Apple to gradually ditch Intel's CPUs, first MacBooks powered by ARM-based chips coming in 2021
It looks like Intel’s ongoing troubles involving supply shortages and the delayed jump to the 10 nm desktop processors are raising red flags for Apple, as well. Back in 2005, Apple decided to transition to Intel’s CPUs rather than sticking with the more expensive PowerPC or IBM chips. It would not be too surprising to see Macs powered by AMD’s Ryzen CPUs at this point, but, according analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, Apple is also working on desktop / laptop-grade ARM-based CPUs, and the first MacBooks using these chips are expected to launch in 2021.
Apple is already designing its own A Bionic smartphone processors that use ARM cores, so the company is now looking to power the entire product stack, including MacBooks and Mac desktops with ARM-based chips. Back in early 2019, Intel itself hinted at the possibility that it could end the collaboration with Apple as early as 2020. Still, Kuo believes that Apple is not content with the performance of 7 nm ARM-based chips and is waiting for the jump to 5 nm that is scheduled to happen this year with the A14 Bionic SoCs. The fact that TSMC already plans to invest heavily in order to ramp up the 5 nm production could be related to an increased demand for laptop and desktop chips from Apple.
As we have seen with the Windows-on-ARM initiative from Microsoft, the switch to ARM-based chips also requires adapting the OS code specifically for ARM cores. This is clearly not a problem for Apple, since iOS developers can easily port their apps to macOS through Catalyst. Kuo suggests that Apple will first add the ARM chips to the MacBook lineup in 2021, as these devices would immediately benefit from the reduced power draw. Later on, when the performance is high enough to match that of Intel’s / AMD’s desktop chips (probably with TSMC’s 3 nm node), Apple may also transition the iMac lineup to ARM-based chips.