Apple’s first Mac with a custom chip expected in early 2021

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MacBook Pro review
It's about time!
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

Apple’s first Mac with a custom processor is expected to make its debut in the first half of 2021, according to one reliable analyst.

Ming-Chi Kuo of TF International Securities reports it will be a 5-nanometer chipset — like the upcoming A14 SoC that will power the next iPhone and iPad Pro. Apple is said to be increasing its orders after the coronavirus outbreak.

5nm processors “will be the core technology for Apple’s new products in 12-18 months,” reads Kuo’s latest report, seen by Cult of Mac. They will make their way into a slew of new products — and not all will be powered by iOS.

Kuo believes at least one of those products will be a Mac.

Mac will be powered by an Apple chip in 2021

“We expect that Apple’s new products in 12–18 months will adopt processors made by 5nm process, including … new H121 Mac equipped with the own-design processor,” Kuo wrote.

This would be Apple’s first computer powered by a custom Arm chipset. It would also be the first brand-new Mac to launch without an Intel CPU since Apple made the switch from PowerPC processors back in 2006.

Kuo does not mention what kind of Mac — notebook or desktop — will get a custom chip first. But given that Apple’s own chips are currently built specifically with mobile devices in mind, it’s likely a MacBook will be first in line.

Apple’s chips have been terrific at delivering blazing-fast performance and outstanding graphics without draining battery life in iPhone and iPad. They’re also passively cooled, which means they don’t require fans like traditional computer CPUs.

It’s about time!

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard that Apple plans to use its own chips in a future Mac. In fact, it’s a rumor we’ve been hearing for years nowBloomberg reported last April that Apple was pushing forward with the switch after executives approved the plan.

Kuo previously reported in October of 2018 that Apple’s first Arm-powered Mac could arrive in 2020 or 2021.

A switch to custom Arm chips would be the most significant change to the Mac since Apple adopted Intel processors. It would require third-party software and even the macOS operating system to be rewritten for a completely different CPU architecture.

That’s likely one of many reasons why it is taking so long for the switch to begin, but it will likely be worth it in the end. Apple’s chips will likely mean faster Macs with beefier graphics (despite what Intel says), and those chips will almost certainly be cheaper than Intel’s.