Apple Silicon: Here’s everything you need to know about Apple’s own SoCs

Apple Silicon: Here’s everything you need to know about Apple’s own SoCs

On top of making high-end consumer hardware including iPhones, iPads, and more, Apple also makes a series of system on a chip (SoC). These SoCs are designed to be used in Apple’s own consumer hardware products and it mainly uses ARM architecture. In addition to the new Mac computers, a variety of different Apple products including the iPhones, iPads, Apple TV, Apple Watch, and more, use Apple silicon. There’s a lot to unpack when it comes to Apple silicon, so we decided to create a dedicated hub to present everything that you need to know about Apple silicon.

Apple has been making its own SoCs for the iPhones, iPads, and more, under the A-series, way before it released the M1 chip. While we won’t be taking an in-depth look at all the A-series processors dating all the way back to 2010, we’ll be including the ones that are still relevant and aren’t discontinued by Apple. With that out of the way, let’s get started:

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Apple A-series family

Apple A4 processor

The Apple A-series includes the family of SoCs that are used in various models of iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Apple TV, and more. The A-series SoCs integrate one or more ARM-based processors, a graphics unit, cache memory, and other components within the chip that are essential to provide an all-around computing experience.

The Apple A4 is technically the first SoC in the A-series. It’s also the first SoC that Apple designed in-house. The company used older SoCs like the APL0098, APL0278, APL0298, and APL2298, for its devices ranging from the original iPhones, the 2nd-gen iPod Touch, the iPhone 3GS, and the third-gen iPod Touch, respectively.

Coming back to the Apple A4, it’s was designed by Apple and manufactured by Samsung. The A4 commercially debuted in 2010, carrying an ARM Cortex-A8 CPU and a PowerVR SGX 535 graphics processor. This particular chip was first used in Apple’s iPad, and later in iPhone 4. The A4 has since been discontinued by Apple, and it was replaced by the new A5 chip that debuted in March 2011. Without getting into too many details, here’s a quick look at each Apple A-series SKU that have debuted so far:

