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The Future: Apple Moving to ARM-based Macs in 2021

Apple is poised to make the move to custom design processors for its Macs and will tap its elite experience in ARM-based chip design to empower Mac computers to go places it deems it cannot get to by sticking with Intel.


According to a Bloomberg article last week, Apple is expected to announce ARM-based Macs at this month’s Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) on 22 June 2020.

The code name for the semi-secretive project is Kalamata.

ARM Processor Macs

This would mark the third time in Apple’s 36-year history the company has switched processor architectures, and the first time the company has developed its own processor for the Mac. In the early 90s, Apple moved from Motorola 68k series CPUs to the AIM (Apple/IBM/Motorola) Alliance’s PowerPC processors. During the ’90s, Apple enjoyed many years of superior CPU performance over Intel x86 chips. Then in 2005, Steve Jobs announced Apple was moving to Intel’s x86 CPUs.

Key Takeaway: Apple is set to announce its move to ARM-based Macs in 2021 at this month’s Apple WWDC. The move is coming due to Intel’s woeful performance improvements, but Apple’s control of its own Mac CPU and GPU could do wonders for the platform, but there will be a software transition and a cost that will be felt in the pro markets like CAD/BIM/3D.

In both cases, Apple moved to different chip architectures due to current and projected performance or performance per watt concerns. The RISC (reduce instruction set computing) advantages of PowerPC gave Apple an inherent advantage for the AIM-era PowerPCs and Apple famously touted those advantages in memorable TV commercials.

Apple’s breakthrough Mac Pro and pro display today features Intel CPUs but by 2022 it may be offered in a version powered by an Apple-designed ARM-based SoC chip containing CPU, GPU, and Neural Engine, among other features. (Image: Apple / All rights reserved)

Similarly, to the move to Intel, Apple’s key concern was performance per watt—as Apple’s mobile line of computers are hugely popular in business and education—and mobility means hours of use per battery charge. Apple designs and engineers its own battery technology and its A-series ARM-based chips for its iOS-based devices (eg: iPhone and iPad).

Multi-Year Roll-Out

Bloomberg’s sources claim Apple will roll out its own ARM-based Macs starting in 2021. While it will certainly start with some segment of its Macbook, MacBook Air, or MacBook Pro line, or perhaps all three, eventually Apple plans to transition to its own chips for even the most powerful desktop Macs. This means, eventually, even its ultra-powerful Mac Pro workstation.

MORE: Apple Leaving Intel on Macs by 2020—Impact on New Mac Pro

Apple moving to ARM with its professional-oriented Macs will have an outsized impact on various industries currently enjoying robust native applications for macOS. We have warned of this before in response to previous rumors of ARM-based Macs. We will summarize some of those concerns in the last section of this article. In any case, Apple will undoubtedly be pressured to maintain Intel-based Mac options for a few years, allowing both software developers and users to transition professional software solutions—especially those solutions built using numerous technical engines (eg: geometry kernels, rendering engines, etc)—for perhaps greater than 3 years.

next page: The benefits of ARM-Macs

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