Report: Apple Preps ARM-Based MacBook Pros, MacBook Air

Posted on November 3, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Mac and macOS with 74 Comments

Bloomberg says that Apple will launch ARM-based 13.3- and 16-inch MacBook Pros and a 13.3-inch MacBook Air next week.

As you may have seen, Apple yesterday sent out press invites to a virtual Mac launch event that will happen next Tuesday. There’s been a lot of back and forth in the rumor mill over exactly which Mac models that Apple will transition to its so-called Apple Silicon—or A-series—chipsets. But it appears that Bloomberg, a reliable source of this kind of information, has finally discovered what we can expect thanks to multiple sources.

And that is three laptops with Apple Silicon and not Intel-based chipsets: A 13.3-inch MacBook Pro, a 16-inch MacBook Pro, and a 13.3-inch MacBook Air. Bloomberg says that the 13.3-inch models are “further ahead in production” than the 16-inch Pro and at least those two devices will be shown off at the event next week. The new Macs will look exactly like the machines they’re replacing.

Each of the new Macs will be based on some variant of Apple’s A14 chipset, which debuted earlier in the new iPad Air and the iPhone 12 family of smartphones. Bloomberg’s sources say that these chips offer “improved power efficiency over the Intel parts they are replacing,” but duh, that’s obvious. The new Macs will also come with Apple-designed graphics and machine-learning processors, Bloomberg claims.

Bloomberg also revealed that Foxconn (Hon Hai Precision Industry) will build the two 13.3-inch MacBooks for Apple while Quanta Compute will build the 16-inch MacBook Pro.

And yes, Apple is working on Apple Silicon-based versions of the Mac Pro and iMac desktop Macs. The new Mac Pro will allegedly look just like the current version but be about half the size. It’s not clear when those Macs will arrive, but Apple has given itself a two-year timetable for the transition away from Intel.

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Comments (74)

74 responses to “Report: Apple Preps ARM-Based MacBook Pros, MacBook Air”

  1. wright_is

    It will be interesting to see what Apple does with the processors, now that they aren't constrained to the low power and the thermal restrictions of a phone or tablet design.

    The question is, how far can they push the TDP of the current designs and what sort of battery life and performance they will enjoy, when they are in bigger cases, with better heat dissipation.

  2. winner

    I have a much higher confidence that Apple will do this successfully, rather than Microsoft's poor attempts at ARM systems.

  3. blue77star

    In reply to sammyg:

    No ARM CPU will beat AMD CPU in performance department. It is more than just gaming.

  4. brazos

    I know they seeded the Mac Mini to developers but I can't wait to see what the final release one looks like.

  5. glenn8878

    I assume the Mac Pro and iMac desktops should have double the cores and RAM. The power savings isn't as much of a factor. It needs a new chipset to either allow two A14 CPUs or a new combined CPU with integrated L3, a bit like the Ryzen 3 design.

  6. truerock2

    If I understand correctly, Apple's ARM CPUs are not as powerful as high-end Intel and AMD CPUs.

    • curtisspendlove

      In reply to truerock2:

      This depends on how you define “powerful”. For instance, currently iPhones and iPads Pro have fairly significant single-core performance. And beat a lot of the laptop chips and many of the desktop ones.

      • wright_is

        In reply to curtisspendlove:

        Except they are running on a stripped down OS which limits background tasks etc. That is the problem with comparing apples and oranges. Unless they are running the same OS with the same configuration (as far as that is possible), you don't have a definite data point.

        Comparing the new Apple Silicon with Intel silicon, both running macOS, with the same applications installed and the "same" services active in the background will give a first real glimpse of comparative performance. Also the new Apple chips should have a higher TDP than phone chips.

        Let's hope they have their act together (and they don't patch the Intel Macs to run slower, to make the Apple Silicon look better). Until now, iOS and Apple Silicon has been optimized for limited multi-tasking environments, now it is going into general computing.

