It’s no secret that Apple has been working to create custom processors for use in its computers. The question was never if, but when. And now, a new report is adding even more weight to the belief that Apple will start selling Macs equipped with homegrown chips in 2021.
According to sources familiar with the matter who spoke to Bloomberg, Apple is currently developing three processors based on the company’s upcoming A14 chip (which is expected to debut in the iPhone 12). They’re meant to power an assortment of future Mac computers—with at least one of these new Macs expected to get announced sometime next year.
This prediction lines up with the most recent forecasts from noted Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who initially predicted that the first Mac with a custom Apple chip might arrive in late 2020, but later revised his prediction to sometime in 2021 due to delays caused by the spread of covid-19.
Apple’s new homegrown computer chips are reportedly being designed as part of a larger initiative codenamed Kalamata, which seeks to expand Apple’s use of its A-series chips to its PC division as the company tries to reduce its reliance on third-party chip makers like Intel.
Bloomberg’s source claims Apple’s new A-series computer chips will be ARM-based instead of x86-based like the Intel chips used in current Mac laptops and desktops, with Apple partnering with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company in order to take advantage of TSMC’s 5-nanometre fabrication process.
Furthermore, it seems the first of Apple’s new Kalamata chips will be a 12-core chip, which represents a massive upgrade in performance over the four-core chips used in today’s iPad Pros. The new chip is said to feature a mix of eight high-performance cores codenamed Firestorm, with another four energy-efficient cores codenamed Icestorm meant to handle less intensive tasks and help preserve battery life.
Because Apple is still trying to scale up the performance of its custom-designed computer chips, the first Mac to feature one of Apple’s new chip will almost certainly be a laptop or a similar mobile device, with more powerful chips meant for use in systems like the iMac or Mac Pro to follow later.
For Apple, the advantages of switching to laptop and desktop chips designed in-house are clear. Not only would it give Apple greater control over the architecture and features used in its chips, it would also help free Apple from worrying about delays and mismatched product cycles caused by third-party suppliers.
That said, modern SoCs, or system-on-a-chip, are incredibly complicated, as the chips are made up of multiple components including CPUs, GPUs, modems, and even things like dedicated security chips that all need to work together and share space on the same piece of silicon. And that doesn’t even account for software developers having to tweak or rewrite their apps to work on a different CPU architecture.
So while Apple’s move to using custom-design processors in its laptops and desktops promises a number of improvements (we might even see the creation of the first Mac with a touchscreen), it may end up being a difficult transition for both Apple’s engineers and consumers, who may have to get used to a new and potentially very different generation of Macs.