Apple could confirm Mac’s transition to ARM chips at WWDC 2020

By

Full-screen works great on a MacBook.
The move we've all been waiting for is finally getting close.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

Apple reportedly will confirm the Mac’s transition to ARM chips during its Worldwide Developers Conference keynote on June 22.

The company has been using Intel processors inside the Mac since it ditched PowerPC chips in 2006. But speculation regarding a move to custom CPUs has been growing as Apple’s own chips have become incredibly powerful.

We may not see an ARM-powered Mac this year, however. Sources say Apple plans to announce the initiative, code-named Kalamata, at WWDC 2020. That would give developers time to adjust before the first ARM Macs arrive in 2021.

“The new processors will be based on the same technology used in Apple-designed iPhone and iPad chips,” reports Bloomberg, citing people familiar with the matter. “However, future Macs will still run the macOS operating system rather than the iOS software on mobile devices.”

One of the reasons behind the move is Intel’s rather lackluster efforts to deliver significant gains with its CPU revisions. The company continues to find it difficult to compete with the likes of AMD, which uses more-advanced manufacturing processes to deliver big performance boosts.

Intel holding back the Mac

Intel also faces ongoing criticism for things like thermals and power consumption. Meanwhile, Apple’s own chips continue to deliver sizable boosts in performance and graphics year after year. And yet they remain incredibly efficient, negating the need for fan cooling.

“Apple engineers worried that sticking to Intel’s road map would delay or derail some future Macs, according to people familiar with the effort,” the report says. “Inside Apple, tests of new Macs with the Arm-based chips have shown sizable improvements over Intel-powered versions.”

With certain iPhone and iPad models now faster than many Macs in benchmark tests, some people question why Apple sticks with Intel rather than bringing its custom chips to Mac.

It’s not quite as simple as sticking an iPad Pro chip inside a MacBook and calling it a day, however. Changing chip technologies is an immensely complicated process that takes time, which likely explains why it hasn’t already happened. But the wait could soon end.

Mac’s switch to ARM right around the corner

Bloomberg says Apple could make the Mac’s transition to custom ARM CPUs a “highlight” of WWDC 2020. However, the publication cautions that the COVID-19 pandemic, and the fact that new ARM hardware remains “months away,” could cause the announcement’s timing to change.

Nevertheless, the suggestion that we’re close to a switch is an incredibly exciting prospect. It would be the first time Apple has used custom chips to power a Mac — not including custom silicon used elsewhere, like the T2 security chip — in the machine’s 36-year history.

Apple is said to be working on at least three of its own CPUs for Mac, with at least one based on the A14 chipset that’s expected to debut inside the next iPhone. In addition to the main processing unit, it reportedly will feature its own graphics and a Neural Engine for machine learning.

The switch could mean thinner, lighter MacBooks that can outperform the majority of notebooks on the market today. The new chips could bring welcome advances in processing, graphics, battery life and more. You only need to look at the latest games on iPhone or iPad to see the enormous potential of Apple’s chips.