Apple's Path to Arm-Based Macs Could Start With a New 12-Inch MacBook

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Fudge, a leaker who goes by @choco_bit on Twitter, often shares details on upcoming Apple products. With Apple's Arm-based Macs that use custom-made chips on the horizon, Fudge today shared some of his thoughts on how, why, and when Apple will roll out Arm-based Macs, including some speculation on how apps, Boot Camp, and other features might be impacted.


Apple has been following a multi-step approach to the rollout of Arm-based Macs, which began in 2016 with the inclusion of the T1 coprocessor in the MacBook Pro, which was later updated to the T2 coprocessor. These chips, which are Arm-based and Apple-designed, manage important security and controller functions and have served as important steps in the transition to a machine fully powered by Arm chips.

Unification between iOS and macOS is also something that Apple has been working towards with its Mac Catalyst project. Apple isn't merging iOS and macOS, but it is aiming for a system that will allow developers to create a single app that will work on all platforms, and its own custom Arm-based chips will further facilitate that goal.

Fudge outlines how Apple used the T1 and T2 chips and its software unification initiatives to prepare for a Mac with an Apple-designed processor, but perhaps the most interesting part of Fudge's narrative is his speculation about Apple's next step and what form it will take.

Based on tidbits from supply chain sources, Fudge believes that Apple could revive its now-discontinued MacBook, with a new 12-inch model unveiled as the first Mac with an Apple-designed Arm-based chip. Though hard to believe, he suggests that Apple could even perhaps revive the butterfly keyboard for the machine.
There are rumors that Apple is still working internally to perfect the infamous Butterfly keyboard, and there are also signs that Apple is developing an A14x based processors with 8-12 cores designed specifically for use as the primary processor in a Mac. It makes sense that this model could see the return of the Butterfly keyboard, considering how thin and light it is intended to be, and using an A14x processor would make it will be a very capable, very portable machine, and should give customers a good taste of what is to come.
The 12-inch MacBook could look the same as the retired version, and Fudge says it's unclear if there will be design changes. There could be 5G connectivity though, and we have heard rumors about Apple bringing cellular connectivity to Macs in some form.


Rumors have suggested that Apple's eventual goal is to use its Arm-based custom-designed chips in its entire Mac lineup. Bloomberg has said that Apple is currently developing at least three Mac processors that are based on the 5-nanometer A14 chip that will be used in the upcoming iPhone 12 models.

At least one of the three processors is said to be much faster than the A-series chips in iPhones and iPads, and the first Mac processors will have 12 cores, including eight high-performance cores and at least four energy-efficient cores. Apple is also working on a second generation of Mac processors based on the future 3-nanometer A15 chip.

Moving away from Intel chips has many benefits for Apple, including being untethered from Intel's unreliable release schedule. With its custom-designed chips, Apple can update Macs on its own internal timeline, and, as Fudge points out, with greater technology enhancements than Intel has been able to make.

Arm-based chips will offer many advantages over Intel-based Macs, in addition to allowing Apple to cut ties with Intel. The chips are expected to feature faster performance and reduced power consumption for better battery efficiency, and Bloomberg says internal testing has shown significant gains in graphics performance and apps using artificial intelligence.

Apple's transition away from Intel's chips won't be without difficulties. There's been a lot of talk about app support and potential issues. Mac App Store apps will run without changes, but apps outside of the App Store could be problematic. Fudge outlines multiple ways that Apple could handle apps when transitioning to custom chips:
- Developer will need to build both x86_64 and ARM version of their app - App Bundles have supported multiple-architecture binaries since the dawn of OS X and the PowerPC transition

- Move to apps being distributed in an architecture-independent manner, as they are on the App Store. There is some software changes that are suggestive of this, such as the new architecture in dyld3.

- An x86_64 instruction decoder in silicon - very unlikely due to the significant overhead this would create in the silicon design, and potential licensing issues. (ARM, being a RISC, "reduced instruction set", has very few instructions; x86_64 has thousands)

- Server-side ahead-of-time transpilation (converting x86 code to equivalent ARM code) using Notarization submissions - Apple certainly has the compiler chops in the LLVM team to do something like this

- Outright emulation, similar to the approach that was taken in ARM releases of Windows, but received extremely poorly (limited to 32-bit apps, and very very slow)There could be other solutions in the works to fix this but I am not aware of any. This is just me speculating about some of the possibilities.
When it comes to Boot Camp, Fudge believes that because of performance issues and difficulties emulating x86_64 on Arm-based machines, Apple could abandon the functionality entirely until Windows becomes more friendly to the new architecture.

It may take some time for Apple to bring its custom chips to the full Mac lineup, but we could get a hint at what it's working on behind the scenes as soon as WWDC. Bloomberg recently said that Apple plans to announce its upcoming transition to Arm-based Macs with custom-designed chips at WWDC 2020, and that the first Arm-based Mac will be released in 2021.

As we wait for Apple's WWDC event on June 22 with the possible Arm-based Mac announcement, Fudge's full piece exploring Apple's work on custom chips and its potential future plans is worth checking out, and can be read over on Reddit.

Article Link: Apple's Path to Arm-Based Macs Could Start With a New 12-Inch MacBook
 
Last edited:

zubikov

macrumors regular
Sep 3, 2014
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Gonna let these new processors play out for a year or two before jumping in. No matter how well Apple emulates Intel's architecture, and what kind of creative solutions are presented to move to the new architecture, there will be issues. I wouldn't want to be a beta tester that pays $2K for a first gen ARM laptop.

With that said, can't wait to see what they have in store.
 