        • curtisspendlove

          In reply to wright_is:

          “Except they are running on a stripped down OS which limits background tasks etc.”

          In the comparisons that are public, yes. But Apple has flat-out said their A-series chips are faster than most laptops out there.

          And they know the benchmarks of the macOS comparisons between current Macs and the new Macs.

          Now, granted those quotes mentioned above were in context of the A-series in an iPad presentation. But it makes me wonder if they were itching to claim even more but couldn’t due to only being able to publicly compare against the iPad. ;)

          They love to put those bar charts up. So I expect to see some next Tuesday.

  7. lvthunder

    In reply to sammyg:

    Why don't you wait until you actually see one of these running before making all these proclamations? Unless they add touch to the Mac I don't think a lot of the iOS games will be much fun to play on a Mac for instance.

  8. nine54

    Interesting. I would have guessed that, out of the gate, Apple would have introduced a slightly smaller form factor with a more cost-effective build to implicitly target the Chromebook market. But while they may look like their Intel brethren, I'd expect fewer options/less customization through fixed RAM, limited storage capacity (maybe just 2 sizes), and wifi vs. wifi+5G. However, the area for more customization would be color choices.

  9. truerock2

    In my opinion, there is nothing particularly special in regard to ARM or Apple A14 Bionic SOCs.

    What is important is the concept of RISC versus CISC approach to CPU design.

    In my opinion the Intel x86 instruction set is bloated.

    And, some of the high end ARM CPUs are starting to become bloated.

    I think what may be more important that Intel and ARM is RISC-V which provides an open architecture instruction set.

    • bkkcanuck

      In reply to truerock2:

      Actually all those processors are RISC based -- even Intels x86 processors. The x86 instruction set is CISC but it there is a hardware translator which converts the x86 instructions into RISC micro-ops. This of course would add a layer of inefficiency.

      • truerock2

        In reply to bkkcanuck

        Wow, that is interesting. I did not know that.

        If an Intel x86 CPU is a RISC chip - why not have compilers that output the RISC op-codes?

        I guess I don't understand. Is there a Wikipedia article on this?


  10. exharris

    Will these have Thunerbolt ports? Isn't that an Intel only tech? If not, what ports will they have? Just USB-C ?

  11. waethorn

    I really hope they don't build these like Intel and target a 100°C chip temperature for something that might sit on your lap.

    That's madness.

  12. waethorn

    In reply to sammyg:

    PLEEAAASE. Stop using this tired Bernie reference...

  13. Lordbaal

    And still can't run x84 or 64 apps.

    But you complain that Windows on ARM can't. But with Apple, you say it doesn't matter?

    • wright_is

      In reply to Lordbaal:

      They have already shown off the Apple mini cased dev version running x64 apps in emulation, so I'm not sure what you are on about... That was one of the big selling points at the initial presentation of the platform.

  14. waethorn

    Just FYI:

    No news out of Parallels over possibility of Parallels Desktop running Windows 10 on ARM-based Mac's yet.

    • bkkcanuck

      In reply to Waethorn:

      I suspect that if MS provides Windows for macOS with Apple silicion - they will offer it as a 'streaming service' where it will be actually run on a remote system... just a guess.

      Linux was demo'd on Parrallels as part of the original introduction -- so Parallels was making their software available. It would be up to Microsoft on whether they role out an installable ARM for a VM on any ARM platform... though as I stated, I get the feeling they would prefer to do it as a streaming service since that is where they are moving.

      • waethorn

        In reply to bkkcanuck:

        Doubt it. Microsoft already killed off RemoteApp for Azure.

        The ARM versions of Windows are locked away behind a special OEM NDA and license agreement, completely dissimilar to the way that x86 versions are freely available to download.

