Apple to Ditch Intel in Favour of Its Custom Chips in Macs From 2020

Posted on April 2, 2018 by Mehedi Hassan in Hardware, iOS with 53 Comments

Apple Updates New MacBook, But Doesn't Address Biggest Issues

Apple could be heading towards a major transition for its laptop business. The company is reportedly planning to get rid of Intel chips from future Mac devices, replacing them with custom-made chips in 2020. The hardware maker already uses its own, proprietary chips for its iPhone, iPad, and other hardware products.

Apple moving away from Intel chips isn’t just about a simple processor change. The move could involve a huge transition for the software that powers the Mac. Apple will likely start to slowly move away from macOS and switch to iOS for these new Mac devices, possibly powered by Apple-made ARM processors. The project, internally codenamed Kalamata, could also involve Apple introducing a convergence of both the worlds. In fact, Apple is expected to bring iOS apps to the Mac this year, and it may just be the first step towards the next-gen Mac devices.

For Apple, moving away from Intel chips will not only allow it to cut down production costs, but it will also give the company more control over its hardware, possibly allowing for faster innovation with low-level hardware features. The performance of these devices will obviously be an issue for many of Apple’s professional customers, but it’s highly unlikely Apple will completely switch to ARM processors in all of its Mac products at once. For Intel, the change could have a major impact on the company’s business, despite the fact that Apple isn’t the top buyer of its chips. Intel’s shares are, however, plummeting very quickly after the news broke.

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Comments (54)

54 responses to “Apple to Ditch Intel in Favour of Its Custom Chips in Macs From 2020”

  1. toukale

    This writing has been on the wall for the last 2-3 years. If you project the dots you could tell its not a matter of if, but when. I could tell that since 2012 Apple would eventually end up making that move, this should not be surprising to anyone at this point.

  2. IanYates82

    Interesting that a lot of articles are bleating about this being the end of Intel due to the 5% drop in share price. A drop is expected - the stock market always overreacts and then corrects. I don't recall articles saying Windows on ARM was the death of Intel though - I guess that's because no one expects it to supplant regular Windows x86/x64 anytime soon whereas Apple will definitely make the transition across its entire product line.


    The emulation of x86 will be interesting - can they do it and how well will it work?

    Also, someone on Twitter asked about Bootcamp. I'd say they'd have to drop it since Windows on ARM is only for Qualcomm at the moment - Bootcamp ARM would require Microsoft to support the Apple CPUs and Apple to provide new sets of drivers for Windows. Maybe not in v1 but it may come down the line

    • Paween “Frank” Itthipalkul

      In reply to IanYates82:

      They've migrated from PowerPC to Intel with pretty much no hiccups already, so I don't see why they wouldn't be able to do Intel -> ARM. Also, Apple's ARM chip is pretty much the fastest in the industry right now (at least on mobile devices), so it's definitely possible.

      • wright_is

        In reply to frank153:

        The problem (today) is that with the PowerPC to Intel switch, there was a performance surplus on Intel that could be used to make the PowerPC software run at reasonable speeds.

        As we see with WoA, the performance of ARM is not currently there to make it a pleasurable experience, when running x86 software (and no x64 support, currently).

        Given that Apple have abandoned x86 on Intel, that means they have to overcome that problem as well, before they can provide the emulation layer.

        It will be interesting to see how Apple cope with both of these problems. Can they find the extra performance needed to surpass Intel performance enough to make emulation feasible? And can they get a working x64 emulation in place?

        Until now, Qualcom couldn't do the former and Qualcom and Microsoft haven't managed the latter (it is allegedly a work in progress that might or might not see the light of day).

        That would be a huge coup, if they can pull it off.

        • BigM72

          In reply to wright_is:

          Emulation is not such a big deal for Apple.


          Remember on the Windows side, UWP was recompiled for native ARM and ran ok. It was only the old Win32 apps that needed the emulation support.


          The difference here is that Apple will be bringing their large library of iOS apps to Mac which will run natively on ARM. The first laptop will likely be an iBook that might not even run macOS, it might run iOS.


