New iMac Pro | Is There an Even More Powerful ‘M1 Ultra’ Chip in the Works?

iMac Pro Concept Image 2022 Credit: AppleyPro / Twitter
Text Size
- +

Toggle Dark Mode

If you thought the M1 Max was the pinnacle of Apple’s first-generation silicon, you may need to adjust that thinking soon, as new rumours suggest that an even more powerful version of the M1 may be just around the corner.

While the original M1 blew the doors off anything else out there when it made its fall 2020 debut, we always knew that Apple had to have something bigger and better in the works. For most of 2021, reports dubbed it the ”M1X”, assuming that Apple would follow the naming conventions used for its A-series chips found in the iPhone and iPad.

What we ended up getting last fall were actually two chips, the M1 Pro and the M1 Max, both packed into Apple’s substantially improved 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro lineup. Both these chips basically included a 10-core CPU, with the main difference being the number of GPU cores and maximum memory capacity. The M1 Pro supported up to 16 GPU cores with 32GB RAM, while the M1 Max doubled those specs to take us to 32 GPU cores and 64GB of memory.

If the latest reports are true, however, there could be a souped-up version of that M1 Max appearing that would pack in 12 CPU cores. This is expected to be used in the upcoming larger iMac, although more details on the computer remain somewhat scant.

This latest info comes from leaker @dylandkt, whose sources have said that the upcoming iMac Pro will feature a configuration that’s a notch above the M1 Max, which was also tied with code that references a 12-core CPU configuration.

M1 Ultra?

It’s not entirely clear whether Apple plans to release this as a new tier of M1 chip, but we’re guessing that it probably will.

As things stand now, the M1 Pro and M1 Max are both 10-core chips. Although there’s an 8-core version of the M1 Pro found on the entry-level 14-inch MacBook Pro, this is almost certainly due to the same kind of chip binning that gave us a version of the M1 with a 7-core GPU.

Unless we’re prepared to assume that all M1 Pro/Max chips were binned versions to start with, a 12-core M1 chip would be something entirely different. This would require a new die design and fabrication process, and knowing Apple it’s also going to get a new name to differentiate it from its 10-core siblings.

We’ve heard the name “M1 Ultra” bandied around, but this was in the context of a stacked M1 Max chip that would offer 20 or 40 GPU cores. That’s not where this 12-core version comes in.

There’s also no word on whether this 12-core M1 will include more memory or GPU cores. If Apple were to simply bump it to 12 CPU cores but leave the other specs the same, it’s fair to say that it would be more of an “M1 Max Plus” than anything else.

The iMac Pro

Such a powerful chip makes sense if Apple is actually trying to set the stage for a computer that will be worthy of the name “iMac Pro.”

Apple has only ever released one model of iMac Pro, a powerful 2017 desktop iMac that was intended to tie pro users over while they waited for an even better Mac Pro.

Still, that computer set a fairly high bar, with next-gen Intel Xeon processors — workhorse chips that Apple had only previously used in the 2013 Mac Pro — in configurations of up to 18 cores. It also had advanced cooling capacity, supported up to 128GB of high-performance ECC memory, and came in a cool Space Grey colour.

Apple eventually discontinued the iMac Pro last year, leading to speculation whether there would ever be another. As a stop-gap pro machine, the iMac Pro had served its purpose, and demand became lacklustre once the full 2019 Mac Pro came along.

On the other hand, though, Apple’s transition to its own silicon is allowing it to do things with its computers that we never could have imagined. An Intel iMac Pro probably wouldn’t have made much sense, but an M-series iMac Pro seems right up Apple’s alley.

Next-Generation Apple Silicon?

Reading between the lines, however, it’s entirely possible that this 12-core CPU may not refer to an M1-series chip at all. It’s entirely dependent on when Apple plans to release its iMac Pro.

Apple is clearly already preparing its next generation of Apple Silicon, the M2 series, which will likely make a debut in a new and redesigned MacBook Air lineup this fall, if not sooner. These M2 chips may already pack in more cores than their predecessors, and by extension, an M2 Pro and M2 Max might get a bump to 12 CPU cores as their standard configuration.

In this case, it could be the M2 Pro/Max that’s being referred to in conjunction with the new iMac Pro. There have been enough seemingly contradictory reports floating around to lead us to believe that Apple may have two larger iMacs in the works — an iMac that could arrive as soon as this spring, and then an iMac Pro destined for sometime either later this year or even into early 2023.

If that turns out to be the case, it’s reasonable that the iMac Pro would come with an M2 Pro and M2 Max chip configuration, while the standard 27-inch-plus iMac would get some variation of the M1 series — likely M1 Pro and M1 Max configuration similar to those found in the MacBook Pro lineup.

There are also rumours circulating of a 32-inch iMac and a 30-inch iMac, which could also represent the so-called iMac Pro and standard iMac, respectively, as well as work on a mini-LED display for at least one of the new iMac models.

Although it seems likely that Apple could introduce a larger Apple-silicon-powered iMac as early as this spring, it’s an open question right now whether that will take us all the way to the iMac Pro, or whether it’s going to be offered simply as a larger companion to the 24-inch iMac that made its debut last year.

[The information provided in this article has NOT been confirmed by Apple and may be speculation. Provided details may not be factual. Take all rumors, tech or otherwise, with a grain of salt.]

Social Sharing