Since Apple announced the transition to their on SoC ARM technology many has wondering the impact of this for the future of the business. The truth is that this change will be huge and might represent how other companies will fight back Intel and its dominance of the processor market.
Apple’s M1 Processor Isn’t Just an Indictment of Intel, It’s a Direct Shot at Microsoft
The latest Macs are faster and more efficient, and highlight the difference between Apple and everyone else
Apple made no secret of the fact that it had grown impatient with Intel’s inability to stick to its own roadmap. Specifically, Intel continues to fall behind its stated goal of using 5-nanometer transistors in its chips.
Apple, on the other hand, has been making chips for a decade, the latest of which–the A14, is the fastest smartphone processor ever. It’s also the first 5-nanometer chip used in any mainstream device and it currently powers the iPhone 12 and the fourth-generation iPad Air.
Last week, Apple introduced the M1, which is based on the same processor architecture, though with more CPU and GPU cores. More importantly, it’s made with the same 5-nanometer process. That’s important because that smaller process allows chips to be more efficient, meaning they get more performance for the same amount of energy.
Apple was clearly ready to be done with Intel after years of being unable to build the Mac it really wanted, due to the lagging production schedules of the Intel Core processors it was using. To that end, Apple made its point. The M1 isn’t just a little bit faster or more efficient, it’s significantly so. So much, in fact, that it’s a little embarrassing.
But the real shot across the bow here is directed at Microsoft, which has tried to build its own ARM chip, a variant of Samsung’s Snapdragon. I’ve used several ARM-based PCs, including the Surface Pro X, the Samsung Galaxy Book S, and the Lenovo Flex 5G. Each have interesting reasons for existing, but none of those are ready for, well, prime time.
The transition to Apple Silicon has been long coming and developers are finally able to start adapting their apps for ARM-based Macs. Between virtualization software and live-app translation of Intel-based apps, Apple has developers and consumers covered. The company plans on supporting their Intel Macs for the next few years, but it is clear that custom ARM silicon is the future for Mac.
● All iPad and iPhone apps will run natively
● macOS Big Sur works on Intel and M1
● Thunderbolt is still supported
● Rosetta 2, Universal 2, and Virtualization
● MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac mini first with M1
● Entire transition will take 2 years
Apple Silicon doesn’t refer to a specific chipset or processor, but to the company’s custom silicon as a whole. Its development lets the company focus on performance and vertical integration across platforms rather than needing to optimize software to work with another company’s hardware.
The custom processors developed by Apple have benefitted iPhone and iPad for years, and now they will benefit the Mac too.Breaking down the power of Apple’s M1 chip
Following more than a decade of chip architecture experience gleaned from developing the A-series processors, Apple has prepared the way for Apple Silicon on Mac with macOS Big Sur, Mac Catalyst, and several other developer platforms.
Apple Silicon Ecosystem
The first custom processors made by Apple were made out of necessity because Intel did not want to design chips for the iPhone. It was because of this that Apple was able to build its processors for the iPhone and ensure complete vertical integration with the software.
The A-series chips went on to become the most powerful and efficient mobile chipsets available, and Qualcomm and even Intel could not keep up. Now the Mac has M-series chips pushing beyond what was possible when running Intel on the Mac.
M1: the Mac custom processor
Apple’s M1 chip powering the new Macs
While Apple has made very powerful chipsets for the iPhone and iPad, those will not be used in their new Macs. There will be a specific system-on-a-chip architecture used for Macs and MacBooks called the M1. The first Macs to use the new chipset will be the MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro, and Mac mini.
The M1 uses a 5nm architecture with 16 billion transistors, four high-performance cores, four high-efficiency cores, and eight GPU cores. In the MacBook Air, it runs faster than 98% of consumer notebooks on the market.