          TouchID in Macbook Pros already basically uses an iPhone SoC so higher performance computers may temporarily have dual Intel/ARM processors where anything that would need emulation runs on the ~Intel, the rest runs on ARM.


          To summarise - iOS apps will run natively on the ARM proc, first-party Apple Mac software will also run natively on ARM (iWork, iLife) and many of the 3rd party developers of Mac software will also just recompile for ARM (they have shown willingness to do so in the past compared to Windows devs, Apple will give them a means to convert and won't require any Win32->UWP style migration to do so).


          So I wouldn't worry too much about emulation.

          • wright_is

            In reply to BigM72:

            But iOS software isn't a replacement for desktop software in a lot of cases, it is generally cut down and "does the essentials", but doesn't have the functionality many professionals need.

            You aren't going to trade in Photoshop on the desktop for Photoshop Essentials or Photoshop castrated for touch, you aren't going to use some touch-based video editing software instead of your highly parallel desktop rendering system.

            Some simple applications like Mail, Calendar and other things might benefit, but high end and professional software will need recompiling at the very least and a period of emulation until it runs natively. And until that software runs faster on ARM, you aren't going to see professionals drop their Intel boxes - just like they clung on to their G5 towers until the bitter end; until all the software they needed was converted and newer versions no longer supported PowerPC and the newer (Intel native) versions were faster.

            You aren't going to invest Mac like money in a hamstrung system that is slower than you current system, at least not at the professional level, so the emulation has to be damned efficient or the developers of third party software will need to be moved quickly to ARM. I can see the MacBook or Air being fairly easily transitioned, Mac Pro, iMac Pro and some MacBook Pro users are going to be holding out for a while, I would guess, unless Apple has some magic trick up its sleeve that the rest of the ARM industry has missed.

  3. chrisrut

    Another case in point for the ongoing Technological Convergence in the form of Portable User Experience across form-factors. It's where all the players - Apple, Google, and of course M/S, and maybe even Amazon, end up. Factor in Pervasive AI and you can get a glimpse of our "real-soon-now" personal technology future. Lot's of choice.

  4. mpfef98

    For an unattributed rumor - that's a very certain-sounding headline.

  5. lvthunder

    Apple might do a lot of things in 2 years. Get back to me when an announcement is made. Anything beyond that is just speculation.

  6. Bats

    They should've codenamed it Andromeda. Why not? Google then Microsoft did it ! (lol)

  7. rameshthanikodi

    Are Apple's ARM processors really hitting Intel's i5/i7 levels of performance outside of graphics? I really doubt it. I wish them well but i've really come to doubt Tim Cook's ability to be a good steward for Apple's software.

    • Oreo

      In reply to FalseAgent:

      Yes, Apple's SoCs are competitive with Intel's mobile CPUs. To give you an idea, the SoC that is built into the iPhone 8 and iPhone X outperforms an Intel Core i5-7360U found in a 13" MacBook Pro in single core and multicore CPU performance in Geekbench at lower power consumption (5~7.5 W TDP vs. 15 W TDP). It significantly outperforms a 2017 MacBook Air (by 30 % and 68 %, respectively). Of course, I reckon that if Apple makes versions aimed at mobile Macs, they will have more thermal headroom to play with, too, so that would tilt the balance even more in Apple's favor.


      Of course, we may argue whether Geekbench is the one and only benchmark, and reflective of performance in all conditions — it is not. But it shows that Apple's SoCs are at least roughly on par with expensive mobile CPUs from Intel — at lower cost to Apple and at lower power consumption.


      There are aspects that are not immediately reflected in benchmarks: Apple equips its SoCs with a smattering of co-processors, e. g. the ARM CPU in its new iMac Pro is in charge of the dual channel SSD, and is fast enough to encrypt and decrypt data at the SSD's full transmission speed. This takes some tasks off of the CPU. Ditto for security tasks.

