Mac Transition to Apple Silicon: History
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The Mac transition to Apple Silicon is the planned two-year process of introducing ARM64-based Apple silicon to, and deprecating Intel's x86-64 from, Apple's Macintosh line of computers. CEO Tim Cook announced the plan in his WWDC keynote address on June 22, 2020. The transition is the third time Apple has migrated Macintosh to a new instruction set architecture (ISA). The first was the switch from the Mac's original Motorola 68000 series architecture to the new PowerPC platform in 1994, and the second was the transition from PowerPC to Intel x86, which was formally announced in June 2005. Apple first utilized the ARM architecture in 1993 in its Newton personal digital assistant, and since then has extensively deployed it throughout other product lines including iPhone, iPad, iPod, and Apple Watch. Apple has designed its own custom ARM chips since 2009.

  • x86-64
  • silicon
  • wwdc

1. Background

1.1. Early Involvement with ARM

In 1990, Acorn Computers made Apple the first significant third party user of its ARM architecture, in the Newton personal digital assistant. The deal moved the ARM project to the separate legal entity ARM Holdings, in which Apple took a 43% stake,[1][2] and ARM was renamed from "Acorn RISC Machine" to "Advanced RISC Machines".

1.2. Transition from PowerPC to Intel

A first-generation MacBook Pro from 2006, one of the first line of Mac computers to feature an Intel processor instead of a PowerPC processor.

Since Apple's 2005–2006 transition to Intel processors, all Macintosh computers have used Intel's x86 CPU architecture. During his 2005 WWDC keynote address, Steve Jobs noted that Intel-based processors outperformed IBM's PowerPC processors in terms of energy consumption, and that if Apple continued to rely on PowerPC technology, it would be unable to build the future Macs it envisioned, including higher-performance workstation computers and advanced laptops for a rapidly growing laptop market: "As we look ahead, we can envision some amazing products we want to build ... And we don't know how to build them with the future PowerPC roadmap."[3][4] By June 2006, only Apple's high-end desktop computer and server product were still using PowerPC processors.[5] The hardware transition was completed when Intel-based Mac Pros and Xserve computers were announced in August 2006 and shipped by the end of the year.[6][7]

Apple ceased support for booting on PowerPC as of Mac OS 10.6 "Snow Leopard"[8] in August 2009,[9] three years after the transition was complete. Support for PowerPC applications via Rosetta was dropped from macOS in 10.7 "Lion"[10] in July 2011, five years after the transition was complete.[11]

1.3. Processor Development

An illustration of the Apple A12Z processor.

In 2009, Apple bought processor company P.A. Semi for US$278 million.[12] At the time, it was reported that Apple bought P.A. Semi for its intellectual property and engineering talent.[13] CEO Steve Jobs later claimed that P.A Semi would develop system-on-chips for Apple's iPods and iPhones.[14] Apple then released a number of products with its own processors.

Rumors of Apple shifting Macintosh to custom-designed ARM processors began circulating in 2011, when SemiAccurate predicted it would happen by mid-2013.[15] In 2014, MacRumors reported that Apple was testing an ARM-based Mac prototype with a large Magic Trackpad.[16] In 2018, Bloomberg reported that Apple was planning to use its own chips based on the ARM architecture beginning in 2020.[17]

In recent years, media reports documented Apple's frustrations and challenges with the pace and quality of Intel's technology development.[18] Apple reportedly had trouble with Intel modems for iPhones in 2017 due to technical issues and missed deadlines.[19] Meanwhile, a 2018 report suggested that Intel chip issues prompted a redesign of the MacBook.[20] In 2019, Apple blamed Intel processor shortages for a decline in Mac sales.[21]

By 2020, the Apple A12X processor used in the 2018 iPad Pro reportedly roughly matched the performance of Intel's Core i7 processor used in the MacBook Pro at the time.[22]

In the months and weeks leading up to the Apple's 2020 WWDC, multiple media reports anticipated an official announcement of the transition during the event.[23][24]

