Apple M2 production leak is good news for new MacBook Pro 2021

The next big chip on the Apple Silicon roadmap is already in mass production, according to a new report, with what's believed to be the Apple M2 being lined up for new MacBook models later in 2021. The leak follows the debut of the new iMac 24-inch last week, which tapped the existing Apple M1 chipset, and the revamped iPad Pro 2021 which also adopted the M1.

Apple probably couldn't have hoped for a more positive response to the M1 when it launched products using its first homegrown macOS chip last year. Switching from Intel's x86 processors to Arm-based SoCs of its own design, it was the first of what's expected to be a roughly two year long transition to move the Mac line-up entirely over to Apple Silicon.

Some rumors had pegged the new iMac as arriving with the M2, but Apple instead opted to stick with its existing SoC. That combines up to eight CPU cores with up to eight GPU cores, as well as a neural processing chip focused on AI and machine learning tasks. Still, with high-end models in the Mac range yet to be upgraded, Apple needs another, more potent chipset.

That could well be the Apple M2. According to the Nikkei, mass production of the M2 began this month by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC), Apple's contract chipmaker. It's being produced on a 5-nanometer plus line, it's said.

The exact specifications of the M2 are unclear at this stage, though it's expected to bring a performance upgrade compared to the M1. So far Apple has used that in its more affordable models, initially the MacBook Air and Mac mini, along with the smaller 13-inch MacBook Pro. The new 24-inch iMac is also targeted at a consumer audience, with the all-in-one introducing new color options along with a much slimmer design.

For Apple's pro users, however, the question has been just how much grunt they can rely on from Apple Silicon. Models like the MacBook Pro 15-inch and the Mac Pro will need more power than the M1 can deliver. That may be where the M2 comes in.

Shipments of the new Apple chipset could begin from TSMC's line from July, insiders claim. That would pave the way for their use in new MacBooks in the second half of 2021. Leaks back in December 2020 tipped a more powerful version of the M1 being developed first for new MacBook Pro models, then spreading to a high-end iMac all-in-one – potentially replacing the discontinued iMac Pro – and then finally the new Mac Pro.

A smaller, more affordable version of the Mac Pro – unofficially referred to as the Mac Pro mini – could also use the M2, but in a smaller design, it has been suggested.

The biggest challenge might not be performance, but production bottlenecks. Apple may be huge, but it still faces the same headaches of the chip manufacturing industry that others in tech, automotive, and other segments have struggled with. Sluggish recovery after the pandemic has led to severe product shortages, conspicuously in high-end graphics cards and consoles like the PS5 and Xbox Series X, though Apple's deal with TSMC may see it jump ahead of rivals in the priority rankings.