When Might Apple Release an Arm-Based Mac?

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There have been rumors suggesting Apple has an interest in Arm-based Macs for years now, but speculation about an Arm-based Mac has picked up over the course of the last year following rumors about Apple's work on its own chips designed for the Mac.

Right now, Apple is reliant on Intel for the processors used across its Mac lineup, but that is perhaps set to change in the future as Apple works to transition over to Arm-based chips similar to the A-series chips used in its iPhones and iPads.

Arm vs. Intel

Right now, Apple uses x86 chips from Intel in all of its Mac products, while its iPhones and iPads use Arm-based chips. x86 chips and Arm chips are built using different architectures.


Intel's chips are CISC (Complex Instruction Set Architecture) while Arm chips are RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computer).
Were Apple to switch from CISC Intel chips to RISC it would likely have a positive impact on power efficiency and compute efficiency for everyday users because most people don't use applications that take advantage of the more complex instructions of a CISC chip.

A chip instruction set can be likened to different words in the English language that mean the same thing. As an example, someone might use the word "hit" multiple times in a day, but would rarely find a reason to use the word "pummel." An RISC chip in this scenario only knows the word "hit," while a CISC chip knows the word "pummel." When there's a call for the "hit" instruction to be made multiple times, the RISC chip would need to use multiple "hit" instructions, while the CISC chip can more efficiently call up the "pummel" instruction instead.

Because most people don't need to use "pummel" often, the RISC chip is, overall, more efficient for day to day use. For pro users, though, the CISC chip may be more the more efficient choice.

Ditching Intel

Apple has been using Intel's chips in its Mac lineup since 2006 after transitioning away from PowerPC processors. Because Apple is using Intel technology, Apple is subject to Intel's release timelines and chip delays.

Over the course of the last several years, there have been multiple instances where Intel has seen significant chip delays that have undoubtedly impacted Apple's product plans. Swapping over to its own house-made chips would allow Apple to release updates on its own schedule and with perhaps more frequent technology improvements.

Apple would also be able to differentiate its devices from competing products with chips designed by its own internal teams, introducing even tighter integration between hardware and software.

Apple's Arm-Based Chips for iOS Devices

Apple uses an Arm-based architecture for its A-series chips in the iPhone and iPad, and each year, those chips get faster and more efficient. In fact, when introducing the latest A12 and A13 chips, Apple has made it a point to emphasize that these chips are faster than many Intel-based chips in competing devices.

The 2018 iPad Pro models with A12X chips, for example, are close in speed to the 2018 15-inch MacBook Pro models.


With Apple closing the speed gap between Arm and x86, there's no reason why many of the company's notebook machines (and even desktop machines) couldn't be powered by Arm-based chips instead of standard Intel chips.


Apple's A-series chip packages also include custom-built GPUs, Secure Enclave, memory and storage controllers, machine learning processors, Image Signal Processing, custom encryption, and more, all of which could also be applied to Mac processors.

Arm Chips in Current Macs

The MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, iMac Pro, Mac mini and upcoming Mac Pro are already equipped with Arm processors, in the form of the T1 and T2 chips that power the Touch Bar and other features in these machines.


The T2 chip in particular integrates several components, including the system management controller, image signal processor, SSD controller, and a Secure Enclave with a hardware-based encryption engine in addition to powering the Touch Bar and Touch ID.

Arm Benefits

Bringing Arm chips to a Mac could bring efficiency and battery life improvements without sacrificing speed, with Apple also perhaps able to cut down on the size of some of the internal components, thus perhaps allowing for slimmer devices.

An Arm-based MacBook might not need a fan, for example, much like an iPad. Apple's iPads also have superior battery life, another feature that could be brought to the Mac lineup.

Apple's Rumored Work on Arm-Based Chips

Rumors suggest that Apple employees are working on an initiative codenamed "Kalamata" to make iPhones, iPads, and Macs work more seamlessly together.

One aspect of this involves new custom-built Mac chips that are designed by Apple much like its current iPhone and iPad chips.

Apple eventually wants developers to be able to create an app that can run across all Apple devices, and along with custom-built chips, Apple has also been working on this on the software side with Mac Catalyst. Mac Catalyst lets developers port their iPad apps over to the Mac App Store with minimal effort.

When Will Apple Release an Arm-Based Mac?

Apple is said to be aiming to transition to its own Arm-based chips starting in 2020, though the transition period could take some time.

It's possible one Mac line, such as the MacBook Air, could see an update first ahead of the rest of the Mac family.

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Article Link: When Might Apple Release an Arm-Based Mac?
 
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kylepro88

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Jul 30, 2006
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Maybe the MacBook Air first? Ideal place to start probably given it's goals as a product, weight, battery life emphasis, performance needs, etc.
 
