What Apple’s Transition from Intel to ARM Means for You.

Apple M1 Processor Silicon

The skinny: Apple is switching away from Intel, the world’s biggest most famous chip manufacturer, and onto their own system derived from the custom chips they’ve been making for iPhones for the past decade. What does that mean for you?

1. Faster Performance

Apple is exceedingly confident that their new chip, the M1 will deliver faster performance than Intel-based Macs. So confident, in fact, that Apple has already yanked all Intel Macbook Airs and Macbook Pros off the store; you can only buy these Macs based on Apple silicon now. Apple is promising 2-3x speed increases on these computers, and even claims that Intel-written Apps can sometimes perform better being emulated on these new Macs. Early tests are showing the lower-end M1 Macbook Air outperforming the highest end Macbook pro.

On the flipside, these processors have integrated RAM with a maximum limit of 16GB. Contrast that with the current high-end Intel MacBook Pro that takes 32GB of RAM. The vast majority of users don’t exceed that limit of 16, but it could put off some pro users until the chips are more capable in the future. The tradeoff of missing the major performance boosts may make the decision hard.

2. Running iOS Apps Natively

Because these new M1 chips share the same architecture – ARM – as iPhones and iPads do with the Apple A-series chip, they will be able to run iOS apps inside Mac OS. There’s no virtualization or emulation here at all – the apps are now completely compatible across devices. Hopefully, this will spur development for innovative cross-compatible apps to make our working lives easier.

3. Better Battery Life

Apple is touting huge leaps in battery life with their new processors, but that’s not all. The fan-less design of the MacBook air shows Apple’s confidence in much lower heat in the M1 processors, which isn’t just better for performance, but better for the longevity of the computer as a whole. Less heat means less entropy, which means greater stability and longer device life.

4. Goodbye Bootcamp— Hello Emulation

With Intel Macs, users were able to “bootcamp” Windows: an actual installation of Windows on a hard-drive partition that could be booted up alternatively. Without the same Intel chips that run most Windows PCs, Mac users’ best bet for running Windows will be an advanced emulator that allows for side-by-side usage within the OS. As of now, there is no software that is ready to do this, but popular virtual-desktop software Parallels says it’s in the works. 

But Windows is not the only thing that will need to be emulated – in fact, all Mac apps that aren’t updated for M1 chips will actually rely on a built-in translator (read: emulator) named Rosetta 2 that Apple says will compile apps at first boot or on-the fly. We have yet to see real world performance for how these computers will handle these apps, which make up basically the entire base of all Mac apps.

5. Same Old Song

Apple switching over their entire core architecture for Macs is nothing new. In fact, just 14 years ago in 2006, Apple had announced the retirement of their RISC-based PowerPC chips and the transition to Intel, which had dominated the Windows PC field. The announcement came in the middle of the lifespan of Mac OS X Tiger, readying developers to update all of their apps to work on Intel by the time Mac OS Leopard came out in 2007. In order for older PowerPC based-apps to run during the transitional period, Apple created a translation software known as Rosetta. See, it all worked out back then! History repeats itself. 

App developers will need to transition their apps, some apps may become lost to time and eventually stop working when Apple inevitably disabled Rosetta 2 in a year or two down the line. Most actively developed apps will be switched over, and all will become whole again in due time.