Apple M1X vs M2 chip: What we know so far — and what it means for new MacBooks

Apple M1 chip
(Image credit: Apple)

Editor's Note: After this story was published, Apple surprised us by unveiling a new top-of-the-line M1 chip in March 2022 -- the M1 Ultra. This is probably the "M1X" chip discussed in this story, which was published many months beforehand. Original story follows:

It's now been just over half a year since we met the Apple M1 chip, the first product of the company's foray into designing its own Mac chipsets, and we can confidently say it's been a huge success. It's so good, in fact, that we honored the M1 with the Breakthrough Award in our Tom's Guide Awards for 2021.

The M1 chip has delivered significant performance and power efficiency boosts in every Apple product it's been integrated into, including the MacBook Pro with M1, the MacBook Air with M1, and the Mac mini with M1. The M1 chip also has no trouble running iOS and iPadOS apps natively, tying Apple's Mac and mobile ecosystems together more tightly than ever. 

Now we're hearing lots of rumors about what's next for Apple silicon. The earliest rumors we heard pointed to a clear-cut successor called the M2 chip, but over the last few months we've also heard enough about a potential M1 follow-up called the M1X that we now believe Apple is working on two new SoCs: a beefier version of the M1 chip with more cores and more RAM, expected to debut in new 14-inch MacBook Pro and 16-inch MacBook Pro models later this year, and an entirely new chip called the M2 expected to debut in new MacBook Airs in the first half of 2022.

So what's the difference likely to be, and what does it mean for you? Read on for a quick rundown of everything we know so far about the long-rumored M1X and M2 chips.

Apple M1X chip: What we know so far

  • Expected to power 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro 2021 
  • M1X tipped to feature 10 CPU cores, compared to 8 core for M1
  • GPU could be 16-core or 32-core (up from 8-core) and up to 64GB RAM 

It's been a bit confusing to try and parse everything we're hearing about the future of Apple silicon, in part because we've heard future Macs will include more powerful chips branded either M1X or M2. However, a MacBook Pro 2021 leak earlier this year from iOS developer Dylandkt (whose Apple predictions on Twitter have proven correct in the past) helps elucidate things by suggesting that there are in fact two chips in development: the M1 successor M2, and an improved version of the M1 known as M1X.

"The M1X is an extension of the M1 that will contain more Thunderbolt channels, CPU cores, GPU cores, multiple external monitor support, and greater power draw," Dylandkt claims. He predicts these M1X chips would appear in new 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models, with an expected release date of late 2021. "These devices will both feature a 1080p webcam, SD card reader, three Thunderbolt USB C ports, an updated MagSafe port, and an HDMI port."

MacBook Pro M1 sale

(Image credit: Apple)

Around the same time, Bloomberg published a report suggesting that the next iteration of Apple silicon will arrive with as many as 10 CPU cores, a notable improvement over the octa-core CPUs on the current M1 chip. The same Bloomberg report also suggested that the next generation of Apple silicon could support as much as 64 GB of RAM and sport a GPU as large as 16-core or 32-core, which seems like a nigh-unbelievable improvement over the M1 chip's 8 GB of RAM and octa-core GPU.

While it's hard to believe a new M1X chip from Apple could deliver a 32-core GPU and 64 GB of RAM, it's certainly possible. What's much more credible is the suggestion that Apple will release refreshed 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros this year sporting M1X chips (or however Apple ends up branding an improved M1) with slightly more Thunderbolt channels, CPU cores, and GPU cores.

If that proves true, what it means for the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros (or any other Mac that gets an M1X injection) is simple: significant boosts to performance and battery life, as well as the ability to natively run iOS and iPadOS apps. The return of MagSafe charging, the addition of an HDMI port, and (if the rumors prove true) slimmer bezels would all just be icing on the cake.

Apple M2 chip: What we've heard

  • Tipped to launch in 2022 with new MacBook Air
  • Rumored to be built on 4nm process (vs 5nm for M1)
  • Could have up to 9-10 GPU cores but just 8 CPU cores

As noted above, we've alternatively heard about both the M1X chip and an M1 successor branded the M2. For example, back in April Nikkei Asia reportedly heard from sources that a new chipset called the M2 had entered production, which (if true) would mean those chips would be ready to ship in Apple products by the end of this year.

Now, it's possible that this leak is true and refers to the afore-mentioned improved M1X chips we expect to see in the long-rumored 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro refreshes, since those are still expected to debut in late 2021. However, we've heard enough corroborating leaks and rumors to believe that there is a separate M2 chip, and that it's significantly different from the M1X mentioned above.

Apple M2 chip

(Image credit: Apple)

For starters, the M2 chip is rumored to be built on a 4-nanometer fabrication node, rather than the 5nm process used for the M1. If true, that means better performance and efficiency over the M1, because there are more transistors per square nanometer.

We've also seen reports from both Bloomberg and Dylandkt that Apple is on track to release a new MacBook Air sporting an M2 chip in early 2022. According to Dylandkt, the M2 chip could be a next-gen SoC (System on a Chip) built off the same foundation as the A15, which reportedly entered production in May ahead of its rumored debut in the iPhone 13 later this year.

MacBook Air 2021 concept

These renders, created by Devam Jangra, give us an idea of what a new M2-powered MacBook Air with thinner bezels and an iMac-like array of color options might look like (Image credit: Devam Jangra/YouTube)

And while you might assume a chip called the M2 would be better in every way than one branded the M1X, rumors suggest that in fact the M2 could be slightly less beefy. One of Bloomberg's most recent reports claims Apple will ship new MacBook Airs early next year in a bunch of new colors, each sporting an M2 chip with 9-10 GPU cores but just 8 CPU cores. While these chips will still be faster and more performant than the current M1, there's good reason to suspect they'll be slightly less speedy than the M1X chips we expect to see powering new 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros later this year.

Apple M1X vs M2 chip: Outlook

Leaks and rumors over the past six months have painted a hazy, shifting picture of what to expect from the next generation of Apple silicon. The ongoing chip shortage has likely thrown a wrench into Apple's production pipeline, making it even more difficult to predict when and what hardware the company will release next.

Still, it's safe to assume that we will see a more powerful version of the M1 chip debuting sometime later this year or early next. The recent leaks suggesting we'll see an M1X chipset in new MacBook Pros later this year, with an M2 chip appearing in new MacBook Airs in 2022, seem quite credible. But even if the folks in Cupertino change things up, one thing's for sure: Apple silicon is a significant improvement over the Intel-based chipsets which have been powering Macs for years, and we can't wait to see what the next generation can do.

Alex Wawro
Senior Editor Computing

Alex Wawro is a lifelong tech and games enthusiast with more than a decade of experience covering both for outlets like Game Developer, Black Hat, and PC World magazine. A lifelong PC builder, he currently serves as a senior editor at Tom's Guide covering all things computing, from laptops and desktops to keyboards and mice.