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As John Ternus left us with “just one more product to go, Mac Pro” at the end of last week’s event, my thoughts turned to how Apple might get to that Pro machine from the Studio.

The biggest problem facing the Apple silicon Mac Pro isn’t CPU or GPU performance. It’s memory. You can configure an M1 with a maximum of 16GB, increasing to 32GB for the M1 Pro and 64GB for the M1 Max. With the introduction of the M1 Ultra, the maximum RAM is now up to 128GB. That’s impressive, but it’s a long way from the 1.5TB of RAM you can configure in a current Intel-based Mac Pro.

So how do they get there? Let’s speculate a bit.

The M1 Ultra is effectively a doubled M1 Max, so let’s assume Apple can keep going down that route, and the final form of the M1 family might be a doubled Ultra. That’d be 40 CPU cores, 128 GPU cores, and a 64 core neural engine. It’d also take the maximum memory to 256GB. That’s a lot, but it’s still only 1/4 of a terabyte.

So far, so predictable. Let’s stretch a little. A straight up doubling of the Ultra’s RAM configurations would get us to 128/256GB of RAM. How about if there were one more option, 512GB? We’re getting closer and need only one more iteration of doubling everything to get to a TB!

I think that final doubling might come from the generational change from M1 to M2. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the enhancements with the next M-series generation might allow more RAM on the lower-end chips. For example, it’d be wonderful if the “standard” M2 could be 16/32GB instead of 8/16GB. Following that logic, the M2 Ultra would be 128/256GB, and the hypothetical chip I just talked about, if it arrives as part of the M2 generation, ends up as 256/512/1024GB. That’s in the same order of magnitude as 1.5TB, all without needing to resort to off-die RAM, which would be a significant architectural departure.

My speculation does all feel like a stretch, and no one at Apple has ever publicly said they’re even aiming for 1TB RAM with the new Mac Pro, but it was fun to think about how they might get there. All we know for sure is that it’s not going to be cheap! 🤑

UPDATE: I had missed that someone in the presentation had said “our last chip” or something similar, indicating that the Ultra may be the last in the M1 series of chips. Oops! Although, I’d not read too much into that statement. Apple doesn’t tend to tell the whole story. It was a miracle that the Mac Pro even got a mention in this event!

Dave Verwer

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