Apple has been working to replace Intel chips with its own design in Macs for years and may finally be ready to announce the move on Monday at its online WWDC developer’s event.
Apple didn’t comment. WWDC's keynote can be viewed online at 10 a.m. PT on Monday and 1 p.m. ET.
Apple’s initiative is codenamed Kalamata. If the announcement comes at WWDC, developers would be able to incorporate changes of their software in Macs that debut in 2021.
“I’m not at all surprised,” Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates told FierceElectronics on Friday. “It’s been rumored for some time. Apple will be able to control its own destiny and not having to depend on other chips would be right in line with their philosophy.”
Processors for Macs from Apple will use similar technology to those in iPhones and iPads, but Macs would still run the macOS and not the handheld iOS. Apple would use technology licensed from Arm, a division of SoftBank Group.
Gold questioned whether the Mac performance with Apple chips will be what users expect unless Apple was willing to rewrite MacOS to match native Apple Chip, as he put it. “The chip will have to at least some functions in emulation mode, by translating the x86 optimized OS code, and emulation is never a high performance option. So, we need to see just what the new chip means for overall performance,” Gold added.
The Mac is 36 years old and its processor has never been designed by Apple. In the 1990s, Apple switched from Motorola processors to PowerPC and then in 2005, Apple moved from PowerPC to Intel, rolling the first versions out in January 2006.
Apple has a 10% share of the PC market, which wouldn’t hurt Intel sales too much, but the move could prompt other PC companies to follow suit. Microsoft, Samsung and Lenovo all have laptops that run on Arm already.
According to sources that spoke to Bloomberg, Apple decided to make the change when Intel’s annual chip performance gains slowed down. Arm chips in tests showed improved performance with graphics and apps relying on artificial intelligence. Power efficiency was also better.
An earlier Bloomberg report said the new Mac processors would be based on the much faster A14 design for the next iPhone. TSMC would build the new Mac chips as it already does for the iPhone and iPad and they would be based on the 5nm process used in the next iPhones and iPad pros.
The first Apple-designed Mac processors would have eight performance cores, codenamed Firestorm and four or more energy-efficient cores, dubbed Icestorm, for greater efficiency and power savings.
Intel appears to be keenly aware of the impending change at Apple and has stepped up the cadence of new chip designs in the past year. Intel is the top producer of semiconductors globally and last year had more than $71 billion in revenues.