Apple To Switch From Intel to ARM Processors In Its Macs
At the keynote speech at the WWDC developer conference, Apple announced the transition from Intel to ARM processors.
Apple announced at its WWDC developer conference, which was only streamed online, that it was switching from Intel to ARM processors on its Macs. According to Tim Cook, all Mac models are to be converted to the ARM architecture within two years. However, Macs with an Intel processor and software for it should continue to exist. The first series Mac with an ARM processor – called “Apple Silicon” – is due to be released this year. In addition to new power management and the secure storage area “Secure Enclave”, the CPU also contains its own GPU unit.
Developers now have time to adapt their macOS programs to the new architecture, because the x86 code for Intel CPUs will not simply run natively on ARM hardware. For apps that run on all hardware platforms (Apple Silicon and Intel), there is a new standard called Universal 2. In order to make the transition uncomplicated for the users, Apple has a runtime environment similar to the time when switching from PowerPC to x86 created, called Rosetta 2. It should emulate existing apps until they are ported. How much this affects performance and compatibility must be shown. According to Apple, Microsoft Office, Photoshop and Final Cut Pro are already ported.
Until the first Macs with ARM processors are sold, developers can test their code on a “Developer Transition Kit”, a special Mac mini with A12Z processor (known from the iPad Pro 2020), 16 GB RAM and 512 GB SSD. The rental price for this is 539 euros. Then you have to return the hardware.
The future of Boot Camp is unclear: There are also Windows versions for ARM processors, but there are not many programs or games running on them. Apple only mentioned Linux, which is said to run under Rosetta 2.
What Makes Apple To Switch From Intel to ARM Processors
But what drives Apple to take this step? A few years ago, ARM processors were unsuitable for notebooks or even desktops and servers, but a lot has happened here. The fastest supercomputer in the world is currently an ARM computer, namely the recently launched Fugaku from Fujitsu. It works with ARM processors (A64FX) that have 48 cores and run at 2.2 GHz.
ARM CPUs have long reached a data width of 64 bits, now the connection of a lot of RAM, a lot of computing cores and PCI Express are no longer a problem. Thunderbolt 3 could skip the ARM Macs and start with USB 4, its specifications Include Thunderbolt 3. It is initially unclear whether existing external graphics chips or graphics cards with PCIe can be seamlessly connected to ARM processors. So far, Apple has only announced Macs in which only processors with integrated GPUs work. There are also no PCs or Windows notebooks with ARM processors and dedicated graphics.
Apple has not only designed its A-series processors itself, but also the built-in graphics units for some years. These should already be on a level with the integrated GPUs from Intel.
So far, however, the well-known ARM processors have not been able to achieve clock speeds as high as Intel’s CPUs. While ARM chips achieve a base clock between 2 and 3 GHz, Intel manages over 4 GHz, with TurboBoost over 5 GHz. In addition, many x86 CPUs with Hyper-Threading can virtually double the number of cores. Additional computing units (SIMD) such as SSE, AVX, AVX2 and AVX-512 extend the x86 instruction set and thus accelerate the encoding of certain video formats, for example.
Apple can counter this with some co-processors (motion, bionic) and the big-little design: In the latter, the more efficient cores are switched on when the load is low and the stronger or all cores are switched on when the load is high. ARM processors are therefore generally said to be more energy-efficient, especially when idle, but when events still have to be reacted to quickly (WhatsApp message arrives when the iPhone is locked). It is an exciting question whether this higher effectiveness can also be seen at high clock speeds and under full load, which can only be answered by measurements on the future Macs.