Apple to preview new 'Mac on ARM' platform this month

Farewell Intel: Apple is set to move to its own ARM-based laptops and desktops using a pumped-up iPad-style processor.

By Mark Gurman, June 10 2020
Apple to preview new 'Mac on ARM' platform this month

Apple is preparing to announce a shift to its own main processors in Mac computers, replacing chips from Intel, as early as this month at its annual developer conference, according to people familiar with the plans.

The company is holding WWDC the week of June 22. Unveiling the initiative, codenamed Kalamata, at the event would give outside developers time to adjust before new Macs roll out in 2021, the people said.

Since the hardware transition is still months away, the timing of the announcement could change, they added, while asking not to be identified discussing private plans.

The new processors will be based on the same technology used in Apple-designed iPhone and iPad chips. However, future Macs will still run the macOS operating system rather than the iOS software on mobile devices from the company.

Apple is using technology licensed from ARM, part of Japanese tech conglomerate SoftBank. This architecture is different from the underlying technology in Intel chips, so developers will need time to optimise their software for the new components.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing, which makes processors for many of Intel’s rivals using a more advanced process, will build the new Mac processors using a 5-nanometer production technique – the same approach as for the next iPhones and iPad Pros. Intel rivals Qualcomm and Advanced Micro Devices also use TSMC to make their chips.

The first Macs powered by the new ARM chips are expected to launch next year, using custom chips much faster than the processors in the iPhone and iPad.

Apple plans to eventually transition the entire Mac lineup to its own ARM-based processors, including the priciest desktop computers, because of their higher performance and improved power efficiency, although the gradual transition away from Intel will start with less-powerful computers. Apple and Intel declined to comment for this article.

Read more: Apple's 2021 MacBook to drop Intel for Apple-designed chip

Intel faces new competition

This will be the first time in the 36-year history of the Mac that Apple-designed processors will power these machines.

It has changed chips only two other times. In the early 1990s, Apple switched from Motorola processors to PowerPC. At WWDC in 2005, Steve Jobs announced a move from PowerPC to Intel, and Apple rolled out those first Intel-based Macs in January 2006.

Apple has about 10% of the PC market, so the change may not cut into Intel sales much. However, Macs are considered premium products – so if the company moves away from Intel for performance reasons it may prompt other PC makers to look at different options, too. Microsoft, Samsung and Lenovo have already debuted laptops that run on ARM-based chips.

Apple’s chip-development group decided to make the switch after Intel’s annual chip performance gains slowed. Apple engineers worried that sticking to Intel’s road map would delay or derail some future Macs, according to people familiar with the effort.

Inside Apple, tests of new Macs with the ARM-based chips have shown sizeable improvements over Intel-powered versions, specifically in graphics performance and apps using artificial intelligence, the people said. Apple’s processors are also more power-efficient than Intel’s, which may mean thinner and lighter Mac laptops in the future.

The company is working on at least three of its own Mac processors, known as systems-on-a-chip, with the first based on the A14 processor in the next iPhone.

In addition to the main central processing unit, there will be a graphics processing unit and a Neural Engine for handling machine learning, a popular and powerful type of AI, the people said. In the past, Apple has made chips for specific Mac functions, such as security.

The Apple chip project has been in the works for several years and is considered one of the company’s most secretive efforts. In 2018, Apple successfully developed a Mac chip based on the iPad Pro’s processor for internal testing, giving the company confidence it could announce such a shift this year.

 

Apple’s move would be a highlight of this year’s WWDC, which will be held online due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Because of the fluid nature of the global health crisis and its impact on Apple’s product development, the timing of the chip announcement could change.

 

Also read: Apple is prepping high-end headphones with noise cancellation

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This article was published under license from Bloomberg Media and the original article can be viewed here

Mark Gurman

Mark Gurman covers consumer technology for Bloomberg


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