Apple is taking a risk giving Mac computers a brain transplant, swapping out Intel chips for processors of its own design. Apple’s processors are part of the Arm family — the kind used in iPhones and iPads — that have delivered lackluster speed on Windows PCs.
But Apple has a chance to give that reputation a speed boost. With the A series chips, iPhones have trounced Android phones in performance, according to the Geekbench speed test, and already the iPhone 12 surpasses Intel-based MacBook laptops in some tests. The new Mac Arm chips give Apple the opportunity to pack in more circuitry backed up with a bigger battery.
We won’t know how fast the chips are until the expected “Apple silicon” Mac announcement on Tuesday. Performance will be crucial to the Mac chip transition, influencing whether Mac buyers embrace the new models enthusiastically, sit things out for a while or even buy a Windows machine powered by Intel’s new Tiger Lake chips. With the coronavirus pandemic triggering a PC sales surge, it’s prime time for Apple to try to lure as many customers as possible.
Techsponential analyst Avi Greengart expects two or maybe three Apple silicon varieties for different types of Macs — thin laptops, more powerful laptops and plugged-in desktops. “Over time Apple will put its own silicon in all of its Macs, but the Mac Pro will likely be last to fully switch away from Intel,” he said.
Apple declined to comment for this story. At its June WWDC announcement, the company said it’ll continue to sell Intel-based Macs for about two years and maintain software support “for years to come.”
Apple has real reasons to take on the chip switch challenge. The company can more tightly link its hardware and software, as it does with iPhones. It can customize its chips with features like more AI processing circuitry to stand out from Intel-based PCs. It can cut component costs.