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Arm-based Apple Mac laptops and desktops tipped for 2021

by Mark Tyson on 27 March 2020, 12:11

Tags: Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), ARM, Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), TSMC

Quick Link: HEXUS.net/qaejyu

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The Apple switching from Intel to Arm processors rumour goes back a very long way. Checking back in the HEXUS archives I see the first time we considered this rumour newsworthy was back in 2011. For context, Apple announced the changeover from PowerPC to Intel processors in June 2005, with the first such computers becoming available early in 2006. HEXUS reviewed one of those early Intel powered Macs, the Apple Mac Mini Core Duo back in June 2006.

Back to the news du jour, and MacRumours has pondered over a research note penned by analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, a renowned Apple-focussed analyst at KGI Securities in Taiwan. The note is summed up in our headline - Apple will launch several Arm-based Mac laptops and desktops next year. This timescale actually represents a slight slip, as Kuo had previously pencilled in Q4 2020 / Q1 2021 as the likely launch time. Apple was at CES in 2020, for the first time in many years, so perhaps it will repeat its presence in 2021 with these new Macs, all being well.

The source site reports that Apple's switch to Arm-based processors will allow it to refresh its computer range without waiting for Intel's processor roadmap to be realised. Furthermore, bringing another aspect of production on board, another vertical, will save costs for Apple and provide better product differentiation as customers routinely weigh up the options of Apple Mac vs PC.

Kuo provided a few more details about the Arm-switchover. A partnership with ASMedia Technology is expected to be required for adding USB4 (in simple terms equivalent to Thunderbolt 3 but royalty free) to Arm-based Macs. However this upgraded physical connectivity standard won't be ready until 2020, it is thought.

If you are concerned about the processing power on offer, Apple's latest iPad is powered by a performance-binned octa-core A12Z Bionic which is claimed to deliver faster performance than "most PC laptops available today". By the time Apple is launching its Arm-powered laptops and desktops we can be sure that CPU and GPU performance of its SoCs will have stepped up further. They might use a version of the upcoming 5nm A14 SoC fabricated by TSMC, or perhaps we will be at A15 by then. Add into the mix some custom tuning with higher power budgets and it will be very interesting to see comparisons against contemporary PC laptop / desktop designs.



HEXUS Forums :: 12 Comments

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Isn't this going to screw with a bulk of programs which are presumably built with x86 in mind?
Terbinator
Isn't this going to screw with a bulk of programs which are presumably built with x86 in mind?

No more than switching to x86 messed with PowerPC binaries, or switching to PowerPC messed with 68000 binaries before that.

This wouldn't be their first CPU architecture change. Previous changes didn't have such a well Internet connected world either so updating to the latest native binary from an interpreted x86 one could be fairly seamless for them.
Analysts have been saying ARM based Macs are going to be around the corner for years,just like there are persistant rumours of AMD powered Macs too. A bit like Rollo saying Fermi was always around the corner too! ;)

Apple is also mostly catering for the poser market nowadays,and I am uncertain whether their actual Mac Pro desktops would make such a transition so quickly even if it were to happen. Moving from PowerPC to X86 happened as Motorola/IBM were not able to deliver - a lot of these “analysts” seem to conveniently ignore AMD even existing. It makes as much sense for Apple to get AMD CPUs if Intel is not delivering.

Edit!!

Also the media always gives Apple products an easy pass - oh the next designs will be quicker,etc,etc and seemingly ignoring ARM,Samsung,Intel and AMD will be out with new and improved products too in the same time period.
I can see this happening - Apple is a total mess at the moment, they seem to be all over the place making strange decisions….they seem a very confused company.

Lets add some more confusion to the mix and switch CPU architecture *again*, sure why not.

Maybe there is a slim hope that they would re-invent themselves again and phoenix out to become a good competitor - the Apple of 2008 was amazing, making brilliant hardware that brought innovation (often heavily inspired by someone else) to the mass market, and typically at a lower price point that others making the same quality of kit.

Now they pump out poorly thought out products with major flaws and trust that people will buy them based on their past reputation..and that does happen for the most part, but it won't last forever. They are also intentionally crippling performance of their machines if you are not running MacOS, making the main benefit of x86 for consumers (the ability to run Windows & access its huge software library) kind of not there. If you only run MacOS and you buy apps from their store - you'd probably never noticed the switch. They may include some kind of rosetta style emulation too for those who need it.

Apple do need to change and recapture some of the magic they used to have - maybe a switch like this could become a catalyst, who knows. It worked last time, but they had Steve J at that point….
CAT-THE-FIFTH
Also the media always gives Apple products an easy pass - oh the next designs will be quicker,etc,etc and seemingly ignoring ARM,Samsung,Intel and AMD will be out with new and improved products too in the same time period.

It isn't about fast though, for Apple it is about control. Supposedly the biggest driver in Intel graphics etc has been Apple complaining it isn't good enough. This would get Apple the exact chip they want, with better integration allowing better power management and possibly improving their purchasing power sharing common support components with tablets & phones.

High end Apple ARM chips have had a bonkers issue width for years that doesn't really make sense for mobile devices. I'm sure they have had prototype ARM laptops for some time, just in case they had to change over. With Intel products stagnating as they are, I can see sense in jumping ship. Given how good the Apple chips are, that only really leaves AMD as a possible CPU source. I don't think Nvidia's ARM core is as fast as Apple's (recent benchmarks are hard to come by) and others seem to offer A76 which Apple have moved beyond. Could AMD even supply enough CPUs to keep Apple running?