M1 Macs emulate graphically demanding apps faster than Intel-based Macs can run them

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With Rosetta 2, an M1 Mac can run Intel software.
Thanks to Rosetta 2 in macOS Big Sur, an M1 Mac can run Autodesk Fusion 360 in emulation.
Photo: Cult of Mac

The newly announced Macs running Apple’s M1 processor can run some Intel applications faster than Intel-based Macs can, Apple says. This is the result of technology in macOS Big Sur called Rosetta 2.

That’s good news for anyone considering an upcoming MacBook Air, MacBook Pro or a Mac mini with Apple Silicon who are concerned about the performance of current software.

Rosetta 2 brings Intel apps to M1 Macs

Apple promises the M1 processor in its new laptops and desktop offers dramatic performance improvements. But that power would go to waste if there’s no software for them.

The Mac-maker has a solution. “The three Mac models running the M1 processor include Rosetta 2, which allows them to run software compiled for Intel chips,” said Craig Federighi, Apple’s SVP of software engineering, at today’s M1 launch event. “Rosetta seamlessly runs apps built for Intel-based Macs. So even without an app update, you can keep working on that Fusion 360 project, and get to the next level on your favorite game.”

But he didn’t stop there. Federighi went on to make a big promise. “Thanks to Metal and M1, some of the most graphically demanding apps actually perform better under Rosetta than they did running natively on previous Macs with integrated graphics,” said the Apple exec.

Emulation isn’t the only option

The original Rosetta software allowed PowerPC programs to run on Intel-based Macs as Apple managed that transition in 2006. Rosetta 2 is a stop-gap solution during the transition from Intel-based Macs to M1. Apple is urging developers to port their software to the new platform.

The next step is Universal apps. These are ones that include both an Intel and an M1 version, and so can run on any Mac. “Universal apps include a native binary version built for Apple Silicon, as well as a native version for Intel processors,” said Federighi at Tuesday’s event. “The two come together into a single app that you can download from the App Store, or from the web, meaning that one app can run on all of your Macs.”

This process is just beginning, but there are some big names on board. Adobe plans to release a Universal version of Lightroom in December, with Photoshop following in 2021, along with other applications. Omni Group is also on board.