        • bkkcanuck

          In reply to Waethorn:

          "There have been whispers for a few months surrounding the Microsoft CloudPC service that's due to drop sometime in early 2021, but very little confirmed information exists. However, several interesting details have now been leaked regarding the Azure-based virtualization service." -- By Jess Weatherbed [TechRadar] 5 hours ago

    • exharris

      In reply to Waethorn:

      This is a real deal breaker for me - use Parallels all the time to run Win 10 on MBA. I think Parallels will run Linux out of the box though on these new ARM Macs?

  15. will

    I am curious if there will be more than one processor option for each device? We now have i5, i7, and i9. Will we have something like this from Apple for more more powerful systems? Maybe more than one physical processor in the Pro line?

  16. SvenJ

    I was sort of hoping for a MacBook, 12", not Pro or Air. That was a super nice compact little device that only suffered from performance, much like Surface Go. Re-releasing that might have allowed some experience with Apple Silicon without subjecting it to the comparison with Intel models of the same type Air/Pro. Comparison is certainly valid and important, but can so easily be skewed by bias and expectations.

    • crunchyfrog

      In reply to SvenJ: I expect that Apple intends for the iPad Pro/Air to fill the gap there instead of making another laptop model that small

    • wright_is

      In reply to SvenJ:

      Maybe they think the performance is that good, that that is exactly what they want to promote.

      "Look how much faster our Apple Silicon MacBook Pro is compared to that slow and clunky Intel version!" It would certainly get people thinking about moving more quickly. But they'd have to be very confident that the performance is there - especially with emulated software.

    • rmlounsbury

      In reply to SvenJ:

      I had the MacBook 12" and for typical day-to-day tasks it was really a solid device. The bigger problem it suffered from was the price point it commanded which seemed to be only due to thinness. I do hope they resurrect this device with the new chipsets but this time with a more appropriate budget minded price.

    • Daishi

      In reply to SvenJ:

      I expect the 12 inch MacBook comes back in two years (or so) using the chip from this year’s Air and their current display tech, as they move the rest of the line up to mini LED, for $600-700.

      It’ll be the 9.7inch iPad of the MacBook lineup and, much like that iPad, kill off any reason for most normal people to buy anything else.

  17. nbplopes

    Really hope they come up with a new design so that people just by looking at it, know it’s something else, forward. Otherwise it will be a slowoooo transition and will confuse people.

    Without this can even see some buying ARM Macs by mistake, thinking that nothing has changed only to find out their apps aren’t available.

    As for myself just bought a couple of months ago an iMac 2020 27” charged up to go over the 4 to 5 years complete transition with no need upgrade.

    PS: Improved power efficiency just means one gets more power per watt compared to Intel. Not more power overall. For devs, videographers ... power is key.

    • bkkcanuck

      In reply to nbplopes:

      I don't think you will see the new design in the MacBooks this year, rumour has it coming next year when they start taking full advantage of the change.

      PS. Power per watt and more power overall is very much intertwined. The more power you can drive per watt, the more dense and more compute power you can pack into a each unit of rackspace (less efficient, more watt compute the more cooling the less dense you can be). What Intel has been able to do is typically clock up to 5Ghz on a single core, but the Apple silicon also has that sort of reputation vs competition for their current processors used in tablets and phones -- this however is more useful in things like gaming than software that needs more power overall (i.e. scale out using more cores). You will notice that Xeon chips tend to be more core and less performance per core than your desktop variety.

      In a similar manner, if Apple's silicon is has much more power per watt, then you can add more silicon (potentially much more targetted) into their MacBook Pro's and more silicon in their Mac Pro lines than comparable machines before you hit the power or thermal limit of the enclosure/power supply. You could pack more graphics into a laptop if you could make the CPU/GPU more energy efficient - in fact that is what happens each time their is a die shrink.

      • wright_is

        In reply to bkkcanuck:

        Exactly. The big question (which should be answered in the coming weeks), is whether Apple has a grip on the TDP scalability of their chips - can they run reliably at higher TDPs or are they still working on it?

