From Apple I To M1: A Look At The Evolution Of Apple’s Processors

January 25, 2024
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Apple has come a long way since its early beginnings in a garage in Los Altos, California. Founded by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne in 1976, the company started with making and selling personal computers. Over the decades, Apple has revolutionized consumer electronics and computing devices with innovative products like the iMac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad. 

A key component of Apple’s devices that has evolved dramatically over the years is the processor. The processor is the ‘brain’ of any computing device, responsible for executing instructions and running programs. Let’s take a look at how Apple’s processors have evolved from the early Apple I to the latest M1 chip. 

1. The Humble Beginnings

The first Apple computer called the Apple I, introduced in 1976, used a MOS Technology 6502 microprocessor running at 1 MHz. The 8-bit 6502 was also used in other personal computers like the Commodore PET and Atari gaming consoles. It had a clock speed of just 1 MHz, allowing it to process around 0.02 MIPS (million instructions per second). 

Though innovative for its time, the 6502 was limited in speed and functionality. When Apple released the Apple II in 1977, it continued using the 6502 but at a faster clock speed of 1.023 MHz. The Apple II became one of the earliest successful mass-produced microcomputers and was instrumental in sparking the personal computing revolution. 

2. The Rise of The Motorola 68000 Series

In the early 1980s, Apple was looking for a more powerful processor for its next-generation Macintosh computer. They chose the Motorola 68000, a 16/32-bit processor with a clock speed of 8 MHz and capable of 0.43 MIPS. 

Introduced in 1984, the original Macintosh with its Motorola 68000 microprocessor and innovative graphical user interface was a landmark product in Apple’s evolution. The 68000 continued to power Macs for much of the 1980s. It was eventually replaced by the 68020 and 68030, faster versions of the 68000 series. 

Motorola 68000 Series

3. PowerPC Partnership With IBM & Motorola

By the early 1990s, Apple realized it needed a next-generation processor that was more powerful and efficient than the Motorola 680×0 series. So in 1991, Apple entered into a strategic alliance with IBM and Motorola to create a new series of processors called PowerPC. 

The first PowerPC processors were released in 1994, starting with the PowerPC 601 running at 60-80 MHz. The chip offered significantly better performance compared to Intel’s Pentium chips of the time. PowerPC processors went on to power Apple’s Mac lineup throughout the 1990s and 2000s. The partnership with IBM and Motorola allowed Apple to design custom processors tailored to its needs. 

4. The Switch to Intel x86 Chips

In a major shift, Apple announced at its 2005 Worldwide Developers Conference that it would transition the Mac lineup from PowerPC to Intel x86 processors. The first Macs with Intel Core Duo processors were released in January 2006. 

The switch to Intel allowed Apple to use the same volume-produced commodity processors as Windows PCs. Intel’s chips offered better performance per watt compared to PowerPC. The first Intel-powered Macs used the Core Duo chips, eventually evolving to Core 2 Duo, i5, and i7 processors. For a few years, Apple offered both PowerPC and Intel-based Mac computer lines. But by 2006, the transition to Intel was complete.

Intel x86 Chips

5. Apple’s Vertical Integration: A-Series & M1 Silicon

With iOS devices like the iPhone and iPad achieving massive popularity in the 2010s, Apple felt it needed to control the processor design for these devices. This led Apple to design its own Arm-based processors starting with the A4 chip designed internally and manufactured by Samsung. 

The custom-designed A-series processors allowed Apple to tightly integrate hardware and software for better efficiency. Each new A-series chip iteration from A5 to A13 Bionic brought significant improvements in CPU and GPU performance as well as power efficiency.

In 2020, Apple announced it would extend this vertical integration strategy to the Mac, launching Macs with the custom-designed M1 system-on-a-chip. With up to 8 high-performance cores and industry-leading power efficiency, the M1 brought a giant performance leap compared to previous Intel chips. It marked the beginning of Apple’s transition away from Intel to its own Apple Silicon for the Mac lineup.

6. The Road Ahead: More Powerful Apple Silicon

The first-generation M1 chip was just the beginning of Apple’s processor ambitions. In 2022, Apple announced the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, bringing even greater performance gains and efficiency. The latest MacBook Pros with these chips establish new benchmarks for laptop performance.

Looking ahead, Apple is expected to release more powerful second-generation M2 silicon for Macs in 2024. Just as Steve Jobs envisioned back in the early days of Apple, the company continues to integrate cutting-edge proprietary hardware and software to deliver the best user experience. 


It has been an amazing journey for Apple from the humble 1 MHz 6502 chip powering the Apple I computer to the blazing fast M1 processors of today. As Moore’s Law continues marching on, we can expect even more astonishing Silicon from Apple that will push computing performance into new realms. The next 50 years promise to be just as exciting as the previous ones when it comes to Apple’s processors powering its innovative devices.