B-Mc-C

macrumors member
Jan 12, 2017
33
114
Irvine, California
Nope. First one will be a new 16"-ish MBP. New architecture won't be adopted other than by early adopters (developers, etc.). Those people don't want a low-end 12" machine.
A 12-inch MacBook with ARM may very well outperform the current high-end MacBook Pros, in the same way the iPad Pro does (or comes pretty close). Add built-in 5G and a second thunderbolt port in place of the headphone jack and it would certainly be my preferred machine, even if money were no object! Also wouldn’t be surprised if the ARM Macs were the start of Face ID on the Mac. Yes please.
 

magicschoolbus

macrumors 68000
May 27, 2014
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Gonna let these new processors play out for a year or two before jumping in. No matter how well Apple emulates Intel's architecture, and what kind of creative solutions are presented to move to the new architecture, there will be issues. I wouldn't want to be a beta tester that pays $2K for a first gen ARM laptop.

With that said, can't wait to see what they have in store.
Never buy a gen 1 anything. Car, Computer.. ETC.
 

joeblough

macrumors 6502
Sep 30, 2006
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this all makes sense to me - the "low end" of the mac line is most likely used by people to surf the web and do other light tasks for which apple already supplies all the apps. the main problem with another architecture switch is going to be getting third party devs on board for another round of fat binaries. releasing the low end machine first makes that less of an immediate problem - probably no one is running adobe video editing or image processing programs on these smaller machines, for instance.
 

Scottsdale

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Sep 19, 2008
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I think a much better approach than just a switch is to have dual processors. An ARM and an Intel CPU over the next five years. That way, tasks that only run on Intel allow the Mac to use more power and turn on the Intel processor. In all other cases, it would use a much lower power state of a twelve-core A-Series ARM SoC. This, if implemented well, could allow Apple and developers a path to ensure customers get the best of both worlds. Apple can show its prowess and SoC capabilities without leaving out Intel/x86/Windows and etc.

This scenario has never been offered but it seems to me to allow the best of both worlds. Apple could run its own graphics which would probably destroy anything AMD has available. The SoC can do certain things much faster and better than Intel. But for those Intel-only apps that are power hungry not alienate them.
It’s truly the best of both worlds. It requires some advanced code and a rosette model to emulate all possible for running as much as possible on ARM CPUs. At the same time, when it just isn’t feasible like with Adobe Premiere Pro or other intensive apps, allow Intel to shine.
This strategy would allow a win-win for Apple, customers, developers and etc. as Customer will not be left out in the cold and developers will have time to implement a new instruction set.

anyone want to give their thoughts?
 

joeblough

macrumors 6502
Sep 30, 2006
371
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is it possible for Apple license X86/X64 and make their own chips? (just like ARM license in A series)

Just a thought...
no - AMD is the only company that has this license and intel fought them pretty hard (and lost) to limit them a long while back. they will never issue another license like AMD has again.

maybe apple should just buy AMD :)
 

cmaier

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Jul 25, 2007
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no - AMD is the only company that has this license and intel fought them pretty hard (and lost) to limit them a long while back. they will never issue another license like AMD has again.

maybe apple should just buy AMD :)
AMD was not the only x86 licensee - IBM, Via, etc. had licenses.

And x86-64 requires licenses from both Intel *and* AMD, since AMD invented the 64-bit ISA.
 

Shanpdx

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Sep 24, 2008
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no - AMD is the only company that has this license and intel fought them pretty hard (and lost) to limit them a long while back. they will never issue another license like AMD has again.

maybe apple should just buy AMD :)
AMD newer chips looks promising, who knows ... AMD in Mac ...
 
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QCassidy352

macrumors G4
Mar 20, 2003
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Based on tidbits from supply chain sources, Fudge believes that Apple could revive its now-discontinued MacBook, with a new 12-inch model unveiled as the first Mac with an Apple-designed Arm-based chip. Though hard to believe, he suggests that Apple could even perhaps revive the butterfly keyboard for the machine.
Dear god, no. It was a mistake. It's been fixed. Leave it in the dustbin of electronics history, where it belongs.
 

joeblough

macrumors 6502
Sep 30, 2006
371
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AMD was not the only x86 licensee - IBM, Via, etc. had licenses.

And x86-64 requires licenses from both Intel *and* AMD, since AMD invented the 64-bit ISA.
i did say "has" - no one else can make x86 processors right now. also good point about AMD64. i forgot all about itanium and that whole diversion. i guess that was the first or 2nd time that AMD caught intel sleeping on what the market wanted.

but you know - and this is a patent mess i'm sure - but with apple going 64-bit only, what are the chances that they can license x86-64 from AMD and implement something like the pentium but issue the micro-ops to the ARM cores?
 

xflashx

macrumors regular
Aug 12, 2016
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Im really excited for what the new ARM macs will have to offer.
An ARM Mac outperforming Intel i7 Macs doing the same tasks? A greatly improved battery runtime? Awesome!

At the same time I'm a little worried whether Apple will lock down these machines like they do with iPads and iPhones. Will we still be able to install and run whichever software we want, or can software only be installed from the Mac App Store?
Also, will we still be able to install whichever OS we want (e.g. downgrade to an earlier version of macOS or install an ARM version of linux)?

Hopefully these questions will be answered on WWDC, as it will decide whether I will stay on macOS or if I have to switch to another OS. I totally understand the lockdown performed on iPads and iPhones, but can't stand the idea of having a locked down mac.

Still, very excited for this WWDC!
 

Art Mark

macrumors regular
Jan 6, 2010
241
293
Oregon
Wait, if NO design changes, what's the point of changing architecture? I thought it was to gain smaller sizes...I mean, fan, no fan? If it doesn't look different I see it a big opportunity to make statement about the change missed.
 
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