        The move from mobile to laptop is a relatively small step, going to the desktop, workstation or server is a much bigger step and could see them having to alter their designs to cope with the extra noise and heat from such a move. Interesting times.

        • curtisspendlove

          In reply to wright_is:

          The move from mobile to laptop is a relatively small step, going to the desktop, workstation or server is a much bigger step and could see them having to alter their designs to cope with the extra noise and heat from such a move. Interesting times.

          Indeed. I’m very intrigued by this rumor about an ARM version of the Mac Pro that is like half the size of the current tower chassis.

          Wild. The only way I can see them doing that is an alternative way of matching performance while significantly shrinking the internal available space, as it is mostly for components.

          So many questions. Will the ARM chips somehow feature Apple GPUs that blow Nvidia and AMD out of the water? Or have Apple figured out a way to interface with standard PCIE components?

          I’m not a hardware guy so I have no idea what is possible and what isn’t.

          • curtisspendlove

            In reply to curtisspendlove:

            Yup. I know it is an industry standard. I just was t sure how difficult it was to interface an ARM SoC with PCIE.

            I think the Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4 has a PCIE 4 interface. So I know it is possible.

            But I would imagine making an NVMe SSD work on a tiny ARM board is probably a far cry from getting multiple GPUs and tons of storage and such working.

          • bkkcanuck

            In reply to curtisspendlove:

            PCIe is an industry standard not an Intel standard - it is used in non-intel platforms as well.

            I am sure that there will be a computer (Mac Pro) [The rumor that there was going to be a Mac Pro Mini - did not indicate if it is the new Mac Pro or another future device for those that were not in the Mac Pro price range. There are people fully utilizing the 7 (I think there were 7 slots) on the current Mac Pro (usually in the music industry).

      • nbplopes

        In reply to bkkcanuck:

        Not necessarily. In practice what we have seen is that power efficiency comes with a penalty on over all power capacity. This penalty is being reduced year on year to the point that it seams that Apple ARM is surpassing Intel capabilities in power capacity to a certain point while being more power efficient.

        I agree the tendency is to zero penalty if not superávit. But are we there already? Will see in the next 12 months or so.

    • PhilipVasta

      In reply to nbplopes:

      I think the point is that, supposedly, your apps will just work.

  18. blue77star

    Who cares. What is really exciting is actually AMD 5000 series coming this month.

    • wright_is

      In reply to blue77star:

      I am also more interested in the AMD processors, but this is still a very important moment for modern processors. Intel (and AMD to a lesser extent) have been too long unchallenged on the desktop. AMD, after their initial Athlon success lost the plot for several years, now they are kicking Intel's butt again on the desktop and in the datacentre, and the laptop processors are also, finally, putting Intel into touch.

      But they are still "the same" processors, here we have a different architecture (ARM) that has shaken up the mobile industry and is also moving into the datacentre, it will be interesting to see what Apple can do on the desktop and how that will shake up the status quo.

      • bkkcanuck

        In reply to wright_is:

        I guess I am almost the opposite of yours. I am most interested in 'ARM' as the processor in the Apple computers, but also hoping this competition of platforms will make it into the Windows world and by proxy into the DIY market (not just Pi IOT/Hobby boards).

        I too am interested and happy that AMD is now returning competition to the x86 and now potentially the GPU market, and I think continued support for AMD's success is beneficial to the long term health of those markets.

        I used to do some coding in assembly language way way back (Intel 80x86/8088) and NS32000 but even back then the base architecture seemed archaic in comparison to the other CISC processor I coded in. It is now longer in the tooth, and even with the transition to the core x86 processors being RISC based.... it is way past the time to move on. Intel was able to maintain it's position with regards to x86 processors even though it really has to be less efficient since there is an additional hardware translator has to translate between x86 and RISC micro-ops which must to some level add a level of inefficiency. As long as Intel had fabs that lead the marketplace they could hide the fact that their CPU architecture was past it's prime. I am hoping that Apple's success will translate into more pressure for Microsoft to succeed in moving to another architecture - and by the very fact of moving will lead to retiring some legacy code and will train the developers of the the windows software to be much better at being architecture agnostic.

