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Everything to know about Apple’s new Mac chips

June 23, 2020, 8:00 PM UTC

After years of rumors, Apple this week announced that it will phase out Intel chips from its Mac line of laptop and desktop computers. Instead, future iMacs, MacBooks, and other products will come with chips designed by Apple, similar to those the company already uses in iPhones and iPads which are based on an architecture licensed from SoftBank’s ARM unit.

Why is Apple dumping Intel?

Intel still dominates the chip market for laptops and desktops, but it has struggled for the past few years to significantly improve the performance of those chips. Apple reportedly was forced to delay introducing an updated MacBook Air laptop because of Intel’s stumbles.

At Apple’s WWDC event for developers on Monday, Apple senior vice president Johny Srouji, who oversees hardware technologies, offered several reasons for the switch to “Apple silicon.”

With the new chips, Apple computers will have “a much higher level of performance,” he said, and at the same time, will use less energy, which translates into longer laptop battery life. Apple will also be able to customize the chips to improve machine learning, encryption, and other tasks. Finally, software for the new Macs will be more compatible with iPhones and iPads.

While Intel has struggled to improve chip performance, that hasn’t been the case at Apple. The latest iPhone processor is 100 times as fast as the original from 2007, while graphics processing on the iPad has increased 1,000-fold since it was introduced, Srouji said. “Now we’re bringing all of that expertise and that same focus and disciplined approach to the Mac,” he added.

Who will make the new chips?

Building a manufacturing plant to make cutting-edge chips can cost $10 billion and take several years. But Apple doesn’t intend to manufacture its own chips. Instead, as it has done with mobile processors, the company will contract with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., one of the only companies that can match or exceed Intel’s chip manufacturing prowess.

When will Macs with Apple chips go on sale?

At the WWDC, Apple said it would release its first computer with homegrown chips later this year. But it didn’t offer any more specifics, such as the exact timing, pricing, or performance of those computers. And Apple said it still plans in the near future to debut computers that run on Intel chips and that those computers will be supported for years to come. In fact, it will be two years before the company stops making computers with Intel chips.

Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, citing sources at companies in Apple’s Asian supply chain, said the first non-Intel computers for consumers and businesses will be a 13-inch MacBook Pro notebook and a new 24-inch iMac, to be released at the end of this year or early in 2021.

To help developers prepare for the switch, Apple is offering to rent them a Mac mini that’s been altered to include an Apple-designed chip that’s used in recent iPads. Developers must pay $500 and return the hardware after the change in chips is complete.

Will current apps run on the new Macs?

As it did years ago when switching to Intel processors, Apple said it will include a software translation tool on new Macs that will be able to run programs written for older Macs. The software, called Rosetta 2, will work automatically, so that users don’t need to take any additional steps. However, apps running on such software typically perform more slowly or have more bugs than apps running on Apple’s native hardware.

What other apps will be compatible?

The reason Apple announced its chip switch at the WWDC before having any Mac computers with the new processors to sell was so that developers could prepare. Converting most apps should take only a matter of days, said Apple senior vice president Craig Federighi, who oversees software engineering.

Apple said it has already converted all of its own software, even high-end programs like the Final Cut video-editing app. Also, popular programs from major developers Adobe and Microsoft can already run on new Macs, Apple said. And the new chips will be able to run all apps written for iPhones and iPads immediately, as well.