Apple is switching to ARM chips for Mac

Transition will be complete in two years

Apple is switching to its own ARM chips for Mac systems. With that, the company says goodbye to Intel and the x86 architecture in general. A Mac mini with A12Z-soc is available for developers. A Mac with an ARM chip for consumers will be available at the end of this year.

It is not yet known which Mac will receive an ARM chip first. It is unclear whether it is a PC or laptop. Apple plans to transfer its entire offering of Macs to its own ARM chips and will design a new line of processors based on current SOCs. The transition will take two years. That is, an ARM processor version of all Macs should be released within two years.

Apple will continue to support Macs with Intel hardware in the coming years, and new models with Intel CPUs will also be released, said CEO Tim Cook. MacOS 11 Big Sur will receive support for the ARM hardware, but will also run on x86 systems as well.

During its WWDC conference, Apple demonstrated macOS 11 Big Sur running on an A12Z SOC, which is also found in the iPad Pro. The SOC is combined with 16GB memory in the test system. The same hardware will become available to developers in the form of the Developer Transition Kit. That system runs macOS 11 Big Sur and will be sent on loan to developers starting this week. Participation in this Universal App Quick Start Program costs $500.

Apple has made all of its own apps suitable for running on the ARM architecture, including Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro. Apple is also working with Microsoft and Adobe to convert their software. Microsoft has made its Office package suitable, Apple showed Word, Excel and PowerPoint on the Mac system with A12Z-soc. Adobe is translating its Creative Cloud package, of which Apple showed demonstrations with Lightroom and Photoshop running smooth.

The move to the ARM architecture allows apps made for iPhones and iPads to run natively on Macs. Most apps, according to Apple, work without modifications and are available directly from the Mac App Store.

With macOS 11 Big Sur, a new version of Xcode is released, with which developers can make their apps suitable for ARM systems. According to Apple, most programs can be converted in a few days. In addition, the Universal 2 binary, a method of releasing apps that work on both Intel and ARM Macs, will be released.

Apple is also breathing new life into its emulation software Rosetta. With Rosetta 2 it is possible to run x86 applications on Macs with ARM chip. Apple claims that this works with good performance and that there are few compatibility issues. The company showed 3D program Maya that ran on the test system via emulation and according to Apple Rosetta 2 is also suitable for emulating games. That was demonstrated with Shadow of the Tomb Raider. That game ran smoothly in 1080p resolution with emulation, although Apple did not give details about the graphics settings or frame rate.

Furthermore, there will be options for virtualization to run Linux, for example. Apple did not mention the possibility of running Windows with Boot Camp. Microsoft does have an ARM version of Windows 10.

Apple released its first product with an in-house designed SOC in 2010. That was the iPhone 4 with the A4 soc. Two years earlier, Apple had chip designer P.A. Semi taken over. Later, Apple also incorporated Intrinsity. In recent years, Apple has increasingly made its ARM processors its own. Initially, Apple used Arm’s Cortex cores, but since 2012 that has been its own design. Since 2017, Apple-SOCs also have a GPU designed by the company itself.

It is not the first time that Apple has switched to a different architecture for its PCs. Initially Apple has used Motorola family of processors. Before 2006, Apple used hardware based on the PowerPC platform from IBM and Freescale. In 2005, Apple announced the move to the x86 architecture and Intel processors. The manufacturer also did this during a WWDC event. A year later, the first MacBooks and iMacs with Intel CPUs appeared. Within a year, the transition from PowerPC to x86 was completed and the entire line-up of Apple PCs was refreshed with Intel hardware.

The reason for the switch at the time was that the PowerPC roadmap did not look rosy. Intel had better papers at the time, especially when it came to performance per watt. This time, too, Apple gives that as the main argument for the switch.

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