Recently, the news that Apple’s Mac will switch to arm processor has spread widely. Many people want apple to move to its own processor in its MAC line. As a clear understanding of the arm transition begins to emerge, people may still want to know what it means. What does Apple mean by turning from Intel to arm? Crucially, what makes this transition so important for the future of the Mac?
In general, Apple’s shift from Intel processors on Macs to other aspects has nothing to do with arm, but more to do with Apple’s greater control over its computing destiny. Arm holdings is a UK company that designs and creates its own CPU and other chipsets. Although arm chips have a long history of powering various devices, such as acorn Archimedes, chips designed by the company and most of its licensees are now found in embedded systems around the world.
However, in addition to creating its own chips, arm also licenses its instruction set architecture (which is essentially an element that tells a chip how to execute code on a particular processor or processor type). This means that companies buy licenses to build custom processor cores that implement arm instruction sets, rather than buying or modifying ARM processors themselves.
That’s how Apple uses its A-Series on-chip systems, and the difference here is crucial. Apple designed its own CPU and CPU core to implement arm instruction set. The company’s job is entirely customized, not repackaging ARM processors. In theory, Apple could license x86 (instruction set architecture used in Intel and AMD processors) and build customized desktop and notebook chips in this way, but the team is currently proficient in arm and chips made with arm instruction set are well known. They have lower power consumption than x86.
This is to say that although the “arm transition” is convenient and fast, it does not fully describe our expectations for the upcoming Mac. We hope Apple’s MAC processor will be fully customized, like the A-Series chips in the iPhone, iPad and Apple TV. When we talk about Apple’s custom designed chips, we usually use phrases like “A13 processor” or “A13 CPU”, but the term is not precise. Apple’s custom chips are certainly dominated by the CPU, but not just a single processor. They are a collection of the necessary components needed to run most computers.
The A-Series system on chip consists of processor, memory and graphics processing unit, all of which are on a bare chip. Components such as storage, batteries, radios for Bluetooth and Wi Fi, and more, are located outside the system on chip. System on chip is very suitable for mobile devices because of its compact characteristics. It also requires less overall power consumption than a separate system. However, on systems such as laptops, the system on chip approach is not a common approach. Instead, the processor, memory, and GPU usually have separate locations on the logic board.
Since Apple’s chip design team has spared no effort to create small, inclusive systems, such as the a series and the S series, we have to wonder if this will continue into the Mac. It seems unlikely. After all, ram on laptops and desktops has more power available than memory on smartphones, so Apple may want to take advantage of this advantage in MAC chips.
In addition, a recent report indicates that apple is currently using a chip based on the yet to be released A14 chip, which is expected to be used in a new line of iPhones to be launched later in 2020. It is speculated that these chips have eight high-performance cores and four efficient cores, a total of 12 cores. In contrast, apple a12x and a12z have eight cores in Apple SOC, of which four high-performance cores and four efficient kernels have the largest number of cores.
Given that the A13 found in the iPhone 11 series has six cores (two high-performance and four high-efficiency), the word “based” seems to be important in the Bloomberg report. The A14 we’ll see in the fall may be down from the 12 core version of the Mac that is said to be testing. I would guess that the MAC chip is a more powerful variant of the A14, just like the x-variant in the iPad Pro Series (A12 is a six core chip, a12x and a12z are an eight core chip). But they may all be based on the same set of arm instructions.
One of the main reasons Apple switched to its arm based processor was power consumption. Apple’s chips are widely believed to be more energy efficient than Intel’s, and the results still exist. Although Apple claims that its latest MacBook Air and MacBook Pro have a battery life of 11 to 12 hours, real-life life battery life is usually shorter than actual usage (which is usually six to eight hours, according to many third-party stores).
At the same time, on the iPad pro, I’m usually within Apple’s claimed 10 hour battery life. It may be different if I do things like play resource intensive games, but the biggest difference I see is usually about an hour less than expected at most, and it’s on a day of frequent use. It’s enough to get me through a full workday. So why do Apple’s chips seem to be more consistent in power consumption than Intel’s? Well, it’s all due to the fact that apple is going to make the transition completely: Apple has a better understanding of the performance of its chips. When Apple has an entire stack, both hardware and software, it can optimize everything with great specificity.
Because that’s the real purpose. It doesn’t matter, the 2018 and 2020 iPad Pro matches the 2020 MacBook Air in a single core benchmark (and absolutely beats it in multiple cores), or it can be used on the 16 inch Intel Core i9, and the MacBook Pro also has a single core. I mean, these things are really important, but they are inferior to Apple’s bigger reason to move Intel from Intel to its own processors.
Apple is a company that craves control. Unlike in the past, it is certainly more flexible in how customers use their devices. But in actually building these devices, apple wants to have as many production stacks as possible, from hardware to software. Because the processor is an important part of all the hardware Apple makes, it makes more sense for apple to make chips that power the Mac, rather than continuing to use Intel or switching to AMD.
While amd has already achieved impressive results in desktop and recent laptop chips, apple is unlikely to switch to them instead of acting in its own way. Why did Apple reach an agreement with another third-party chipmaker? From Apple’s point of view, I will inevitably disappoint them? As the Intel partnership proves, the good times will not last forever, and AMD cannot be spared from the problems that plague Intel.
Using your own processor on a Mac gives apple the same functionality as it does on the iPhone, iPad, and apple Watch: full control of hardware and software. Apple’s chip design team has been hit for years, but even if they eventually slow down and release incremental improvements after gradual improvements (which they’ve done – Hello, a12z). But even if it does, Apple will know exactly when to launch new chips and plan to launch around their products. It will also be able to release updates to the MAC more consistently.
In this way, everything Apple has learned in making chips, performance, power management, creating new processes, and everything else will ultimately benefit the MAC series. It is hoped that Apple will take all the knowledge it has learned from making MAC chips back to its mobile devices. Therefore, for apple, it is essentially irrelevant to arm. That may be the technology the chip team is good at, but that’s not the main factor. These processors are made by apple. Apple may eventually make all of its products on its own schedule.