Even before Apple officially announced its plans to transition the Mac family over to Apple Silicon at WWDC last month, people predicted that Macs with Apple-made ARM processors were coming this year. Back in March, noted Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo speculated that the first Apple ARM processors could hit the market in 2020, later revising his prediction to 2021 due to possible covid-19-related production delays. That turned out to be pretty on point, considering Apple said it expects to ship its first product with its own ARM-based processor by Q4 2020, and complete the transition by 2022.
Now all there’s left to do is speculate which one of Apple’s Mac products is going to be the first to get the new chip. Kuo expects the first Apple ARM computer will be a 13.3-inch MacBook Pro, MacRumors reported, which will be released alongside a new Intel model by the end of this year. A MacBook Air with Apple Silicon may debut at the same time, or in the first quarter of 2021. Kuo also believes Apple will release new 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro models with its own ARM processor sometime between the second and third quarters of 2021.
Apple has yet to confirm the specs of its own CPU, but other rumours have pointed to it being a 12-core processor, with eight dedicated cores for high-performance tasks, and four cores for less-intensive workloads. Without knowing the precise specs, it’s tough to predict how powerful Apple Silicon will be, but some leaked Apple ARM developer kit benchmarks help paint a slightly more complete picture. The short of it is that Apple seems like it will be a tough competitor for Intel and AMD to beat.
According to former Intel principal engineer François Piednoël, Apple decided to part ways with the company due to quality assurance issues with its Skylake processors.
“Our buddies at Apple became the No. 1 filer of problems in the architecture,” he said in a YouTube video. “When your customer starts finding almost as much bugs as you found yourself, you’re not leading into the right place.”
What Apple has confirmed, though, is that its ARM processors will be a system-on-chip (SoC) design, and will have its own integrated GPU. We got a glimpse of that GPU running Shadow of the Tomb Raider via Rosetta 2 on Apple’s Metal API during WWDC 2020, and it looked like it could keep up with the likes of Nvidia’s and AMD’s discrete graphics cards.
With that in mind, it makes sense that Apple would release its ARM-based MacBooks before a Mac with Apple Silicon, because Apple is still using AMD’s graphics cards in its desktops. What’s unclear is how much longer it intends to do so. Apple and AMD haven’t said anything, so I suspect we won’t hear more on the topic for a few years, if at all. If Kuo’s release timeline is accurate (and he’s one of the most accurate Apple product prognosticators around), it makes sense for Apple to completely stop production on its Intel-based Macs before it would even consider removing AMD GPUs from its products.
This is all assuming, of course, that Apple proves its processors are worth the hype. Apple Silicon seems like it will surpass people’s expectations, but nothing is final until an Apple ARM MacBook is in our hands for an onslaught of tests.