  8. glenn8878

    ARM on one side, Apple on another, Intel needs to act fast!!!

  9. red.radar

    Remember the days when Apple was known for the iron clad secrecy ?


    This one didn't even make it out the board room before it leaked.



  10. NextWithoutFor

    "Apple will likely start to slowly move away from macOS and switch to iOS for these new Mac devices..."


    That is very unlikely, Mehedi. Apple is more likely to port the rest of the macOS codebase that isn't already in iOS to ARM, or include some kind of JIT translation in their custom SoC.

  11. Angusmatheson

    Sign me up. Last year my office bought a 2016 MacBook Pro - which has sucked. Terrible keyboard, but really no faster for what I do than the 4 year old MacBook airs. Then this year we bought iPad pros - and everyone who touches them loves them. Hey are light, and fast, and I love that they can run medical iPhone apps - I which there are a ton which the MacBook pros and airs can’t run - so I use them and my phone all day. Give me and iOS device as fast as an iPad Pro and give me a mouse and the ability to plug into a printer - I would be in heaven. Even with its limitations everyone who can is using iPad over the MacBooks. ARM chips are really amazing! I know the reviews of new ARM windows are mixed - but this is the first gerenation. Soon it will run on ARM like a dream. The iPad Pro has made me a believer!

    • Jorge Garcia

      In reply to Angusmatheson:

      I have been saying this for a long time...if Apple would just make a "flavor" of iOS into something that "just-a-bit" more of a full PC experience (as you describe), there are a GREAT many people who will never look back to MacOS for anything. At the same time, though, I feel there needs to be an Android analogue (Android Laptop/Desktop) for those not willing to bite into the Apple. ChromeOS has Android support now, sure, but it isn't consistent, and it just isn't the same as far as I'm concerned.

  12. nbplopes

    Its interesting to see how each company has entirely different strategies to tackle the future.


    Apple is at its core a specialist company. So is Amazon. While both Google and Microsoft are expansionists.


    Apple see both software and hardware has a continuum, both in skills and in capacity. Much like the human body.. Always did. I don’t think reason behind is as much as being in total control but in what they want do deliver. Case in case, it’s not about ditching Intel or Qualcom. Take for instance the recent MS Qualcomm experiment in comparison with the iPad. Apple approach seams to be more promising in the near future if they don’t get distracted with things that matter little ... like fashion.


    Nadella still thinks its all about software while hardware is there just for the support.

  13. webdev511

    Well I suppose that means Apple fans can kiss a next gen Mac Pro Workstation goodbye.

    • mrdrwest

      In reply to webdev511:

      Is a Mac Pro really relevent any more?

      • wright_is

        In reply to mrdrwest:

        For high end graphic and video work, yes. It is either that or the users will have to switch to Windows workstations.

        The iMac Pro might bridge the gap for a few, but the lack of expandability is a handicap - either you give out more money than you need now for extra RAM and storage or you have to calculate replacing it in a couple of years, when you need more RAM or onboard storage... With the Mac Pro (and Windows workstations), you can easily upgrade as needed.

        My current machine only has 32GB RAM, but I can easily and (relatively) cheaply upgrade it to 64GB if I need it - the RAM prices were too high to go straight for 64GB and 32GB is just about enough at the moment.

  14. thalter

    What do you bet that Apple doesn't pass the cost savings on to the customer, but instead adds it their profit margins.

  15. a_seeker

    You should have given King and Gurman better attribution.

  16. skane2600

    This sounds to me like a very bad idea. I think vendors would approach converting their MacOS applications with the same enthusiasm they showed for converting to UWP apps.


    It's hard to imagine that Mac users are chomping at the bit to run iOS programs - they probably already own an iPhone. Not much point in having both a Mac and an iPhone if the former brings no unique value to the table.

    • Oreo

      In reply to skane2600:

      Apple's most recent three CPU architecture transitions (32 bit —> 64 bit ARM, x86 —> x64 and PowerPC —> x86) were quite painless actually, so Apple has a history of doing is right — unlike Microsoft.