        As a result of this the DIY hardware market would also likely shift making more hardware available for cheaper to develop server software in an environment that it would be deployed in (ARM being one) at a much more reasonable cost - which will accelerate the deployment of more servers that are not tied to x86.

        This will of course be beneficial in the long term since the marketplace for hardware (CPUs) would be more open (even if ARM is still proprietary) -- which can only be good for competition. I have no doubt that if this happens AMD will still be able to compete in the new world -- as long as they maintain the competence that they seem to enjoy currently.

        • wright_is

          In reply to bkkcanuck:
          I guess I am almost the opposite of yours. I am most interested in 'ARM' as the processor in the Apple computers,

          I am not interested in Apple computers, but I am interested in ARM. But as I use Windows on a daily basis, with legacy software, the AMD processors are just of more interest.

          I used to do some coding in assembly language way way back (Intel 80x86/8088) and NS32000 but even back then the base architecture seemed archaic in comparison to the other CISC processor I coded in.

          Yes, I used to write Z80, 6502, 68000 and 8086 Assembler (and DEC Macro). 8086 was by far the one that was not designed to anti-programmer.

          Also, don't forget the current most powerful supercomputer uses ARM processors (from Fujitsu).

          The industry is being shaken up, but it will still take time for it to trickle down to the Windows desktop world. In the meantime, I'll probably have to go with at least on more iteration of AMD or Intel hardware.

      • curtisspendlove

        In reply to wright_is:

        “But they are still "the same" processors, here we have a different architecture (ARM) that has shaken up the mobile industry and is also moving into the datacentre, it will be interesting to see what Apple can do on the desktop and how that will shake up the status quo.”

        Another interesting fact I heard recently is that the Raspberry Pi Foundation is selling between 600,000-800,000 Pis per month in 2020.

        ARM is in an explosion phase. And people will suffer with a bit of a performance hit if they get something for pretty cheap.

        Now, how many of those Pis are currently sitting in drawers or cupboards wasn’t discussed in the stat. But that is *way* more than I would have guessed.

        Don’t get me wrong, I’m still in a lust affair with my Intel chips. But dismissing ARM out of hand is a pretty silly stance in my opinion.

        • wright_is

          In reply to curtisspendlove:
          Don’t get me wrong, I’m still in a lust affair with my Intel chips. But dismissing ARM out of hand is a pretty silly stance in my opinion.

          Which was the point of my post. I have a couple of Pi 3s doing duties as DNS servers and network controllers at home and a previous employer had a closet full of the things as a build farm.

          The numbers don't surprise me. My point was, I find the new AMD chips of more immediate interest to me, but the Apple announcement is very important to the industry, and for the future, especially given how ARM is currently moving away from mobile and into the datacentre and onto the desktop.

    • curtisspendlove

      In reply to blue77star:

      I think you (and many others) are underestimating (or forgetting) the driving force Apple has in the industry.

      I’m *very* interested to see where this goes.

      • blue77star

        In reply to curtisspendlove:

        Apple driving force is so strong that after XX years of their existence i still didn't buy a single product coming from them.

        • bkkcanuck

          In reply to blue77star:

          The fact that many manufactures have reasonably quality computers - may very well be because of Apple then Microsoft. At a certain point the situation was an absolute crapload of junk as the market was in a race to the bottom... but a lot of Apple envry asking why they could not get reasonable quality basically rescued the market from self-annihilation when it comes to laptops etc. (IMHO)

          • curtisspendlove

            In reply to bkkcanuck:

            Agreed. And a major reason we have the Surface line is because Microsoft wanted to stick it to Apple and get some of the premium customers.

            They have done an excellent job in many cases. And their developer story is as strong as, if not stronger than, Apple’s.