Apple A-series SoC SKUs

Apple SoC Transistors CPU Instruction Architecture CPU AI Accelerator Memory Release Date Devices Used
Apple A4 NA ARMv7 0.8–1.0 GHz single-core Cortex-A8 NA LPDDR-400 Dual-channel 32-bit (64-bit) @ 200 MHz (3.2 GB/s) April 3, 2010
  • iPhone 4
  • Apple TV (2nd generation)
  • iPad (1st generation)
  • iPod Touch (4th generation)
Apple A5 NA ARMv7 0.8–1.0 GHz dual-core Cortex-A9 NA LPDDR2-800 Dual-channel 32-bit (64-bit) @ 400 MHz (6.4 GB/s) March 11, 2011
  • iPad 2
  • iPhone 4S
  • Apple TV (3rd generation)
  • iPad 2 (iPad2,4)
  • iPad Mini (1st generation)
  • iPod Touch (5th generation)
  • Apple TV (3rd generation)
Apple A5X NA ARMv7s 1.0 GHz dual-core Cortex-A9 NA LPDDR2-800 Quad-channel 32-bit (128-bit) @ 400 MHz (12.8 GB/s) March 16, 2012
  • iPad (3rd generation)
Apple A6 NA ARMv7s 1.3 GHz[112] dual-core Swift NA LPDDR2-1066 Quad-channel 32-bit (128-bit) @ 533 MHz (17.1 GB/s) September 21, 2012
  • iPhone 5
  • iPhone 5C
Apple A6X NA ARMv7s 1.4 GHz dual-core Swift NA LPDDR2-1066 Quad-channel 32-bit (128-bit) @ 533 MHz (17.1 GB/s) November 2, 2012
  • iPad (4th generation)
Apple A7 ~1 billion ARMv8.0-A 1.3-1.4 GHz dual-core Cyclone NA LPDDR3-1600 Single-channel 64-bit @ 800 MHz (12.8 GB/s) September 20, 2013
  • iPad Mini 2
  • iPad Mini 3
  • iPhone 5S
  • iPad Air (1st generation)
Apple A8 ~2 billion ARMv8.0-A 1.1–1.5 GHz dual-core Typhoon NA LPDDR3-1600 Single-channel 64-bit @ 800 MHz (12.8 GB/s) September 19, 2014
  • iPhone 6
  • iPhone 6 Plus
  • iPod Touch (6th generation)
  • Apple TV HD
  • HomePod
  • iPad Mini 4
Apple A8X ~3 billion ARMv8.0-A 1.5 GHz 3-core Typhoon NA LPDDR3-1600 Dual-channel 64-bit (128-bit) @ 800 MHz (25.6 GB/s) October 22, 2014
  • iPad Air 2
Apple A9 >2 billion ARMv8.0-A 1.85 GHz dual-core Twister NA LPDDR4-3200 Single-channel 64-bit @ 1600 MHz (25.6 GB/s) September 25, 2015
  • iPad (5th generation)
  • iPhone 6S
  • iPhone 6S Plus
  • iPhone SE (1st generation)
Apple A9X >3 billion ARMv8.0-A 2.16–2.26 GHz dual-core Twister NA LPDDR4-3200 Dual-channel 64-bit (128-bit) @ 1600 MHz (51.2 GB/s) November 11, 2015
  • iPad Pro (1st generation)
A10 Fusion 3.3 billion ARMv8.1-A quad-cores, 2.34 GHz (2× Hurricane) + 1.092 GHz (2× Zephyr) NA LPDDR4-3200 Single-channel 64-bit @ 1600 MHz (25.6 GB/s) September 16, 2016
  • iPad (6th generation)
  • iPad (7th generation)
  • iPhone 7
  • iPhone 7 Plus
  • iPod Touch (7th generation)
A10X Fusion >4 billion ARMv8.1-A 6-cores, 2.36 GHz (3× Hurricane) + 1.3 GHz (3× Zephyr) NA LPDDR4-3200 Dual-channel 64-bit (128-bit) @ 1600 MHz (51.2 GB/s) June 13, 2017
  • Apple TV 4K (2017)
  • iPad Pro (2nd generation)
A11 Bionic 4.3 billion ARMv8.2-A 6-cores, 2.39 GHz (2× Monsoon) + 1.19 GHz (4× Mistral) Neural Engine (dual-core) 600 GOPS (billion operations/s) LPDDR4X-4266 Single-channel 64-bit @ 2133 MHz (34.1 GB/s) September 22, 2017
  • iPhone 8
  • iPhone 8 Plus
  • iPhone X
A12 Bionic 6.9 billion ARMv8.3-A 6-cores, up to 2.49 GHz (2× Vortex) + up to 1.59 GHz (4× Tempest) Neural Engine (octa-core) 5 TOPS LPDDR4X-4266 Single-channel 64-bit @ 2133 MHz (34.1 GB/s) September 21, 2018
  • iPhone XR
  • iPhone XS
  • iPhone XS Max
  • Apple TV 4K (2021)
  • iPad (8th generation)
  • iPad Air (3rd generation)
  • iPad Mini (5th generation)
A12X Bionic 10 billion ARMv8.3-A octa-core, up to 2.49 GHz (4× Vortex) + up to 1.59 GHz (4× Tempest) Neural Engine (octa-core) 5 TOPS LPDDR4X-4266 Dual-channel 64-bit (128-bit) @ 2133 MHz (68.2 GB/s) November 7, 2018
  • iPad Pro (3rd generation)
A12Z Bionic 10 billion ARMv8.3-A octa-core, up to 2.49 GHz (4× Vortex) + up to 1.59 GHz (4× Tempest) Neural Engine (octa-core) 5 TOPS LPDDR4X-4266 Dual-channel 64-bit (128-bit) @ 2133 MHz (68.2 GB/s) March 25, 2020
  • iPad Pro (4th generation)
A13 Bionic 8.5 billion ARMv8.4-A 6-cores, up to 2.65 GHz (2x Lightning) + up to 1.8 GHz (4x Thunder) Neural Engine (octa-core) 5.5 TOPS LPDDR4X-4266 Single-channel 64-bit @ 2133 MHz (34.1 GB/s) September 20, 2019
  • iPad (9th generation)
  • iPhone 11
  • iPhone 11 Pro
  • iPhone 11 Pro Max
  • iPhone SE (2nd generation)
  • Studio Display
A14 Bionic 11.8 billion ARMv8.5-A 6-cores, up to 3.0 GHz (2x Firestorm) + up to 1.823 GHz (4x Icestorm) Neural Engine (16-core) 11 TOPS LPDDR4X-4266 Single-channel 64-bit @ 2133 MHz (34.1 GB/s) October 23, 2020
  • iPad Air (4th generation)
  • iPhone 12
  • iPhone 12 mini
  • iPhone 12 Pro
  • iPhone 12 Pro Max
A15 Bionic 15 billion ARMv8.5-A 6-cores, up to 2.93 or 3.23 GHz (2x Avalanche) + up to 2.016 GHz (4x Blizzard) Neural Engine (16-core) 15.8 TOPS LPDDR4X-4266 Single-channel 64-bit @ 2133 MHz (34.1 GB/s) September 24, 2021
  • iPhone 13
  • iPhone 13 mini
  • iPhone 13 Pro
  • iPhone 13 Pro Max
  • iPhone SE (3rd generation)
  • iPad Mini (6th generation)

