Apple is (officially) switching to ARM, first ARM Mac this year

Like Han Solo said in Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, “It’s true. All of it.” As expected, Apple announced today during its WWDC 2020 keynote that it is ending its fifteen-year relationship with Intel to switch to its own ARM-braced processors. Apple CEO Tim Cook called today an “history day for the Mac” in the announcement.

Apple says its putting “relentless focus on performance per watt,” noting that the iPhone performance has increased over 100 times since its original launch and 1000-times performance on the iPad GPU versus the same phone. The company plans to release a whole family of SoCs (System-on-a-Chip) called Mac SoCs to support the change, including GPUs, SSD controllers, and more. The change will encompass Macbooks and desktop systems alike. The first ARM-based Mac is comingĀ this year; Apple expects to complete the transition to ARM within two years.

Apps will need updating

Apple’s upcoming update, macOS Big Sur, will feature Apple applications already updated to support the upcoming chips–including Final Cut Pro. The company is also taking measures to ensure they don’t leave developers and longtime users in the cold. Apple will offer fast, transparent emulation of legacy apps through its Rosetta 2 emulation platform, upon which Apple says that “most apps will just work.” To show off Rosetta 2, Apple gave us a look atĀ Shadow of the Tomb Raider running on its ARM chip at 1080p in real-time.

Apple is also creating an Apple Developers’ Transition Kit, for which registered developers can apply through its developer website. The system is a Mac Mini enclosure that includes Apple’s A12 SoC, 16 GB RAM, a 512 GB SSD, and a pre-release version of macOS Big Sur. This could be the first ARM Mac that Apple plans to release, too, though Apple was quiet about the specifics on its 2020 ARM system aside from this potential candidate.

This is a huge change for Apple that could yield huge performance and battery-life benefits for Mac and iOS users. There’s also the risk that, with so much control over the system, Apple could isolate itself, price itself out of the market, or start to lag behind. The next couple of years should be very interesting after this announcement.

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Ben
Ben
2 months ago

I purchased hundreds of dollars worth of Intel based apps and none of the developers has plans to make ARM versions or plan to upgrade existing Intel Mac OS software to the SoC standard. Apple has a history to gradually phase out backward compatibility. I like Macs over Win-PC but Win-PC has never left me in the dust with a huge monetary loss. My confidence in Apple is gone after I permanently lost license to expensive 3D software that are 32-bit as 64-bit upgrades didn’t exist. I think if I do get a new Mac it would be the Mini… Read more »

John
John
4 months ago

I just wonder what this means for people like me who use macs for game development outside of apple’s ecosystem. I use various engines like game maker studio, Godot, Gb studio, and Unity. I just wonder how this will work on a ARM based processor. Along with the accessibility to steam. ARM is good for apple in the long run when your just staying in what they allow you to do. But I just wonder how it will affect perfomance with stuff like that.

Adnan
Adnan
5 months ago

https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2020/06/developers-leak-benchmarks-from-the-apple-silicon-mac-transition-kit/
 
x86 emulation performance is slightly slower than an i7-3770. Not bad. Either the ARM CPU is clocked really high or they are using pretty nifty emulation tricks to squeeze every last bit of performance.

DoesItBlend3D
DoesItBlend3D
5 months ago

What Impressed Me was that Maya Editor Mode part of the presentation and That Mac Mini/A12Z developer platform handling 6 million polygons with ease, and really Apple’s in-house Graphics is what’s looking good. When one considers were any gaming asset creators will be spending the majority of their time one sees the need to do that sort of testing with any Laptop/Mobile Integrated Graphics. Now rendering can be offloaded anywhere but for that A12Z that’s impressive when one considers that my current Intel Latest Old Model Laptop has an Ivy Bridge quad core i7 and that generation’s integrated graphics and… Read more »

tipoo
tipoo
5 months ago
Reply to  DoesItBlend3D

And that too was an x86 translated app, so not even optimized for A12Z, and launch mac silicon will be much more powerful than that (Gurman said 8 big and 4 small cores, closer to A14 in architecture).
 