      • skane2600

        In reply to Oreo:

        I don't think the 32 bit to 64 bit transitions within the same CPU family are really representative of the difficulty of a Intel to ARM transition. You have to go back to the PowerPC to Intel transition in 2006 to compare and even then it took years of emulation before most of the third-party programs caught up. A lot has changed since then (including Apple's leadership) and it's unclear if vendors will see the effort to make a conversion as a "must do" the way they did when the only competition was Windows.


        In the short term of such a transition I would expect a similar performance penalty on Intel/Mac programs running in emulation as we see with Windows on ARM. Both companies have smart people who are trying to solve fundamentally the same problem.

        • Oreo

          In reply to skane2600:

          While I agree that the transition from ARM v7 to ARM v8 was much easier (Apple has much more control over the iOS ecosystem), but even when I switched from a PowerPC-based Mac to an x86-based Mac, the transition was quite seamless, much easier than the transition from MacOS 9 to Mac OS X.


          I think a lot of factors that are in place today actually make it much easier for developers to transition. Back in 2005 many laggards at Adobe and in Redmond used CodeWarrier as a development environment rather than Apple's own dev tools, which was born in the pre-OS X days. Now most of Apple's developers are already on ARM and virtually all of them use XCode. Microsoft already has a version of Office running on iPad (which is derived from the exact same code base as all other versions of Office). Adobe has already ported quite a few of their apps to iOS. That makes it easier. Besides, Apple is not counting on Windows developers starting to release Mac apps, they are aiming at iOS developers starting to develop Mac apps. And for them, the transition will make things [i]easier[/i].

          • skane2600

            In reply to Oreo:

            People love to throw around the phrase "from the exact same codebase" but usually it's meaningless. To be legitimate it would mean that not a single line of code or a single resource file is different between multiple targets of the same product. Of course, there's some shared code as has been the norm for decades, but that doesn't mean supporting different versions is trivial.


            I had no expectation that Windows developers would be interested in releasing Mac apps although this change could potentially discourage iOS developers from doing so if they think the traditional MacOS is going away.



            • Oreo

              In reply to skane2600:

              Redesigning a custom interface definitely does add work for developers, so it wouldn't be the “exact same code base”. Depending on the app, the interface could be the most work-intensive part of the whole app. But it might not be.


              What I was referring to is something like Adobes apps that use a whole bunch of custom x86-64-specific code to speed up, say, adjustments that you apply. That would be quite labor intensive, and since Adobe has already ported parts of their apps to iOS, presumably, they have ported these architecture-specific optimization to ARM v8.

              • skane2600

                In reply to Oreo:

                What conversion efforts (whether X86-64 to UWP or to iOS) have in common is the lack of fully featured versions. That suggests either that not enough Intel-based code was applicable to the target platforms or there's a fundamental disconnect between the UIs or capabilities of the old platforms vs. the new (a kind of "square peg in round hole" problem).


                At least in the case of the MacOs (if it's not altered in the transition) it would be unlikely to suffer from the latter problem since the capabilities and UI paradigms wouldn't change. The question is whether Apple could resist the temptation to tweak the functionality of the new ARM-based OS to, for example, enable iOS apps.

    • Bill Strong

      In reply to skane2600:

      Apple has a tendancy to get this right. In the past, they provided an emulation layer for each major platform change, and made it as simple as changing a compiler target for developers, unlike Microsoft that decided to change the whole API. Apple does make changes to its API, but on a gradual basis, and they tend to make sane-ish API decisions.


      Of course, they could completely mess this up.

  17. Brandon Mills

    If they did it to the entire lineup, that'd basically end the Mac Pro. So much of Adobe is old x86 / x64 code. I just can't see a hard cutoff.

    • Stooks

      In reply to BrandonMills:

      Agreed. I see them coming out at WWDC with their version of Universal apps, basically iOS apps able to run or be ported to MacOS as the start. Then a slow migration to a new CPU that is not ARM but closer to ARM than to x86 Intel.