Out of all the Apple devices out there, the Apple TV HD uses one of the oldest A-series chips, the Apple A8. It’s a 64-bit SoC that made its first appearance with the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus back in 2014. Apple is only selling iPhone 11 and above, officially, on its website, which means the Apple A13 Bionic is technically the oldest Apple A-series chip you can officially buy from Apple as a part of its iPhone range. You can, however, buy other devices including the Apple TV HD to get your hands on even older A-series. This is also a good reminder that Apple needs to update its hardware.

The latest iPhones i.e. the iPhone 13 series uses Apple’s A15 Bionic chip. These phones take advantage of a Hexa-core processor with up to 2.93 or 3.23 GHz (2x Avalanche) + up to 2.016 GHz (4x Blizzard) CPU along with LPDDR4X memory in single-channel. We suggest you read our review of the iPhone 13 Pro to know more about the kind of performance you can expect from the A15 Bionic chip.

    Best iPhone for most people

    The Apple iPhone 13 is powered by the new A15 Bionic chip and has a dual-camera system.

    The 'Pro' iPhone

    The Apple iPhone 13 Pro is a more premium version of the iPhone 13. It uses the same Apple A15 Bionic chip but has a triple-camera system.

    The compact iPhone

    The Apple iPhone 13 Mini is a more compact version of both the iPhone 13 and the iPhone 13 Pro.

Apple M-series family

Apple M1 Ultra comparison to M1, M1 Pro, and M1 Max

Apple started using its own chips for almost all of its devices except for notebooks and desktop computers. That, however, changed the arrival of Apple’s new M1 chip. The Apple M1 marked the company’s entry as a competitor to Intel and AMD chips for notebooks and desktop computers. The M1 SoC debuted in November 2020 when it was used in the Apple MacBook Air a.k.a the M1 Air 2020, Mac Mini a.ka. the M1 Mac mini 2020, and the MacBook Pro (M1 MacBook Pro 2020). Since then, the M1 chip has also made its way to iMac (24-inch, M1, 2021), the iPad Pro (5th gen), and the iPad Air (5th gen). The Apple M1 chip, in case you don’t know, comes with four high-performance “Firestorm” and four energy-efficient “Icestorm” cores. It essentially offers a hybrid configuration similar to what we’ve seen in Intel’s new 12th gen Alder Lake processors.

Apple expanded the M-series family with the announcement of two new chips – the M1 Pro and the M1 Max in October 2021. Both new processors upgrade upon the power of the M1 to offer a more refined and powerful user experience to “Pro” users inside the 14-inch and the 16-inch MacBook Pro notebooks. In case you are interested, you can check out our Apple M1 Pro vs M1 Max deep dive article to learn more about the new chips. And more recently, the company announced the new M1 Ultra, which is said to be the most powerful Apple silicon to date. Unlike the other chips in the M1 family, the M1 Ultra is made for desktop computers. As a result, the new M1 Ultra SoC is going to be exclusive to Apple’s new Mac Studio desktop computer. It’s an expensive piece of hardware that can cost up to $8,000 for a fully kitted unit. The Apple Mac Studio is now available to purchase and you can check out our Mac Studio deals page to see if you can save some money on your purchase.

