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Bloomberg Reports Apple Will Start Transitioning the Mac to ARM in 2021

The rumors have swirled for years, and now Bloomberg is reporting that Apple plans to begin transitioning the Mac from Intel CPUs to its own ARM-based processors, starting in 2021. Bloomberg suggests that the transition would start on a new laptop until Apple’s chips are ready to power beefier computers like the iMac and Mac Pro. The Apple processors will be manufactured by the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., the same company that makes Apple’s iPhone and iPad processors, and will feature eight cores: four high-performance cores codenamed Firestorm and four power-saving cores codenamed Icestorm.

Apple moved the Mac to Intel processors 15 years ago because Motorola’s PowerPC architecture wasn’t staying competitive. Now Intel’s advancements have similarly slowed, and using its own chip designs would give Apple more control of its release schedule and supply chain. Changing processor architectures is no small feat, but Apple has done it twice before, switching from the Motorola 68000 to the PowerPC chips in the mid-1990s (see “PowerPC Platform Specification Announced,” 20 November 1995) and then from PowerPC to Intel processors in 2005 (see “Apple to Transition to Intel Processors,” 6 June 2005).

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Comments About Bloomberg Reports Apple Will Start Transitioning the Mac to ARM in 2021

Notable Replies

  1. What does that mean for the future of Boot Camp and the ability to run Windows natively on Mac hardware?

  2. Ditto: VMWare Fusion is my Windows computer. How slow will it be if ARM needs to emulate an Intel processor? I don’t want to carry two laptops on the road!

    [OTOH, this is Bloomberg. The story could be a complete fabrication.]

  3. These are good questions, and we won’t know the answers until (and if) Apple makes the machines available to developers.

    While Bloomberg as a publication has done some sketchy things, Mark Gurman is the lead author on this byline, and he has a long track record of good reporting.

  4. All I can say here is that, due to Apple’s extreme secrecy, it’s very hard to accurately report things like this.

    You may recall that journalists were reporting about future Intel Macs for many years before one actually shipped. They heard about the internal development work and guessed about possible release dates.

    This may be something similar. I think it is likely that Apple has ARM-based desktop systems running some internal build of macOS. Such a project allows Apple to make the switch on short notice because most of the software development has already been done. But the actual date they make the switch will depend on other factors beyond the ability to do so. Could be in January. Could be in three years.

    Even if a journalist gets an internal memo with a date, it still might not happen at that time because plans like this can be very fluid up until the point that they direct the factories to start mass production.

  5. I just hope this transition happens from the bottom (think Mac mini, 12" MacBook) rather than on the MBP.

    If I’m lucky Apple will soon releases the rumored 14" MBP which I’d most likely buy in an instant to replace my 2013 13" MBP. That way, I should be set for a while so this whole ARM thing can play out before I have to make difficult decisions again.

    To me x86 compatibility, BootCamp, and VMs are not something to sacrifice lightly. If I give up all that (or at least have to give up virtualization for emulation) I would want to see at least something like x3 performance or 2-day battery life. I remember the VirtualPC days all too well. Nothing I’d ever want to go back to.

  6. This news from 2017 is the reason I’ll bet that Apple will push ARM Macs out the door once the current pandemic abates and economies start to stabilize:

    I’m also holding off for a new ARM MacBook Pro or maybe an Air; whichever comes first.

  7. It would make sense for this transition to happen from the bottom. The happiest users at the beginning would probably be people who depend very little on 3rd party software. There are plenty of people who just use Apple supplied software and the web. One of the most important apps to have native apps early on would be Google Chrome and Firefox.

    For my office have MS Office and all Adobe apps including some plugins would be critical to our adoption.

    I am hopeful for Intel emulation but I am not sure how they would do it. Last go around Apple depended on Rosetta which was licensed from another company, which has since been bought by IBM some years ago.

  8. Maybe, but I wouldn’t assume that Apple is going to do something simply because Microsoft did it a few years ago. If I remember correctly, very few people actually liked those ARM-based Windows laptops. They were slow and incompatible with most applications. That’s not a user experience Apple is going to want for its customers.

  9. You are right about this, but what I thought at the time, and still do, was that the Windows ARM stuff were crappy machines running crappy Windows software. IIRC, most developers, including those from Microsoft, didn’t upgrade and optimize applications to run better on ARM, so there were problems. There still are. MS also didn’t have any experience out in the wild with ARM stuff until the Surface stuff was released a year or two ago. Apple has years of real world experience with ARM since they let them loose in their iOS devices since March 2010:

    I expect Apple will do a better job, overall, with homegrown ARM MacBooks, MacBook Pros and Macs. They will optimize their software and encourage, or twist arms, for developers to do so. Only a few Windows manufacturers have built ARM machines, and I haven’t read much about Windows ARMs selling like hot cakes. Having a laptop that runs for 24 hours without a charge is their only advantage over Mac laptops to date, but it’s a compelling advantage.

