Apple plans to switch its MacBooks from Intel processors to its own ARM chips by 2021. Why do you ask? Control over the Mac's internal components is the obvious reason.
ARM chips could also offer Apple some hardware advantages. So that we can understand each other. ARM has not yet proven to be a suitable x86 replacement for Windows PCs, and there is no direct evidence that these ARM-based Macs are more efficient than current Intel options.
However, Apple's success on iPads has been convincing, and it is even reported that the latest chips use a 5nm process. These would be the smallest and most efficient nodes that can be used in computers of any size. Processor efficiency is more than just transistor size. Assuming that these ARM chips give the Mac a hefty dose of iPad-like efficiency, there are a few ways Apple can pay off.
Thinner, lighter MacBooks
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Apple loves thin and light devices and seems to take every chance to downsize the products it sells. The heat that a processor generates is one of the biggest challenges when looking for highly portable devices, especially when you need to use some chunky fans. Apple has tried fanless MacBooks like the 12-inch MacBook. It was Apple's thinnest and lightest laptop ever made, but the performance limitations were remarkable.
The same does not apply to the iPad Pro. It is a thin and completely fanless device that still puts a lot of power under the hood. The A-series processor is based on ARM and is far easier to cool while competing for performance with entry-level MacBooks. If Apple can transfer the lessons from iPad to MacBook, it can lead to laptops that are just as powerful, but even thinner than before.
While we all hope that powerful processors will be in the future of ARM MacBooks, more portable devices seem to be the most marketable and Apple-like choice for the future of these designs. This applies in particular to the entry options in the product range, e.g. For example, the MacBook Air. As we suspected in the past, these cheaper laptops are a logical place to start introducing ARM chips, and something could be announced on WWDC as early as June.
Additional cores and higher frequencies
Luke Larsen / Digital Trends
Instead of using the efficiency assumed by ARM chips on thinner devices, Apple could go the opposite way. Pure strength. More efficiency can enable additional cores and higher clock speeds – all the specifications that translate into improved performance. Intel has made slow progress in these areas in recent years. The company has been at 14 nm for many years and has stagnated compared to the previous year.
We haven't seen an ARM chip on a PC yet that outperforms high-end Intel or AMD, but we have the Microsoft Surface Pro X. It's a 2-in-1 laptop that launched in 2019 features ARM processor instead of the traditional Intel equivalent while running a full version of Windows 10. Although there have been some issues with app compatibility, this shows that ARM processors can at least compete with Intel for storage space in terms of performance in the PC landscape – especially in terms of entry-level performance.
This chip was called SQ1 and was produced in collaboration with Qualcomm, Apple's main competitor in mobile ARM chips. Microsoft claims that the Surface Pro X with a clock speed of 3.0 GHz offers up to three times more power per watt than the Intel-based Surface Pro 6.
While Microsoft was not able to convert this high performance per watt into raw power, Apple already has a lot of experience in this area with the iPad Pro. According to some reviews, the iPad Pro is 50% faster in benchmarks than the Surface Pro X.
At least a more efficient chip should provide better cooling. Instead of becoming thinner and fanless, a smaller and more efficient chip could offer space for more powerful heat sinks or larger fans. The result would be a lower performance laptop, a common problem with Apple's high-end laptops.
More space for other components
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If Apple uses a processor that doesn't need a bulky cooling system like in previous years, it can make room for other components to fill the gap. For a device as compact as a MacBook, where every millimeter is important, this could be a potentially groundbreaking development.
For example, the high-end MacBook Pro models could be equipped with more powerful discrete graphics processors (GPUs). The MacBook Pro 16-inch is currently the only model with discrete graphics, but additional space in the case of smaller laptops could change this. Apple could also make better use of the graphics capabilities of its current A-series ARM chips. For example, iPhones and iPads are graphics powerhouses without the need for separate graphics chips – everything is done by the integrated system on one chip (SoC). By equipping Macs with similar SoC options, you can save internal storage space while achieving excellent graphical performance.
Regardless of which path Apple takes, a larger portion of the power budget is allowed because the processor consumes less. This would bring remarkable benefits to a number of GPU-intensive tasks, from advanced 3D modeling to gaming.
Better graphics are just one example. More space opens up endless options for other components in future Macs. The T2 security chip is an excellent example, as Apple has created space for a new co-processor that saves space and manages device security and audio, the SSD, and more.
You can imagine what Apple has in store here, but the company is known to be working on several interesting ideas. Patents have shown that Apple is considering allowing future MacBooks to wirelessly charge other devices placed on their surfaces and has patented the idea that the MacBook trackpad serves as a second display. Both concepts could save space, which is saved by a smaller, more efficient processor.