With that out of the way, here’s a quick look at different SKUs in the M-series:

Apple M-series SoC SKUs

Apple SoC Transistors CPU Instruction Architecture CPU CPU Cache GPU AI Accelerator Memory Release Date Devices Used
Apple M1 16 billion ARMv8.4-A Octa-cores, 3.2 GHz (4× Firestorm) + 2.064 GHz (4× Icestorm)
  • Performance Cores:
    L1i: 192 kB L1d: 128 kB L2: 12 MB shared
  • Efficiency Cores:
    L1i: 128 kB L1d: 64 kB L2: 4 MB shared
  • SLC: 16 MB
Apple-designed (up to 8-cores) @ 1278 MHz (112-128 EUs, 896-1024 ALUs) (2.29-2.61 TFLOPS peak) Neural Engine (16-core) 11 TOPS LPDDR4X-4266 Dual-channel 64-bit (128-bit) @ 2133 MHz (68.2 GB/s) November 17, 2020
  • MacBook Air (Late 2020)
  • MacBook Pro (Late 2020)
  • Mac Mini (Late 2020)
  • iMac (Early 2021)
  • iPad Pro (5th generation)
  • iPad Air (5th generation)
Apple M1 Pro 33.7 billion ARMv8.4-A 10-cores, 3.23 GHz (8x Firestorm) + 2.064 GHz (2x Icestorm)
  • Performance Cores:
    L1i: 192 kB L1d: 128 kB L2: 24 MB shared
  • Efficiency Cores:
    L1i: 128 kB L1d: 64 kB L2: 4 MB shared
  • SLC: 32 MB
Apple-designed (up to 16-cores) @ 1296 MHz (224-256 EUs, 1792-2048 ALUs) (4.58-5.3 TFLOPS peak) Neural Engine (16-core) 11 TOPS LPDDR5-6400 Dual-channel 128-bit (256-bit) @ 3200 MHz (204.8 GB/s) October
26, 2021
  • MacBook Pro 14-inch
    (Late 2021)
  • MacBook Pro 16-inch
    (Late 2021)
Apple M1 Max 57 billion ARMv8.4-A 10-cores, 3.23 GHz (8x Firestorm) + 2.064 GHz (2x Icestorm)
  • Performance Cores:
    L1i: 192 kB L1d: 128 kB L2: 24 MB shared
  • Efficiency Cores:
    L1i:128 kB L1d: 64 kB L2: 4 MB shared
  • SLC: 64 MB
Apple-designed (up to 32-cores) @ 1296 MHz (256-384 EUs, 2048-3072 ALUs) (5.3-7.83 TFLOPS peak Neural Engine (16-core) 11 TOPS LPDDR5-6400 Quad-channel 128-bit (512-bit) @ 3200 MHz (409.6 GB/s) October
26, 2021
  • MacBook Pro 14-inch
    (Late 2021)
  • MacBook Pro 16-inch
    (Late 2021)
Apple M1 Ultra 114 billion ARMv8.4-A 20-cores, 3.23 GHz (16x Firestorm) + 2.064 GHz (4x Icestorm)
  • Performance Cores:
    L1i: 192 kB L1d: 128 kB L2: 48 MB shared
  • Efficiency Cores:
    L1i:128 kB L1d: 64 kB L2: 8 MB shared
  • SLC: 128 MB
Apple-designed (up to 64-cores) @ 1296 MHz (768-1024 EUs, 6144-8192 ALUs) (15.7-21.2 TFLOPS peak) Neural Engine (32-core) 22 TOPS LPDDR5-6400 Octa-channel 128-bit (1024-bit) @ 3200 MHz (819.2 GB/s) March
8, 2022
  • Mac Studio

Apple is expected to update the M-series with a new set of “M2” chips later this year. While there’s not a lot we know about these chips yet, we do know that they’ll be powering the next generation of MacBook Air and the smaller 13-inch MacBook Pro notebooks. We’ll have more to talk about the performance and specs of the M2 once it goes official. In the meantime, be sure to check out our review of the 24-inch iMac and the 16-inch MacBook Pro notebooks to know more about the performance of the M1 and the M1 Max chips, respectively. You can also head over to our Apple Mac Studio page to know more about Apple’s new desktop computer that is powered by the new M1 Ultra processor.

