Technical – Apple Switching to their own ARM based processor, what does this means to you?
If you watched the Apple WWDC keynote address on June 22nd or have been following the tech sites you are already aware that Apple will be ending its partnership with INTEL and using their own processors in all of their future Macs. Why did Apple do this? What are the advantages? Will there be any disadvantages? As a long-time user of Apple products I will try and answer these questions.
There are several reasons why Apple may have chosen to go down this road, and it is not the first company to build computers using their own processors or custom chipsets. Some of my viewers may not remember Commodore Business Machines, CBM for short, but they designed the bestselling home computer in 80s and early 90s called the Commodore 64. It’s predecessor and immediate follow-up the Commodore 128 contained only Commodore made chips. This included the MOS6502 (Commodore owned MOSTek), the sound chip called the SID, and the video chip the VICII. It was not until Commodore purchased the Amiga that they used a CPU designed and produced outside the company. The Motorola 68000, which incidentally was also the CPU used in the original Macintosh. This method of manufacturing all of your products components is called vertical integration, and has several key advantages such as being able to control development, production and supply and it costs significantly less to have everything in house. Apple should be able to significantly reduce the production costs by doing their own chips.
Another factor that may have driven the switch from INTEL processors, is for the same reason Apple went from the Motorola/IBM PowerPPC processors back in 2005 (Also announced at the WWDC.). The power requirement/performance ration was stagnating and was seriously hampering Apples roadmap for their mobile devices (Macbook and Macbook Pro) computers. There was just no way Apple was going to be able to put their latest processor, the G5 into a portable computer!). So Apple had to break with a partnership that existed from the very beginning of the Macintosh design. This could have not been an easy decision and could have ended up being a technical nightmare! Imagine the work involved in not only having to recompile your operating system to work on a different platform, and fix any bugs that came with it, but come up with a way to make most of the software that has been written for your product for the last 11 years work. Fortunately Apple was not new at this, and they had a plan!
So, what does this mean to me? Well, in the short term. Not much! Apple stated at the WWDC (though they did not elaborate), that there are several new Intel Mac products in the pipeline, and I can not see any scenario where Apple is not aware they will still need to support the purchasers of the new “Cheese grater” Mac Pros that were released last year. Could you imagine the pain and anguish of spending $6000 for a workstation and having it be unusable by the years end? That would just be idiotic and it will NOT happen. I base this on the fact that MacOS X continued to run on PPC based Macs until 2009, 4 years after the switch to INTEL was announced. Which given my own personal model usage of 5 – 6 years between models, would just fit in to when I would be getting a new Mac model anyway.
In the long run, when you decide to buy a new Mac should you be worried? I would not be. Apple is unmatched in the industry when it comes to these types of critical architecture changes, and that reputation is well earned. This is not their first time at the rodeo. They went from the classic Motorola 680×0 to Motorola PowerPC migration in 1994, the transition to Intel in 2005 as noted above, and now moving to their own ARM based silicon.
While no transition is ever seamless, Apple has been one of the few companies that have been able to pull of switching their core architecture several times, with the help of emulation, virtualization, and “fat” applications (Applications that contain code for multiple architectures.). Software written for the Intel architecture should easily run trouble free on the new hardware, and while there are sure to be a myriad of features that will run on the new ARM processor, but will not if you have an INTEL Mac. Your experience with Mac OS will still be usable and enjoyable.
The only thing that I know I am going to miss in the future, will be the loss of bootcamp, as I rely on it, in order to run Prepar3D, a flight simulator. Which due to it’s graphics overhead would not be usable in emulation. Though that is only one single use, so it may be time to re-evaluate moving on from the flight sim world when that happens. Given that Apple’s biggest third party app developers Adobe and Microsoft are already on board it will only be a matter of time before everything runs natively and the additional layers to run legacy apps disappears (As we saw with the phasing out of Rosetta with the Intel transition.)
This is big news, and it will be very exciting to see what comes of this! The advantages of integrated apps between the desktop, iPad, and IPhone and the increased performance/power consumption (and heat production) ratio far outweigh any growing pains.
Thank you for stopping by Brent’s World! Do you agree with my assessment of Apples move to their own chips? Register and share your thoughts on our forums, or comment below.
If you wish to be notified when new content is posted, register and click HERE.