2. Transition to Apple Silicon

Apple announced its plans to transition the Macintosh platform to Apple silicon in a series of WWDC presentations in June 2020.[25] The entire transition of the Macintosh product line is expected to take "about two years", with the first ARM-based Macs to be released by the end of 2020.[26][27] Similar language was used during Apple's 2005–2006 transition to Intel, and that transition took about one and a half years instead.[22]

All first party apps included with macOS Big Sur release are compatible with x86-64 and ARM architectures. Other apps are similarly being made dual-platform, including prominent software packages such as Adobe Photoshop, Final Cut Pro, and Microsoft Word.[26]

To enable x86-native software to run on new ARM-based Macs, Rosetta 2 dynamic binary translation software is transparently embedded in macOS Big Sur.[22][27] Universal binary 2 enables application developers to support both x86-64 and ARM64.[27][28]

To facilitate development of software for future ARM-based Macs, a prototype ARM-based Mac will be loaned to app developers for testing purposes. This Developer Transition Kit is significantly modified iPad Pro hardware inside of a Mac mini case.[22][27]

2.1. Performance

In an interview shortly after the announcement of the transition, Apple senior software engineer Craig Federighi praised the performance of the Developer Transition Kit (DTK), Apple's prototype ARM-based Mac, and contributed to expectations of superlative performance of forthcoming commercial products based upon Apple silicon custom-engineered for the Macintosh platform: "Even that DTK hardware, which is running on an existing iPad chip that we don’t intend to put in a Mac in the future—it's just there for the transition—the Mac runs awfully nice on that system. It's not a basis on which to judge future Macs ... but it gives you a sense of what our silicon team can do when they’re not even trying—and they're going to be trying."[29][30]

3. Impact

3.1. Apple

The transition may allow Apple to cut component costs, because it will no longer need to externally acquire expensive CPUs.[31]

3.2. Intel

Sources estimated a modest negative impact on Intel's revenue in the short term, as Apple accounts for 2–4% of Intel's annual sales,[32] and only 6.9–12% of the PC market in the United States of America [33][34] and 7% globally.[35] Longer-term speculation has entertained the possibility that the transition could prompt other PC makers to reevaluate their dependence on Intel's x86 architecture, as Macs are often considered to set trends in the personal computing industry.[33][34]

3.3. Developers

As apps created to run on the iOS platform will be able to run natively on ARM-powered Macs, Apple hopes that the streamlining of software and hardware will make it easier for developers to build apps that will work across Apple’s entire range of devices.[36]

3.4. Users

The transition could lead to thinner and lighter Mac laptops in the future, due to the power efficiency advantage that Apple's processors have over Intel's.[33]

Apps created for the iOS platform will be able to run natively on ARM-powered Macs, thus substantially enlarging the breadth of software available to the Macintosh platform.[36]

The transition to proprietary Apple silicon could severely restrict or even entirely eliminate hobbyist "Hackintosh" computers, wherein macOS is made to run on commodity PC hardware in violation of license restrictions.[37][38]

The Boot Camp software, which enables Intel-based Macs to natively run Microsoft Windows in an Apple-supported dual booting environment, will not be implemented on forthcoming Apple silicon based Macs. (As of June 2020), Apple stated it has "no plans to direct boot into Windows" on ARM-based Macintosh computers. Apple senior software engineer Craig Federighi suggested that virtualization technology is a viable alternative: "Purely virtualization is the route... Hypervisors can be very efficient, so the need to direct boot shouldn't really be the concern."[39][40] Microsoft had not commented on whether it would extend its ARM-based Windows license beyond OEM preinstallations.[39]

4. Reception

As in the case following Apple's 2005 announcement of its plan to transition to Intel-based processors, concerns have been both raised and dismissed about Apple potentially suffering the Osborne effect as a result of the announcement, whereby consumer demand would drop due to advance public knowledge of obsolescence.[41][42][43] Wired expressed skepticism that Apple's designers can elevate smartphone-related processors to the performance of a Mac Pro, and questioned the true duration of support for Intel binaries on ARM-based Macs[44] under Apple's vague commitment to do so "for years to come".[27] On a positive note, Lauren Giret remarked that Apple might "succeed where Microsoft has failed" due to Apple's "tight integration" of hardware and software, and a vast collection of applications that can already run on the new platform.[45]

The content is sourced from:


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