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jdiamond

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Dec 17, 2008
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Back in 2006, Apple brought out the first x86 based Macs, and it only took them 12 months to switch them all. A big key back then was Rosetta Stone (to run the old software unchanged). I have to wonder if one reason Apple is ditching 32-bit desktop apps and promoting iPad Apps on Mac is to prepare for such a transition.
 

kanki1985

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Oct 8, 2013
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I think Apple wants to make this as seamless as they transitioned from 32bit to 64bit or from static screen size to variable screen size. And given Apple, I am really looking forward to ARM based chips and hope my 2018 intel based laptop stays useable one the transition is fully complete...
 

Jerion

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Mar 31, 2016
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Back in 2006, Apple brought out the first x86 based Macs, and it only took them 12 months to switch them all. A big key back then was Rosetta Stone (to run the old software unchanged). I have to wonder if one reason Apple is ditching 32-bit desktop apps and promoting iPad Apps on Mac is to prepare for such a transition.
No question about dropping 32-bit support, that is going to have been a useful part of getting the ecosystem of modern Mac software running on an A-series chip. Catalyst though is pretty orthogonal to the whole idea; that's blending iOS and Mac in a totally different way. It's more about enticing iPad developers to spend more attention on the Mac and much less about hardware nitty gritty.
 

TheRealNick

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Oct 21, 2017
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I have no doubt an arm-based Mac will allow Apple to provide a better experience overall, but I have two concerns: The first is running Windows/Parallels, how will that work, if at all? And second, will this mean that Apple will move to a controlled-app ecosystem like iOS?
 

Porco

macrumors 68040
Mar 28, 2005
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This is why Apple products cost an arm and a leg. They are collecting all the arms. Eventually they will release an Arm-based mac... and finally, when they have enough, they will also release a Leg-based mac too. ;)

Seriously, though, I hope if there is a transition it's a very gradual one.
 

oneMadRssn

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Sep 8, 2011
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First, the article is a bit confusing. ARM is not the opposite of Intel.

ARM is company that develops several different architectures / instruction sets. Many companies design ARM-licensed or ARM-compatible chips, and many other companies make them. For example, the A13 is a 64-bit ARM architecture chip manufactured by TSMC but designed by Apple.

Second, I think one of the biggest assets to macOS currently is that it can run pretty much all x86/x64 Linux apps, and most x86/x64 Windows apps can be ported over to macOS relatively easily. If they switch to ARM architecture with backwards compatibility, macOS will suffer greatly.

Windows RT failed because it lacked apps. Windows 10 on the Surface Pro X can emulate 32-bit x86 apps, and support for x64 is coming soon supposedly. If that ARM fork of Windows 10 is to be successful, it will be because of the emulation. Apple has to do the same thing, or it will surely fail.

And before someone says "but devs can just port their ARM iOS/ipadOS apps over to macOS," they can, but (1) usually iPad apps are inferior to the current x86-based macOS counterparts, and (2) so far, there have been no good ported apps.

Maybe Apple can dip their toes in the water, like Microsoft is doing, and release a ARM-based Macbook or something, but keep the Air/Pro and iMac lines on x64.

Frankly, I'd rather see Apple use the new 7nm TSMC-made AMD Ryzen CPUs.
 

hawkeye_a

macrumors 65816
Jun 27, 2016
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I'm excited about the transition as ARM chips get more powerful. Truth be told, a lot of computational heavy tasks these days seem to be be offloaded onto GP-GPUs. 68000 to PowerPC to Intel to ARM.... if anyone can pull off a transition of this magnitude it's Apple.

That being said, if the year was 1998-2010, i'd be more confident in Apple. Today, I worry that they might throw an ARM CPU into Macs and just to market an ability to run iOS Apps or the Mac with touchscreens or something along those lines.
 

CaTOAGU

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Jul 15, 2008
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I think Apple wants to make this as seamless as they transitioned from 32bit to 64bit or from static screen size to variable screen size. And given Apple, I am really looking forward to ARM based chips and hope my 2018 intel based laptop stays useable one the transition is fully complete...
If they stop supporting a 2 year old machine for the transition they’re finished as far as I’m concerned. My wife’s 10! Year old Toshiba laptop runs the latest version of Windows 10 X64 absolutely fine. Apple have no excuse at all.
 

alexandero

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Apr 19, 2004
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I hope they'll improve Catalyst before starting the transition, otherwise it'll be a fiasco.
 

mi7chy

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Oct 24, 2014
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It's not a matter of 'if' but 'when' considering they have nothing to compete with Microsoft Windows and Google ChromeOS on ARM.
 
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