This week Apple announced their new MacBook Air, Mac mini and MacBook Pro. Equipped with the new ARM-based Apple Silicon chip to replace the Intel chips. Apple Silicon will let developers create universal apps to run on iPads, iPhones, and Macs. That sounded promising until I heard the name of the new chip—the M1. That’s unfortunate. The M1 by Cyrix was an Intel chip replacement for the Socket 7 motherboard in 1996. The compatibility and performance issues were so bad that it sucked donkey balls. Will the Apple Silicon M1 be the next Cyrix M1?
The Socket 7 Era
Before we can talk about the Cyrix M1, we have to talk about the Socket 7 era that began in 1995.
- Intel came out with the Pentium MMX chip and the Socket 7 motherboard.
- Microsoft released Windows 95 to replace Windows 3 and DOS 6.
- The modern Internet of websites and web browsers came to the masses.
It was an exciting time to be a PC builder.
Intel chips then, as now, commanded a premium price for higher performance. But not everyone could afford an Intel chip. AMD, Cyrix, and VIA brought out their own chips in 1996 and 1997. These third-party chips were more affordable than their Intel counterparts. But had compatibility and performance issues with software written for Intel chips.
Software back then was often written for a particular chip. A program written for the 486 instruction set would work on the Pentium. A program written for the Pentium instruction set wouldn’t work on the 486. Software can only do so much if the third-party chip has a poor implementation of an instruction set. Operating systems today hide the chip details so the programmer can write for the OS and not the chip.
Cyrix M1/M2 Chips
The Cyrix M1 wasn’t a Pentium MMX-compatible chip. In fact, it identified itself as a 486 chip. Software written for the 486 ran well. Software written for the older Pentium or the newer Pentium MMX didn’t run well or not at all. The M1 sucked donkey balls.
The Cyrix M2 was a Pentium MMX-compatible chip. Unfortunately, it was trying to compete against the Pentium 2. While it performed better than an older Pentium, it lagged behind the Pentium MMX and the Pentium 2. Being too late for the market and unable to scale in frequency also doomed the M2. The M2 also sucked donkey balls.
The only advantage that the M2 had over the other third-party chips was better Linux support. Linux back then didn’t work out of the box as it does today. Recompiling the kernel and/or modules was necessary to get everything working. I had few problems installing Linux with the M2 that became my file server for five years.
Apple Silicon M1
The Apple Silicon M1 shares other similarities with the Cyrix M1 besides a name 24 years apart.
- It’s an Intel replacement chip.
- Implements the Intel instruction set in software for backward compatibility.
- Sucks donkey balls.
Whenever a chip provider fails to deliver, Apple finds a new chip provider.
That happened three times since the introduction of the Mac in 1984. Each chip lasting a dozen years on average before replacement.
- The Motorola 68000 series from 1984 to 1997.
- The IBM PowerPC series from 1996 to 2006.
- The Intel x86 series from 2006 to 2020.
Don’t expect Apple to replace Apple Silicon until the early 2030’s.
Apple promised support for Intel software on Apple Silicon for the next two years. A translation layer, called the Rosetta 2, will run the Intel instruction set on Apple Silicon. For small- to medium-sized applications, Rosetta should be transparent to the user. For large-sized applications, Rosetta may slow down or even crash under the load. Applications with low-level hardware access won’t work until a new version comes out.
Will the Apple M1 suck donkey balls?
Apple didn’t present any benchmark to compare performance with the Intel chips. That the M1 can run only 16GB of memory and doesn’t support external GPUs is a bit telling. A MacBook Air or Mac mini with 16GB is fine for the average user. Developers who need more than 16GB in memory and external GPUs will have to get an Intel MacBook Pro. Not a promising start for the Apple M1.
Should you buy a Mac with Apple Silicon M1 chip? The alternative is to buy an Intel Mac that might not get any software updates after two years. If you do get a Apple Silicon Mac, pay the extra $200 USD for 16GB of memory.