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Apple makes a big change to its new Mac computers. Here’s what you need to know

November 10, 2020, 6:50 PM UTC

Apple on Tuesday debuted three new computers that don’t look much different on the outside from the devices it’s been selling for years. But on the inside, the new computers are powered by a chip of Apple’s own design, ending a 14-year reliance on Intel for the brains of its Macintosh lineup.

The new chip, dubbed the M1, is similar to the processors in iPhones and iPads that Apple has designed itself for the past decade that rely on basic designs from ARM and manufacturing by Taiwan Semiconductor. Apple introduced two laptops, updated versions of the MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro, plus a desktop, an update of the Mac Mini, all using the M1 chip.

The processors in the new computers are about three times faster than the previous models running Intel chips with six times faster graphics performance, Apple said. The two new laptops also get about 50% to 100% longer battery life than Intel models, depending on the applications used.

Judging those performance claims will take time. Software must be rewritten to run natively on the new Macs or operate via a slower translated mode. Apple said some popular programs, like Adobe’s Lightroom photography program, would be available soon, but other apps, like Adobe Photoshop, would not be ready until next year.

The new MacBook Air starts at the same price as the prior version of $999. The new MacBook Pro starts at $1,299, also the same as the prior version. And the new Mac Mini starts at $699, $100 less than the previous one. The models are available for preorder on Tuesday and will be delivered next week.

Shares of Apple, which had already risen about 60% this year, were relatively unchanged after the announcement. Shares of Intel, which have previously lost 23%, were also flat.

Apple has used Intel chips to power its Mac line of laptop and desktop computers since 2006. But Intel’s manufacturing has stumbled for the past several years, delaying the development of faster chips and causing periodic shortages. Intel CEO Bob Swan is trying to get the chipmaker back on track by changing leadership and dumping underperforming businesses, but he has little to show for his efforts so far.

For its part, Intel has maintained that its chips have the advantage. Intel-based PCs “provide global customers the best experience in the areas they value most, as well as the most open platform for developers, both today and into the future,” the company said in a statement.

“Apple’s moves will help validate ARM-based chips for personal computing and even in the data center,” Wayne Lam, senior director of research at CCS Insight, noted after the announcement. “This, rather than the loss of the Mac business, is the longer-term concern for Intel.”

The three models updated on Tuesday represented the low end of Apple’s Mac computers, both in performance and price. Apple said it would transition its more powerful and expensive models, like the $5,000 Mac Pro, to its own chips over the next few years.

Tuesday’s Apple announcement wasn’t much of a surprise. In June, the company had promised to announce by year-end new Macintosh computers powered by its own processor designs. During Apple’s quarterly call with analysts last month, CEO Tim Cook said the company was “in the midst of our most prolific product introduction period ever,” hinting that more big announcements were to come.

The computer announcement was Apple’s third virtual event of the fall. Last month it debuted new iPhones and a new smart speaker. And in September the company unveiled a new iPad and the Apple Watch Series 6.