Apple boasts the M1 as the world’s fastest CPU in low-power silicon, the world’s best CPU performance per watt, the world’s fastest graphics in a personal computer, and breakthrough machine learning thanks to the Neural engine. This means the M1 has a 3.5x faster CPU, 6x faster GPU, and 15x faster ML than previous Macs using Intel.
The GPU is capable of running nearly 25,000 threads simultaneously with 2.6 teraflops of throughput. Apple says this makes it the fastest integrated GPU in a consumer PC.
The webcam used on the new MacBooks remains 720p, but the M1’s ML and ISP improvementswill improve the overall image.https://www.youtube.com/embed/ArboImyz2og
Expected Release Dates
Well known Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has reported on multiple occasions that Macs with Apple Silicon will start shipping in late 2020. A report in July gave a little more detail.
- First model could be a 13.3-inch MacBook Pro in 4Q20
- Multiple MacBook models expected in 4Q20
- MacBook Air in 4Q20 or 1Q21
- 14-inch MacBook Pro 2Q21 or 3Q21
- 16-inch MacBook Pro with new design 2Q21 or 3Q21
The report has proven true so far, as Apple announced the MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro during its “One More Thing” event in November 2020. The report did miss the Mac mini update, which was also released during the event.
iPhone and iPad
Apple has advanced GPU performance by 1000x on iPad Apple Silicon
During the 2020 WWDC, Apple boasted about successfully bringing 10 billion chips to devices through the years, and want to bring that expertise to Mac. They feel that they can hit the sweet spot between power consumption and performance by offering chips that can be very powerful while remaining very efficient.
Over the past decade of custom chip building, Apple has been able to increase CPU performance by 100x and GPU performance by 1000x.
Apple also designed new system architectures and technologies to specifically take advantage of their system-on-chip design, like the Neural Engine for machine learning or the Secure Enclave for encryption. Combine those technologies with the existing software implementations like Metal and Swift, and Apple can utilize their custom chipsets far better than with Intel.
The Apple Silicon Transition
The Developer Transition Kit will be a Mac Mini with an A12Z
Apple has provided a Developer Transition Kit that can be ordered by developers using the “Universal App Quick Start Program.” The DTK is a Mac mini running on an A12Z with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage, and must be rented for $500 then later returned to Apple.
With this kit, devs can get started making apps run natively on macOS and Apple Silicon. However, the hardware is not all Apple has included to help with the process.
During WWDC, developers could attend virtual sessions or discuss issues with engineers within the forums and the Apple Developer app. Apple also provided day-one documentation on developing and testing Universal apps.
Any app built for iOS or iPadOS will run natively on the Apple Silicon Mac as well.Universal 2, Rosetta 2, and Virtualization software will make the transition smooth
On macOS Big Sur, there are multiple applications built just for the transition. Apple called out three specific ones– Universal 2, Rosetta 2, and Virtualization.
Universal 2 is a universal binary that works on Intel and Apple Silicon-based Macs. With the same binary developers can make apps that work on both platforms.
Third-party developers like Microsoft and Adobe have already begun building apps to work on the new chipset. The WWDC demo showed the new apps running easily even while editing 4K video live.
As Rosetta allowed PowerPC apps to run on Intel Macs, Rosetta 2 is fulfilling the same role to allow Intel apps to run on the new architecture.
Instead of a “just in time” (JIT) process that the original Rosetta used, Rosetta 2 does the heavy lifting on installation with the translation of the code, front-loading the processing load. Code in third-party browsers executing Java and similar other technologies are still using JIT technologies for execution.
As demonstrated at WWDC, Rosetta 2 is powerful enough to run some games built for Intel without major issues.
Virtualization software will also run on Apple Silicon Macs, but the extent of what and how is not fully known yet. Apple has demonstrated Linux use through virtualization apps like Parallels desktop.
Users who need Windows on their Mac may be left out of the transition, as Apple made no mention of the platform during the presentation nor BootCamp.
Apple mentioned that other platforms like Docker will also work on Apple Silicon and devs will be able to take full advantage of the software.