    Best mainstream MacBook

    The Apple MacBook Air is powered by the M1 chip and we think it's the best mainstream MacBook for most users out there.

    The 'Pro' machine

    The 16-inch Apple MacBook Pro notebook is available with both the Apple M1 Pro and the M1 Max chip.

    Next-gen desktop

    The top-of-the-line Apple Mac Studio desktop is powered by the M1 Ultra chip and starts $3,999.

Advantages of Apple Silicon

Front view of 24-inch iMac in green with keyboard and trackpad

As we mentioned earlier, Apple has been making its own chip for years. All the chips used in years of iPhones, iPads, and even iPods were mostly custom-designed chips developed by Apple engineers. Being able to design its own chips allows Apple to make huge gains in the overall performance and power efficiency. The company also makes custom software for these devices, which are designed to make the most out of the available hardware.

Apple silicon has mostly — if not always — been about delivering the best performance while keeping power consumption at its lowest. This is one of the main reasons why Apple transitioned away from Intel chips for Macs. Using its own silicon for Mac computers has allowed the company to further boost Mac’s performance and make it stand out from the rest of the chips on the market. Apple chips may not be the most powerful chips out there, especially when you compare with other high-performance silicon from AMD, but they’re definitely capable of going head-to-head with most consumer-grade mainstream processors from both Intel and AMD.

Apple Silicon: U, S, and W-series chips

In addition to the popularly known A and M-series of chips, Apple also makes a few more chips in-house to be used in devices like the Apple Watch, its wearables, and more. Apple’s ‘S’ series family of chips, for instance, are used in Apple Watch. It’s a customized chip that uses an application processor, memory, storage, and a couple of other supports processors for wireless connectivity, and more. The first generation of the Apple Watch was powered by the Apple S1 chip. The company has since launched various iterations of this chip. The Apple Watch Series 7 uses the S7 chip which is a custom 64-bit dual-core processor that works in tandem with the W3 wireless chip.

Apple Watch featured photo 2

The W-series, on the other hand, is a family of SoCs and wireless chips that are designed by Apple for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity. The latest iteration of the W-series chip, the W3, is used in the Apple Watch Series 7. There’s also the Apple ‘H’ series chip, which Apple uses in headphones. The Apple H1 chip was first used in AirPods. It has since made its way to other Apple audio products including the AirPods Pro and the AirPods Max.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to check if your Apple device has Apple’s own silicon?”] All the iPhones are on the market right now after being powered by Apple’s own A-series chips. On the Mac computer side, you can head over to the “About This Mac” option to see which processor it’s using.

What's Apple's latest silicon?

Apple recently launched the new M1 Ultra SoC that’s powering its new Mac Studio computer.

What's Apple's next silicon?

Apple is expected to launch a new SoC, the A16, for the next generation of iPhones and iPads. The company is also expected to launch the M2 chip for MacBook Air (2022) and the 13-inch MacBook Pro (2022).

Is Apple Silicon better than Intel?

Looking at the differences in performance and power consumption, Apple’s own silicon definitely has more advantages over the Intel chips for Macs.

Why is Apple Silicon faster?

A lot of different factors affect the overall performance of Apple silicon. For instance, Apple uses memory that’s integrated into the chip itself, thereby reducing any latencies. It’s designed to serve large chunks of data in as little time as possible.

Final Thoughts

Apple’s transition to its own silicon was inevitable given how the company likes to have a tightly-knit eco-system of products. Being able to design both hardware and software for a particular product allows Apple to truly customize and refine the experience with many benefits. We expect Apple to keep churning out new and innovative SoCs in the future too, so be sure to keep an eye on this page as we’ll continue to update it with new info over time. Alternatively, you can also join our XDA Forums to discuss and have meaningful conversations about Apple devices, their own silicon, and more.

About author

Karthik Iyer
Karthik Iyer

Karthik covers PC hardware for XDA Computing. When not at work, you will find him yelling at his monitors while playing video games.

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