            WSL was pretty ingenious. And partnering with Canonical even more so.

            • Paul Thurrott

              I'm not sure "stick it to Apple" is the literal strategy. It's probably closer to "provide PC customers with the same level of quality that Apple delivers with its Macs."
              • curtisspendlove

                In reply to paul-thurrott:

                Fair enough. There might not be any internal PowerPoint sides with an image of Panos giving the finger to Tim Cook as the first bullet item for “why Surface makes sense”.

                But they’ve certainly made a *lot* of comparisons to the MacBook in both presentations and ads, so I assume it was an unofficial goal. ;)

        • curtisspendlove

          In reply to blue77star:

          Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize we had the Computer Industry driving force here on the Thurrot forums.

          My apologies, Your Highness.

          Sarcasm aside, Apple has a track history of influencing fairly sweeping changes in the computer industry over the years. It is silly to ignore it.

          And the trend even in data centers is to start playing around with the capabilities ARM architecture provides (big and little cores, for instance).

          (Yes, I know those are also coming to more traditional SoCs as well.)

        • macguy59

          In reply to blue77star:

          Another irrational Apple hater. Whatever works for ya . . .

    • RobertJasiek

      In reply to blue77star:

      While Ryzen 5000 is faster than 3000 and both are attractive for gaming, Ryzen 5000 is also a bit expensive (especially in Germany), upgrading from 3000 to 5000 is often possible but too expensive to do it, and building a new Ryzen 5000 PC is difficult (most mainboards require an UEFI update and for that an old CPU, or retailers of mainboards do not specify whether they already have a sufficiently new UEFI version) or expensive (those few mainboards allowing an UEFI upgrade without CPU are expensive themselves).

      E.g., a 12 core Ryzen 3000 is €400 but a 12 core Ryzen 5000 amounts to ca. €730 (€580 for the CPU plus ca. €150 for the extra expense of getting such a suitable, more expensive mainboard). Alternatively, you might have to buy an ordinary mainboard for an above-normal price from a specialised computer shop and pay for its service to upgrade the UEFI for you.

      Which gamer needs Ryzen 5000 speed anyway? 1080p or maybe 1440p, but such a gamer should better buy a Ryzen 3600 to 3700X and upgrade his monitor and maybe GPU! For 4K gaming and GPU-intensive deep learning, Ryzen 3000 is more than sufficient.

  19. jwpear

    I'm curious how they differentiate the Air from the Pro. Will there be a performance difference due to actual hardware differences or will it mostly be different cooling designs where the Air is throttled more due to heat. That seemed to be part of the difference between the current Intel-based Air and Pro, graphics excluded.

    I'm also interested in seeing if the Pro is significantly cooler with the A chipset. Got my daughter a Pro for college and her biggest complaint is it gets hot on the bottom with just typical use.

    • Paul Thurrott

      The subtle differences between the iPad Air and Pro sort of mirror what they're doing with iPhone 12 and 12 Pro when you think about it. Not sure what the goal is here, other than confusing matters.
    • will

      In reply to jwpear:

      Graphics, processing power, and ports seem to be what has been the biggest difference. Weight has been something as well, but if the Apple series chips can do so much more with less battery I would guess we will see all the devices get lighter.

      I am going to be curious what they call this new chip line. I do not think it will be A series, that will be for mobile IMO. They have a lot more power and cooling options in a laptop vs a mobile device, so this will be interesting to watch.

  20. matsan

    Just thinking what the Apple engineers will be able to do with their CPUs without the physical size constraint of an iPhone. Who says they are limited to 6 CPU cores and 4 GPU cores just because they are building on the A14?

  21. davidl

    I'm assuming these Macs won't be able to boot Windows or run Windows in a VM without a huge performance hit.

    • wright_is

      In reply to davidl:

      They won't be able to boot Windows at all. Bootcamp won't be available.

      The question is how/when Parallels or VMware can get their VM environment to run x64 code.