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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.

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ARM-based Mac Benefits

Bloomberg reports that Apple’s chip-development group, led by Johny Srouji, decided to bail on Intel due to performance reasons. Simply put, Intel CPUs were not making big enough performance gains and Apple engineers worried they would jeopardize future Macs.

Intel is Lagging

Apparently, inside Apple, tests with new Macs running ARM-based chips are greatly out-performing Intel versions of the same machines, specifically with graphics performance and apps using AI (artificial intelligence). These are two areas of big concern for the CAD/BIM/3D industries that Architosh readers generally belong to. AI, in particular, is increasingly penetrating BIM applications as well as AAD (algorithms-aided design) applications in both AEC and manufacturing.

Three Mac Chips

Apple is supposedly working on at least three of its own Mac processors (or systems on a chip), the first based on the A14 processor coming in the next iPhone. Beyond the CPU, there will be graphics processing units and a Neural Engine for handling machine learning. Japan Times says that the sources claim the future Mac chips will be much faster than the processors in the iPhone and iPad.

5-nanometer

A 5-nm part is going to be substantially more power-efficient and smaller than the 14 or 10-nm Intel chips slated for 2020 – 2021. The 2020 update to the Macbook Pro ships with either the 8th or 10th generation Intel Core i5 processors on a 14-nm process. Imagine a 2021 MacBook Pro computer packed with a 5-nm processor? This is three mode steps down from 14-nm. To put some of this in perspective, a Macworld article reports that TSMC says a 5-nm chip runs 15 percent faster at the same power as a 7-nm chip or 30 percent lower power at the same performance. That power savings can result in much longer battery life including some performance gains.

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The Apple A13 chip has about 8.5 billion transistors. But the 5-nm TSMC built chip for Apple will be built using extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography throughout the process, delivering up to 80 percent more logic per density. This can result in a 5-nm process, 100 mm² chip containing nearly 15 billion transistors. That more transistors than just about every desktop chip out there.

12-Cores Mac Chips

The Verge notes that Apple’s first ARM-based Mac chip will feature 12 CPU cores, eight of which will be high-performance “Firestorm” cores and four energy-efficient “Icestorm” cores. Regardless, it is estimated that the first Macs to be ARM-based will be lower-end models like the MacBook and MacBook Air or even perhaps a model of the Mac mini. This will give Apple more time to take on high-end Intel chips and more time for professional software—which is much more complex to build—to adjust for the day when iMacs, the iMac Pro, and Mac Pro could be ARM-powered.

next up: Software Impacts

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Reader Comments

  1. […] The Future: Apple Moving to ARM-based Macs in 2021  Architosh “iphone rumors when:1d” – Google News […]

  2. Posted by:
    Rob Pfaffmann
    June 27, 2020 01:53 pm EDT

    This will be a disaster for CAD-BIM software on Mac if they eliminate the laptop high end behind. This will cause Mac software to be left behind because of market share. Just look at Bluebeam. As Vectorworks users highly invested in the software we will probably get screwed for our loyalty to the platform and software.

  3. Hello, Rob. Thanks for sharing your concerns and views. From what I’ve been told and published, Bluebeam needed to concentrate all of its developer resources on a web browser-based version of Revu. So they axed the Mac version to grab those developers to work on the future version. I just heard there is no official time table for this version. So Mac users are very much left in the lurch by Bluebeam, especially since Revu for Mac 2.x is not very stable under Catalina.

    That condition was not driven by Apple moving to ARM, however. It was driven by Bluebeam facing an onslaught of competition in the construction technology market by Autodesk BIM 360, Procore, and other solutions that are fully web-based, including Bentley’s new web-based ProjectWise 365 (good article if you are thinking about a CDE for your practice).

  4. A couple more thoughts, Rob.

    I seriously doubt Apple would have invested the time it spend on the 3rd generation new Mac Pro (2019 version) if they were not serious about the pro markets. That investment includes manufacturing investments, including gearing its Austin, Texas facility as the global final assembly point for the new Mac Pro. I have shared in our Xpresso newsletter (which you should consider subscribing to!) details about Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) and their new US fab they are building my thoughts about it being highly suited for Apple’s custom silicon for its Macs. The US location would allow Apple to station staff there for test manufacturing and some degree of tighter control on upcoming processors that Apple clearly wants to keep close to its chest.

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