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A16 Bionic is nearing MacBook Pro compatibility

A16 Bionic

There has been some movement in the direction of the objective of powering a MacBook Pro with an A16 Bionic chip.

I’ve tested Intel’s best, AMD’s best, and even Apple Silicon. Computer processors have an aura of exceptionalism that makes even the greatest phone CPUs appear antiquated, but the Apple A16 Bionic demonstrates convergence.

The A16 Bionic isn’t a desktop CPU or one that can rival the greatest laptops, but its stats suggest it’s more like these two than you may imagine.

A processor with 16 billion transistors is huge

The transistor is the processor’s essential component, converting electrical pulses into zeros and ones for data and logical processes. More neurons mean a more powerful CPU.

16 billion transistors on a mobile chip is extraordinary, especially compared to the Apple M2 chip’s 20 billion. The A16 Bionic has 80% of the Apple M2’s transistor density, but their size is more crucial.

The A16 Bionic uses TSMC’s 4nm node, while the Apple M2 uses 5nm. The Bionic die is smaller than the M2, yet it has a similar density.

This allows a 5-core GPU and a 16-core neural engine to fit on the SoC together with the central processor. While the A16 Bionic’s GPU is half the size of the M2, it should still be capable of amazing visuals, especially for a mobile phone processor.

The neural engine is the same size as the M2’s, so much of the phone’s improved power may come from processing photographs and movies on the fly.

Moore’s law remains

Apple’s A16 Bionic and M2 chips have a physical restriction on how many transistors they can hold.

Since transistors already work on atomic scales, physics sets the limit. Desktop processors will have more room to physically increase in size than laptop processors and definitely more than those in phones and tablets. However, the physical restrictions of die size are what determine a processor’s potential power, not a desktop product’s smaller transistor.

Given these constraints, the A16 Bionic’s performance will be great, but it will hit transistor density limits far sooner than desktop chips.

Next-gen phone CPUs will still lag behind desktop and laptop processors, and this gap will only expand as they get smaller to fit in phones and tablets.

This is where transistor density will come into play, since using the physical space you have to achieve performance advances is a big asset for desktop and laptop devices.

So while the A16 Bionic seems formidable, it has limited room to expand, unlike Apple’s M-series chips. Any performance advances the A16 Bionic can squeeze out are constrained by the reduced transistor size of the 4nm node compared to the 5nm node utilised in the A15 Bionic and the Apple M1 chip. The latter grew into M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, where transistor density affects performance significantly.

Phone chips will fail before MacBook chips

While the A16 Bionic could comfortably operate a computer from a few years ago, including some of the greatest MacBook and Macs running some of the top Intel CPUs of the past, the performance advancements on Apple’s MacBook and iMac lineups will accelerate ahead of its mobile chips gen-on-gen.

As strong as the A16 Bionic is, it wouldn’t be able to run a MacBook Air without some restrictions. The Apple M1 chip has 16 billion transistors, but a 7- or 8-core GPU.

In no scenario could a current MacBook Pro, even the 13-inch, run on an A16 Bionic without severely limiting expectations.

Apple’s next iPhone chip contains 16 billion transistors, a 6.7% increase from the A15 Bionic. Apple M2 processor density was 25% higher than Apple M1. Apple isn’t likely to duplicate this accomplishment with the M3, but it will almost surely beat the 6% to 7% rise on the A17 Bionic.

When the M3 is delivered in a few years, no iPhone chip will come close to matching its raw performance, and the gap will certainly expand over time. Even the greatest affordable processors with integrated graphics in the next few years are expected to be more amazing than the A16 Bionic.

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