Apple M1 and M2 Chips compared

The second generation of Apple Silicon is here. The M2 SOC is Apple’s consumer upgrade to 2020’s M1 in the Mac lineup and beyond. Here’s a look at how the two chips compare—and what it means for future Macs.

A Brief Refresher on Apple Silicon

The M-series of Apple Silicon system-on-a-chip processors represent Apple’s move to distance itself from Intel architecture CPUs in its Macintosh computers, moving into ARM-based chips used with its iPhone and iPad lines. Along the way, Apple has also brought the M1 to certain iPad models as well.

Apple first released Apple Silicon chips for the Mac in November 2020 with the M1. In 2021, Apple introduced the faster M1 Pro and M1 Max chips. In March of 2022, Apple debuted the M1 Ultra, which combined two M1 Max chips into one super-powered chip, currently used in the Mac Studio.

During the WWDC keynote event in June 2022, Apple announced the M2 processor, which Apple is positioning as the low-to-mid-range upgrade for the M1 chip while keeping “prosumer” and professional M1 Pro, M1 Max, and M1 Ultra machines on the market.

In fact, M1 machines are still available as well for the moment, which means you might need to decide: Should I buy an M1 Mac or spring for the M2 upgrade? Here’s a look at how the two chips differ.

RELATED: What Is a System on a Chip (SoC)?

The M1: The Birth of Apple Silicon

The Apple M1 Chip Specs

The Apple M1 was Apple’s first Apple Silicon chip, introduced in November 2020. It combines CPU and GPU cores together for faster performance than most Intel Macs that came before it. The M1 chip includes neural engine cores for machine learning acceleration, a Secure Enclave, media encoder and decoder engines, and a Thunderbolt 4 controller.

As of June 2022, Apple currently uses the M1 Chip in the MacBook Air (M1 version), Mac Mini, iMac (24-inch), iPad Pro (11-inch), and iPad Pro (12.9-inch). Here are some stats on the M1:

  • Introduced: November 10, 2020
  • CPU Cores: 8
  • GPU Cores: Up to 8
  • Unified Memory: Up to 16 GB
  • Neural Engine Cores: 16
  • # of Transistors: 16 billion
  • Process: First Generation 5nm

Even though the M1 has been superseded by the M2, Macs that use the M1 still represent a huge upgrade for most Intel-based Macs. They offer great performance-per-watt, and they can run certain iPhone and iPad apps. In our opinion, M1 machines still represent an excellent value, and if their prices go down compared to M2-based alternatives, now might be a great time to purchase your first Apple Silicon machine—or maybe a Mac for the kids.

RELATED: What Is Apple's M1 Chip for the Mac?

The M2: Second Generation Apple Silicon

Apple M2 SOC Chip Data information sheet

The Apple M2 system on a chip (SOC) is Apple’s fifth entry in the Apple Silicon series of chips, announced in June 2022. Like the M1, it combines CPU and GPU onto one die (one piece of silicon) with shared memory for dramatically faster performance than systems that separate CPU and GPU into discrete chips. Apple claims the M2 will have an 18% faster CPU, a 35% faster GPU, 50% more memory bandwidth, and a 40% faster Neural Engine than the M1. It also incorporates ProRes media encoding, which will speed up workflows for some creative professionals.

As of June 2022, Apple has only announced the M2 Chip in the MacBook Air (M2) and the 13″ MacBook Pro, both of which are planned to ship in July 2022. It’s possible that the M2 will come to a future iPad or Mac Mini release as well. Here are some stats on the M2:

  • Introduced: June 6, 2022
  • CPU Cores: 8
  • GPU Cores: Up to 10
  • Unified Memory: Up to 24 GB
  • Neural Engine Cores: 16
  • # of Transistors: 20 billion
  • Process: Second Generation 5nm

Compared to the beefier Apple Silicon chips (like the M1 Pro, M1 Max, and M1 Ultra), the M2 hits a sweet spot for computational power while keeping its power usage and heat displacement relatively low, which is ideal for small machines like the MacBook Air and the 13″ MacBook Pro—and perhaps a Mac Mini in the future.

Ultimately, our advice is to buy the fastest Mac you can comfortably afford that fits your work style or size needs. But if you want to save some cash by buying an M1 Mac, you’re still getting impressive technology for the price. In a way, you can’t lose. It’s a great time to be a Mac user.

RELATED: Apple's New M2 MacBook Air Has MagSafe and a Better Webcam

Profile Photo for Benj Edwards Benj Edwards
Benj Edwards is a former Associate Editor for How-To Geek. Now, he is an AI and Machine Learning Reporter for Ars Technica. For over 15 years, he has written about technology and tech history for sites such as The Atlantic, Fast Company, PCMag, PCWorld, Macworld, Ars Technica, and Wired. In 2005, he created Vintage Computing and Gaming, a blog devoted to tech history. He also created The Culture of Tech podcast and regularly contributes to the Retronauts retrogaming podcast.
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