The Unspoken Genius of Apple’s M1 Chip

Gerald McAlister
4 min readNov 20, 2020

Apple recently released a new line of computers built with their own chips, and the world is ecstatic about them. Apple has managed to make a set of computers that are objectively better in nearly every way compared to their previous line of computers. The result is some incredible hardware, great reviews, and incredible benchmarks. However, there’s something that no one is talking about that makes the M1 chip an integral part of Apple’s future. This is going to lead them to make even more money than they do now — and I’m not referring to Apple’s virtual and augmented reality efforts.

It has to do with a process called binning.

What is binning?

When a company like Apple makes their own chips, some don’t come out right. Making computer chips is a difficult process, involving a lot of materials, a lot of planning, and a lot of people. Being a physical science however, things go wrong that just can’t be controlled. When making these chips, even the smallest, nanoscopic flaws in the materials, can produce bad chips. Here’s the thing: These “bad chips” often still work, just not as designed. Thus, chip manufacturers can actually still sell these as “lower quality” models. It’s the difference between an Intel i7 processor and an Intel i5 processor: Both work just fine, one just isn’t quite as powerful as the other.

This is actually a very common practice, and is exactly how companies like Intel handle the process: by “binning” the bad chips into a separate category. In fact, depending on what is broken on a chip during the manufacturing process, you might have multiple types of chips that come out of this! This article has a great overview for how Intel for example handles the binning of their CPUs for example. Apple is already clearly binning some of their M1 chips actually! The MacBook Air actually has a model with 7 GPU cores and a model with 8 GPU cores; the 7 GPU core models are likely just the binned 8 GPU core chips that had a broken core!

Why does this matter?

The new M1 chips are a variation of ARM processors designed by Apple (instead of x86 likes Intel uses — more on the differences here). This is very important, because Apple uses this processor somewhere else: in every other product they sell. That’s…

Gerald McAlister

Software engineer, hardware tinkerer, focused on VR, AR, AI, & Web3. I write about whatever crosses my mind, but try to focus on business vs tech vs philosophy.