How Apple Made its M1 Chip During COVID-19, Explains Executive

Johny Srouji, Apple’s Senior VP of Hardware Technologies, recently sat down for an interview with The Wall Street Journal, where he talked about Apple Silicon and the development of M1, which Apple called a “breakthrough SoC for the Mac” at launch.

Srouji, a former Intel engineer and IBM executive, has led Apple’s chipmaking efforts since 2015. Naturally, he was called on to lead M1 development as well.

He likes his cars like his chips, Srouji told The Wall Street Journal: “Fast and furious.” Apple Silicon is blazing trails with every new iteration, and while it is proving to be a furious contender in the market, it is disciplined and efficient in energy consumption.

Apple’s semiconductor division launched a risky project to replace the Intel processors that powered Apple laptops and desktops for 15 years with chips designed in-house. Those M1 chips, which are far more energy-efficient than Intel’s, enabled Macs to run much faster and generate less heat, laying the groundwork for a resurgence in Apple’s computer line. The company has now gained control over an essential component just as supply-chain disruptions cause disorder in the rest of the chip market…

But the development and timely launch of the M1 chip wasn’t without its problems. The biggest came in the fall of 2020, as the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic forced remote-work mandates in the U.S. just as Apple was getting into the final validation phase for its chip designs before they went into production.

Delaying the progress of new chips wasn’t an option. So Mr. Srouji worked to design a new testing process on the fly. The team set up cameras throughout the labs so engineers could inspect the chips remotely, people familiar with the work said. It was the kind of change that would have once been hard to imagine from Apple, where secrecy and control are paramount.

Mr. Srouji’s team, already spread out across the globe and accustomed to working on video calls and across time zones, was able to acclimate well to the new methodology.

Apple’s M1 chip has evolved significantly since its debut. The M1 Pro and M1 Max chips that power Apple’s 2021 MacBook Pro models handily outperform the base M1 from 2020, while the recently released Mac mini with the M1 Ultra brings unprecedented levels of processing horsepower.

Apple Silicon has even been lauded by the maker of the very chips it was designed to replace. “They did a pretty good job,” Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger said last fall.

Now, Apple is reportedly testing the next generation of Apple Silicon for Mac, tentatively known as M2, on nine Mac models.

Srouji was as tight-lipped as ever about what the future holds for Apple Silicon, though. “I’m not going to talk about any of that,” he said while laughing when asked whether the company has developed its own silicon for its much-anticipated autonomous car project.

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