Can’t wait to get launch silicon benchmarked.

derFunkenstein
5 months ago

The Tomb Raider demo was what intrigued me. That’s gotta be just a ridiculous amount of integrated GPU there. Like Xbox One S quantities.
 
While you haven’t been able to upgrade memory in Apple laptops for years, I bet that’s the end of SO-DIMMs in the Mac Mini and iMac, too, because my guess is they’re using LPDDR4x.

Blastdoor
Blastdoor
5 months ago
Reply to  derFunkenstein

Yeah, that was an interesting demo, though certainly very much under their control and hard to know what settings were used, etc. Still, though, the fact that it looked at all decent at 1080p using Rosetta is impressive. That was an A12Z, right? Which leads me again to wonder about clock speed.
 
Obviously AMD has been a big proponent of APUs, but Apple might be the company to actually realize the potential of that idea. CPU, GPU, and neural co-processor, all sharing the same memory space, with an optimized software stack on top. Could be very interesting.
 
 

derFunkenstein
5 months ago
Reply to  Blastdoor

I can tell you from experience that Iris Plus on the Core i7-1065G7 does not put out enough oomph to play at 30fps even on low settings at 1080p. With that context, what Apple showed was incredibly impressive to me.

tipoo
tipoo
5 months ago
Reply to  derFunkenstein

And that was an x86 translated game, not even optimized for the A12Z. Final mac silicon will be much more powerful, and native games should really scream on them.
 
The quantity of native games is the question though, since it’s sounding like x86 Windows boot camp is dead.

Adnan
Adnan
5 months ago
Reply to  derFunkenstein

Is there any real technical reason for LPDDR4x not being available as a SODIMM or just an attempt by the industry to force consumers to pay exorbitantly high prices for more RAM?

DavidC1
DavidC1
5 months ago
Reply to  Adnan

One, laws of physics dictate that smaller distance means power used can go down or performance increased at same power.
 
Two, they are sourced from manufacturers in a way that won’t fit SO-DIMMs without substantial modification. After all, standards are quite different. Something that PC builders have no say in.
 
Three, they take up much less space allowing flexibility in design.
 
Some are entirely forced like on-board SSDs, but LPDDR DRAM at least has a reason.

Blastdoor
Blastdoor
5 months ago

I’m curious to see what clock speed the A12Z runs at in the developer kit and also benchmarks.

Cosmin
Cosmin
5 months ago

Let me say it before chuckula does: Intel is doomed.

chuckula
chuckula
5 months ago
Reply to  Cosmin

Too late. I even beat this entire thread with that comment!

chuckula
chuckula
5 months ago

What the fanboys care about: OMG ARM!
 
The real reason Apple will ship Macbooks out in large numbers: OMG SCISSOR SWITCH KEYBOARDS!

dimaestro
dimaestro
5 months ago
Reply to  chuckula

Who ******* cares what silicon apple has in their devices? If it works well, great. If not, we’l see.
 
Stop being a drama queen.

Blastdoor
Blastdoor
5 months ago
Reply to  chuckula

Rather than OMG ARM! (did Apple ever mention ARM?), people ought to be saying OMG TSMC!
 
One of the many interesting things yet to be seen is if the Mac SOCs join the iPhone SOCs in getting first dibs on new TSMC processes. If so, then not only will Apple’s Mac SOCs beat Intel and their creaking, antiquated fabs — they’ll also beat AMD who, though they are ahead of Intel, lag Apple by a year in access to cutting edge TSMC process tech.
 

derFunkenstein
5 months ago
Reply to  Blastdoor

Nobody said ARM yesterday. They said
 
A P P L E S I L I C O N

Sweatshopking
Editor
5 months ago
Reply to  derFunkenstein

THUMBS UP FOR USING CAPS
 

tipoo
tipoo
5 months ago
Reply to  chuckula

All Intel macs are already on scissor switch keyboards, nothing new is shipping with Butterfly

Star Brood
Star Brood
5 months ago

I’m ok with ARM being the “future” architecture, but I will wait for benchmarks before assessing the actual performance of whatever this is supposed to bring.

If it means I can eventually play WarCraft 3 on my phone, one of my most outlandish dreams will become a reality.

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