      Apple will also make tools to make the migration of x86 Mac apps easier to the new CPU Mac apps.

  18. dcdevito

    No doubt a move that will coincide with merging the macOS and iOS app arch

  19. Hougaard

    The unsaid thing is, that if Microsoft can run x86 code on Arm, then Apple properly can also (do they still have a patent sharing agreement?)


    So there might not even be a software issue..

    • wright_is

      In reply to Hougaard:

      Except that, hasn't Apple dropped 32-bit (x86) software support? I thought everything had to be x64, which Microsoft and Qualcom haven't yet cracked. Also, part of the technology comes from Qualcom, so I doubt Apple get carte blanche to use it.

  20. Daekar

    Won't this render low and mid-tier Macs more or less toys compared to Intel machines in the same price range if they aren't just wiping the slate clean and running everything in native ARM code?


    Unless they're working on MoA (Mac on ARM) emulation just like Microsoft except several years behind...

    • evox81

      In reply to Daekar:

      Maybe, but maybe not. A potential limiting factor with Microsoft's approach is using available, mass-market ARM processors that are designed for mobile applications. That's great for battery life but a limiting factor in terms of performance, especially with emulated software. Apple may go that route and use their mobile-oriented processors, or they could go completely custom and actually build a much more powerful processor with ARM technology.

    • Stooks

      In reply to Daekar:

      Exactly where did it say they were going to use ARM??? It only said they were going to make their own chips and not use Intel, possibly by 2020.


      Even if it was ARM or ARM like their latest A11 is faster than the Intel CPU in their 13inch MacBook. The A11 is restricted by the format, meaning you can only make it so powerful in a phone case, with no active cooling powered by a small battery. In computer they should be able to make them powerful, using more power, using active cooling.

    • ins1dious

      In reply to Daekar:


      When Apple announced the transition from PowerPC to Intel at WWDC 2005, they also revealed that OSX had always been compiled for both architecture. As Jobs put it then... it was a "just in case" project.


      Apple tend to play their cards close their chests. I won't be surprised to learn that they had started a Mac on ARM years before.

    • Oreo

      In reply to Daekar:

      Apple had OS X run on x86 since at least 2001, and there have been consistent rumors about ARM-based Apple notebook prototypes for years (I seem to remember a rumor about an Apple MacBook Air with a A5 SoC). I reckon they have emulation capabilities lined up. The “biggest” problem is IP, I reckon, but that's something that can be solved with money.

    • curtisspendlove

      In reply to Daekar:

      “Won't this render low and mid-tier Macs more or less toys compared to Intel machines in the same price range if they aren't just wiping the slate clean and running everything in native ARM code?”


      I expect the major push of project “Marzipan” is largely for this transition. Who knows, they may be able to work some magic with Xcode and the LLVM to compile modern codebases directly to the A-series binaries.


      I would expect an emulation layer as well, but I’m skeptical of reasonable performance. But I’m guessing this would be debuted on consumer level laptops ... maybe even the mythical rebirth of the iBook.


      This will give them plenty of time to perfect it but still keep an Intel based line for the “pro” market while they work ona full transition to their next OS. I think macOS is in a “maintain heading” burn. Just trying to keep it in orbit until developers can code iOS stuff on iOS itself.


      I’m not a hardware expert so I have no idea if this is feasible. But I’ve always wanted an A-series chip in my Macs so the iOS emulator could run native. Perhaps they can find a way to have both processor types running in the pro machines. (Probably not feasible, though.)


      Regardless I’m pretty positive they’ve had this as a skunkworks project for several years now. I expect they have some pretty solid ideas of where they want to go with it and how to get it there.

  21. obarthelemy

    It's poetic: since Fuchsia couild be out in the same timeframe, Apple will be tackling laptops/desktops with new hardware, and Google, possibly, with new software.

  22. PincasX

    All I got from this article is that thurrott dot com has abandoned any pretense of being a news site and now just relays rumors from elsewhere with click bait headlines.

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