Apple switches to ARM: First Mac with custom ARM-based SoC will ship at the end of the...

Shawn Knight

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Apple has been interested in reducing reliance on Intel hardware in MacBook for years. Better battery life in laptops and unchaining itself from Intel’s slowing product roadmap are just a few of the perceived benefits of designing its own chips and on Monday, Apple finally confirmed that it would be doing just that.

Apple bookended its WWDC 2020 keynote with the announcement that it’ll be transitioning the Mac to custom Apple silicon later this year.

The company was light on hardware specifics although it did reveal that all of the macOS Big Sur demos shown at the event's keynote were conducted on a system running Apple silicon – in this case, the Apple A12Z Bionic SoC from the iPad.

Rather than detailing what's coming in terms of hardware, Apple focused on the software benefits that the transition will enable.

For starters, Mac systems running Apple silicon will be able to run iPhone and iPad apps natively, without modification. For apps that will need to be recompiled, Apple said most devs should be able to complete the process within a matter of days.

Even apps that haven’t been updated can still be used courtesy of the company’s Rosetta 2 emulation tech. Apple ran a short but impressive demo of Rosetta emulating Shadow of the Tomb Raider, a demanding 3D gaming title, running relatively smoothly at 1080p with no modifications and from what we could gather, running on the SoC's GPU... again, this is emulated, not natively on the ARM-based processor.

Apple also showed glimpses of what Adobe and Microsoft are already doing with their custom silicon in Photoshop and Office, respectively. It’s difficult to get a solid feel for what exactly to expect in a quick demo but from what we did see, everything looked to be running incredibly well.

Apple plans to ship the first Macs running custom silicon to customers by the end of the year. Developers won’t have to wait nearly as long, however, as Apple announced a quick start program that’ll provide devs with access to beta versions of macOS Big Sur, Xcode 12, supporting documentation and a developer transition kit (a Mac mini featuring an Apple A12Z Bionic SoC, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD and macOS Big Sur). Systems are expected to ship out later this week and must be returned after use. The total cost of the program is $500.

The full transition to Apple's own silicon will take about two years, we’re told. Apple said it will continue to pump out new versions of macOS for Intel-based Macs for “years to come.”

Masthead credit: Marco photo

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AnilD

Posts: 64   +83
TechSpot Elite
What is Apple going to do with all the returned dev kit systems? I don't get why they'd want them back...
Part of their closed-shut corporate culture. Plus, they can afford it.

Ultimately, I think it's a very interesting move and potential race where there will be Intel, AMD and Apple... with the latter running their own closed ecosystem of hardware and software everywhere.
 
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Plutoisaplanet

Posts: 303   +360
What is Apple going to do with all the returned dev kit systems? I don't get why they'd want them back...
It sounds like they’ll rotate them among other developers participating in the program. I mean they are saying production hardware is going to ship in 6 months for Apple but developers only need a few days to transition their iOS software... I don’t think they’re planning on producing dev systems for all iOS developers.
 

brucek

Posts: 534   +619
TechSpot Elite
Ahhh... I get it... I thought the idea was devs would keep the kit for the six months until production hardware arrives... if it's just like a one week rental in order to spread limited ARM samples around I get it.
 
So we can assume Apple integrating in this way and no longer being a primary Intel customer will drive down the cost of their platforms right?

:joy::joy::joy::joy::joy::joy::joy:
Nah, you can assume that Intels costs go up because they no longer have Apples volume to cover the sunk cost of development. Apple seems to be able to produce plenty of powerful ARM-based SOCs at a very competitive price. Are you saying adding volume to their own production will increase their costs?
 
Experienced OSX programmers have been getting scarce as hens teeth—this will allow Apple to leverage the relatively large contingent of iOS development talent. It will also leverage their top notch SOC team to lower costs, create more focused chipsets, unchain themselves from the increasingly ponderous Intel development cycle, and allow greater innovation in products.

I can foresee a time in the not so distant future where Apple will team with the big software houses to package integrated workstations with hardware Specifically catering to the demands of their apps. Could also come out with devastatingly cheap (loc) render-farms and server-farms that cut cost of operations in half due to thermal and electrical efficiencies.

Everything old is new again.
 

ferrellsl

Posts: 45   +41
What is Apple going to do with all the returned dev kit systems? I don't get why they'd want them back...
Because they don't want them used by the Hackintoshers out there. These dev units could easily be used to reverse engineer a version of MacOS that runs on inexpensive Raspberry Pi 4's or other inexpensive ARM computers. An 8GB version of the Pi was just recently released and it sports an ARM processor. Running MacOS on inexpensive ARM devices will eventually will happen anyway though just as it has for Windows on ARM. But the difference being that Microsoft supports the development of Windows on ARM devices while Apple only supports MacOS on their own, over-priced and under powered hardware. Can't gouge the consumer if consumers can run MacOS on a $75 Pi 4, and gouging is what Apple does best.
 
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Ben1978

Posts: 86   +67
Nah, you can assume that Intels costs go up because they no longer have Apples volume to cover the sunk cost of development. Apple seems to be able to produce plenty of powerful ARM-based SOCs at a very competitive price. Are you saying adding volume to their own production will increase their costs?
He means Apple will reduce their prices. But he's being sarcastic.
 

mbk34

Posts: 82   +35
So it's just slower and more expensive? It's a shame they can't include a really fragile screen as then it would be just like owning an iphone ...
 
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toooooot

Posts: 1,310   +619
I am just curious, how does the OS handle it? I mean will it ne a completely new OS that doesnt even support current CPUs?
Also, I am gonna guess these new CPUs will be soldered to the motherboard, to prevent criminal sc*m consumers from replacing and upgrading them.
 

Shadowboxer

Posts: 943   +555
Apple is going to leave the competition in the dust with this move. X86-64 has stagnated, ARM based designs are leading the world.

AMD & Intel will need to pull their fingers out to catch up.
 

Adhmuz

Posts: 2,062   +854
So it's just slower and more expensive? It's a shame they can't include a really fragile screen as then it would be just like owning an iphone ...
They already do? Or at least a really fragile cable that connects the screen to the motherboard. Also don't forget the water damage indicators that change colour in humid environments voiding your warranty. Or the SSD soldered to the motherboard so if you do need to change it out all data on it is lost...
 
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Bamda

Posts: 100   +46
Speaks volumes when a large customer (Apple) tells you that they are not using your product (Intel CPUs) any longer because they are so buggy! LOL
 

mbk34

Posts: 82   +35
I am just curious, how does the OS handle it? I mean will it ne a completely new OS that doesnt even support current CPUs?
Operating systems are written in a "lower level" language. Unix is written in C for instance. That means you only have to implement the lower level language and then everything else will build on top of that. It's slightly more complex than that but I think that pretty much sums it up.