Apple Will Start Selling Macs With ARM Processors in 2021


Apple is working on introducing new Macs with its own A-series ARM processors starting from 2021, as reported by Bloomberg. The company will be introducing a new MacBook in 2021 based on its A14 system-on-chip, which will be much faster than its iPhone and iPad variants.

It is a well-known fact by now that Apple plans to switch from Intel's Core processors to its own custom ARM processors, across its Mac line-up. These A-series processors already beat the performance numbers that high-end Intel processors like Core i7 offer. It has never been a question of if, but a question of when. Bloomberg's new report provides new details to help answer this question.

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Apple's ARM-chips-for-Mac Project is called Kalamata

Apple has been working on a project internally codenamed Kalamata, which is the name for its efforts to work on custom processors for Mac. The first of these processors will be a 5nm 12 core chip, with eight high-performance cores called Firestorm, and four energy-efficient cores, named Icestorm. Apple will be using a similar architecture that it uses for iPhone and iPad, which also utilize a mix of high performance and energy efficient cores. Gradually, Apple will double or quadruple the number of cores in its A-series processors, compared to the current Intel offerings in Macs.

These processors will not initially be fast enough for MacBook Pro or iMacs, so the company will be introducing them with a new ARM-based MacBook. This is expected to be a 12-inch MacBook, which was killed off last year. Down the road, Apple also plans to replace Intel's Xeon chips in Mac Pro with its own ARM chips.

Project Kalamata started back in 2018 when Apple used an A12X processor from 2018 iPad Pro in a Mac for internal testing. The results were encouraging enough for the company to move ahead with its goals to release its first ARM-based Mac by 2020 - 2021. Project Catalyst was also an important step towards this goal to allow developers to create cross-platform apps that would take advantage of these ARM processors.

With a shift to A-series SoC, Apple will not only be moving away from its dependency on Intel, it will also gradually move away from AMD's discrete graphics down the road. Apple already produces its own graphics processors for iPhone and iPad, which push more pixels and provide better performance than Intel's integrated graphics solutions, and Nvidia and AMD's low-end GPUs. Apple's 2018 iPad Pro is already touted to have the same graphics performance as Xbox One S.

For migration to ARM, Apple is also working on tools to help developers migrate their apps from Intel. Apple will ensure that until developers can migrate their apps, their Intel-based apps should work fine even on ARM-based Macs. Whether Apple will achieve this through emulation, or through dedicated hardware, we will find out soon.

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Apple's move to its own ARM SoC will not only provide cost benefits to the company, it will allow it to upgrade Macs more often and have more control over the performance, design and thermals of its Macs. It will also help Macs provide much battery performance compared to any Intel offering.

Even though Apple has done such chip transitions before, it will be a challenge to move from Intel to ARM. Microsoft has attempted a similar move by making Windows work on Qualcomm processors, however, the performance of such machines is not much to write about.

Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has also reported on Apple's move to ARM processors for Mac, and expects them to launch by end of 2020 or in Q1 2021. He also reported that Apple will use USB-4 in these new Macs, and that cost per processor for Apple will reduce by 40 - 60 percent. Whether this will translate into cheaper Macs for customers is anyone's guess.