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Apple Silicon release date, specs, performance and features

Apple Silicon is confirmed to be the new processing technology for future Macs, as Apple announced it will be ditching Intel as its chipset choice for future laptops and desktop computers. 

Apple will be moving over to its own custom-built Arm-based processors, similar to what you can currently find in iPhone and iPad devices. A 12-inch MacBook Arm laptop is rumoured to be one of the very first Apple Silicon powered Macs, and could be announced by November.

The rest of the Mac lineup will follow, from the MacBook Air to the iMac Pro, with Apple suggesting the transition from Intel should be completed within two years. Reports claim (via MacRumours) Apple is developing at least three Mac processors based on upcoming iPhone’s A14 chip.

Here are some of the biggest benefits to this transition:

  • The most powerful Mac computers ever (that will play out in testing)
  • Better power efficiency for improved battery life on MacBooks
  • Universal apps across the entire Apple ecosystem
  • Improved gaming support via the custom GPU component

If you’ve still got an Intel Mac, there’s no need for concern, as Apple has already confirmed it will continue to support such devices for the foreseeable future. But there’s still no doubt that Apple Silicon is the future for Macs.

We’ve compiled all there is to know about the Apple Silicon in this convenient guide. Scroll down to learn more about the Apple Silicon, including what it is, when it will arrive, which apps support it and what it means for you.

Related: iPad Air 4

What is Apple Silicon?

Apple Silicon is the new processor series that will be coming to Macs. MacBooks and iMac previously used Intel’s x86 processor architecture, but Apple is now switching over to Arm architecture as it wants greater control over its hardware.

Apple already uses Arm-based A-Series chips for its iPhone and iPad devices, so the transition would also allow Apple to streamline its technology and make it easier to provide cross-platform support for apps across both iOS and macOS.

But Apple Silicon isn’t just about the CPU, the first of which is called the A12Z. The company is bringing a custom-built GPU into play, which it says will support high-end gaming experiences, as well as using high-performance DRAM. Within Apple Silicon is also tech to support image processing from the cameras, machine learning through a new neural engine, audio processing and much more. The system-on-a-chip is the future of the Mac.

Related: Best MacBook 2020

Apple Silicon release date – When will the new MacBooks and iMacs arrive?

Apple has promised the company’s new Apple Silicon Mac computers will be here before the end of 2020, but did not get into specifics. Recent rumours (via MacRumours) have suggested a new version of the 12-inch MacBook ARM could arrive by November, while refreshes of the iMac and 13-inch MacBook Pro could follow in early 2021.

A roadmap leaked by the China Times (via SlashGear) backed up the rumours of a new 12-inch MacBook with Apple Silicon arriving before the end of the year while detailing that it will feature a 12-inch Retina display, USB-C connectivity and 15 to 20 hours of battery life. This, of course, hasn’t been confirmed.

We do know it will take around two years to complete the transition to Apple Silicon. After that, there will be no more new Intel-based Macs in production.

Apple Silicon specs – How do they compare to Intel?

Apple is yet to confirm any specs for its upcoming Apple Silicon chips for Macs. However, MacRumours claims the very first new Mac chip will feature 12 cores, made up of eight performance cores and 4 energy-efficient cores.

That doesn’t really tell us much, and can’t really be compared to the new Intel Tiger Lake range, (which maxes out at 4 cores) since the processor architecture is so vastly different.

Reports suggest Apple is currently developing at least three different Mac chips, so you can expect very different specs for say the iMac Pro.

Apple Silicon performance – How powerful will it be?

Apple has said it wants to bring a whole new level of performance to Macs with Apple Silicon, but to what extent this performance level will be is anyone’s guess.

Arm-based processors are typically less powerful than Intel x86 processors, but that doesn’t mean Apple can’t hike surpass the likes of Intel Tiger Lake. In fact, the most powerful supercomputer in the world, Fugaku, uses Arm architecture.

Apple has made huge strides with its iPhone and iPad processor performances too, so it really isn’t surprising that Apple believes its A-Series chips are ready to make the move to Mac.

One thing we’re very excited about is battery life. Arm-based devices typically have see superb battery stamina, so you can expect the future Macs improve dramatically in this area. Reports claim the 12-inch MacBook Arm could see a battery life between 15 and 20 hours. Compare this to the Intel-based MacBook Air 2020 that only lasted around 11 hours in our testing.

Does Apple Silicon make my Mac and apps obsolete?

Tim Cook assured current users that macOS will be supported for years to come, so no. You will still be able to run the same software and apps on that MacBook you just purchased for the foreseeable future. As for the app library, Apple is making it easy for developers to quickly recode their apps so they can work on both Intel and Apple Silicon based Macs.

Related: iOS 14

Will iPad and iPhone apps run on Apple Silicon Macs?

Yes! This is one of the key lures for developers and consumers. For developers, it’ll mean they will offer the same application, built on the same architecture across the entire Apple ecosystem, meaning the same app written for an Apple Watch can be easily optimised for a Mac too.

Apple has already started the journey towards this eventuality with Project Catalyst, which helps iOS developers bring their app to the Mac, but this will be much easier moving forward when it comes to apps built on Apple architecture.

Which macOS apps will support Apple Silicon?

Apple revealed the likes of Microsoft Office and the Adobe Creative Cloud – including Photoshop – are already being optimised for Apple Silicon. They’ll be ready for consumers on day one. Of course Apple-built apps like Final Cut Pro are also on board with the switch.

During the presentation at WWDC Apple looked to reassure those who may be nervous about the switch by showing power-hungry tasks, like 4K video rendering, being accomplished with consummate ease, but this again will play out in testing.

For other developers, Apple says it’ll take only a matter of days for existing code to be recompiled in Xcode for use with Apple Silicon. Devs will be able to get a jump start on this process before Macs running Apple Silicon come to market using a dev unit Mac mini running the A12Z CPU.

However, it also has back-up plans with software called Rosetta 2 (it was initially used during the switch from PowerPC to Intel) able to convert apps for use with Apple Silicon on the fly. As a future insurance policy, Apple is building new virtualisation tools into macOS Big Sur to ensure that you can run apps in different environments. All in all, it appears all of the bases will be covered.

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