  10. I’ve read this sentiment in some reports where an ARM transition is claimed to also be the result of Intel’s release schedule supposedly holding Apple back. But after looking at some Intel CPU generations and their releases I’ve come to realize that must be a whole bunch of bull.

    The 10th-gen Sunny Cove CPUs Apple just put into their MBA, well those had been available for more than half a year by the time Apple used them. The Mac mini CPUs are from 2018, while in the same class as the mini uses, Intel has supplied two full generations in between. The Coffee Lake i9 Apple used for the 16" MBP was also available more than a half year before Apple finally made the update.

    So maybe Apple isn’t happy with the power consumption or the performance, but they are by no means waiting on Intel. These days, it’s rather Intel waiting for Apple to finally start using their latest CPUs. On average it takes Apple at least half a year to get their mobile Macs updated after Intel has released new suitable CPUs. To appreciate how much of a step backwards this is, just compare to a couple years ago when Apple would launch new MBPs days/weeks before Intel made those CPUs commonly available on the market.

  11. Of course they are not waiting on Intel any longer. Intel did not move quickly enough new technology; they were preventing Apple from meeting their goals. I strongly suspect one of the reasons they bought Intel’s modem business is because they want to back away from reliance on Intel altogether. It was never a match made in heaven. There’s a good analysis about how Intel has a history of not meeting Apple’s goals for speed, battery life and reliability here:

    The article mentions that A chip Macs won’t need fans, which for many people, including me, will be a big plus, among all the other major advantages. And Apple is probably giggling in the background over Microsoft’s bungled launch of A chip Windows machines that was discussed above. Apple is moving ahead and Intel is playing the fiddle as its market burns.

  12. Yeah, I’m not buying that. If Apple were indeed so eagerly waiting on Intel they wouldn’t waste months releasing updated Macs with the latest and greatest Intel has to offer. It’s not like Intel’s CPUs drop their power draw or magically run faster just because you install them 6 months late. Apple’s tardiness in Mac updates has absolutely nothing to do with Intel’s release schedule, and most likely much more with what they choose to focus on these days.

  13. Why would they want to wait on Intel when they are obviously nearing the resolution of a divorce process with Intel? It could be a production/delivery issue, and Intel delays have caused problems for Apple before. But like with person to person divorce negotiations, I think that it’s also very likely that Intel might not have wanted to negotiate a price within the range Apple is willing to pay. And for a very big % of the market, that particular chip is not likely to be game changer at all.

  14. I don’t believe that for a second.

    A-series chips generate heat, and they can generate a lot when operating under a heavy load, just like all other chips. Your phone can survive without a fan only because the OS aggressively throttles performance in order to prevent overheating.

    On a desktop/laptop configuration, you’ve got much more power (bigger battery and/or AC power) available and more space to install heat sinks and fans. Most people will probably prefer a fan (assuming it’s not too loud) over thermal throttling, since it will let their applications run at full speed nearly all the time.

  15. Neither do I. While certain A chips (not just the ones in our iPhones and iPads) will no doubt be able to run fanless (the Intel CPU in the 12" MB did that just fine already years ago), an A chip with substantial enough performance overhead so Apple could slap it in an iMac (or a MBP) will most definitely require active cooling. Quite possibly less of it, but on pro-level machines with pro-level CPU performance fans aren’t going anywhere.

    Funny anecdote, our latest server room is the loudest one we’ve ever built and it was equipped with the best performance per Watt CPUs we’ve ever procured. Power savings were immediately invested towards higher density processing. :smiley:

  16. Shoot! A fanless Mac has been one of my longtime dreams…listening to music without background noise without ear or headphones.

  17. How sensitive are your ears? My computers are a Mac mini and a Mac Book Air. Although they both have fans, they only rev up when I run an app that stresses them out. The rest of the time, the fan noise is not audible over the sounds produced by my apps (usually iTunes or streaming videos) and the normal background sounds of home.

  18. The 12” MacBook that was discontinued last year was always fan-less. Not a powerful computer, but it got the job done for a lot of people. Never had a fan.

    I think it’s pretty possible that the first ARM based Mac notebooks will be like the 12” MacBook in design and intended purpose (e.g., not intended for the pro market, meant for portability rather than power) and I think it’s very possible that Apple will design it without a fan.

  19. My OK Boomer ears are not sensitive at all after more decades of headphone and earphone use then I care to admit I’m old. Measured in MacBook Pro years, mine is also an OK Boomer and the fan does get noisy after limited use online or using not so taxing stuff like MS Word. But it starts sounding like a tornado the minute I launch Photoshop, InDesign or Illustrator.

  20. Ken

    My concern is whether there will be a Unix command-line interface. Not having that could be a deal-breaker for me.

  21. Same here, but honestly, not something I’m really worried about. Many PPC Macs supported OS X with all its UNIXy goodness and command line tools. Several UNIX flavors (including BSD which macOS is built on) were built for architectures other than x86. In fact, probably a majority.

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