to catch up to Apple.

In the second half of this year, AMD is going to release their 5-nanometer 7000 series of processors, reportedly all of which will come with some graphics capabilities built into the chips.  These won't be as good as an expensive GPU costing a thousand dollars, but the 7000 series of processors would allow someone to build or buy a powerful computer while saving on graphics hardware.  I suspect that depending on the hardware chosen, a computer with these chips could cost from $500 to $1,000.  I want one.

If you bought a late 2019/early 2020 Mac Pro you might feel like a chump right now.  These machines fully configured could cost $10,000 to $30,000.  These are not consumer devices but intended for professionals who do intensive tasks like video editing.  Still, the machine feels like overkill both in performance and price.  Apple took their extreme pricing to an even more extreme level by offering a very expensive computer monitor, where even the stand by itself cost $1,000.   

It turns out that the M1 chip is very good at video editing because it has specialized circuits dedicated to video processing.  When the M1 chip came out a year ago, I saw YouTubers claiming that they were going to sell their $30,000 Mac Pro because the $700 Mac Mini gave them all the performance that they need.  

However, Apple has taken the M1 chip to more extreme levels.  A few months ago, they introduced laptops that contain the equivalent of 2 or 4 M1 chips, starting at around $2,000.  Although these machines are powerful, this is more computer power than most people need.  Instead, it appears to me that you can get a really good laptop for a few hundred dollars.

I am not fond of laptops because I don't need anything portable.  Laptops typically cost more than desktops and deliver less performance.

Apple didn't stop there.  They just introduced a couple of Mac Studio models, which look like ugly boxes to me, with the equivalent of 4 M1 chips for $2,000 or the equivalent of 8 M1 chips for $4,000.  According to Apple, the higher-priced computer is 90% more powerful than the $30,000 Mac Pro that it has been selling for the last two years.  If you have a Mac Pro, you probably feel like a chump.  When Apple introduced it, they had to know that they were going to come out with the M1 chip a year later.

This tells me that Apple is always ready to gouge its customers.  They get away with it because some people have more money than sense.

The $4,000 Mac Studio is almost the most powerful computer that you can buy, and Apple claims that it is the most powerful computer for the price.

Apple has stated that they are going to come out with a new Mac Pro.  It might be an iMac model.  The rumor mill says that it will have the equivalent of 16 M1 chips on it, but using an upcoming M2 chip instead.  We shall see, but who needs this much power?