The best Comparison: Apple Silicon vs Intel
(Apple Silicon vs Intel ) On June 22, Apple announced its plan to change the Intel processors of its Macs for its own processors, a transition that is expected to end in two years, although the arrival of the first Macs with Apple processors would be for late 2020.
It is not the first time that Apple has switched from one processor manufacturer to another (in June 2005, Apple announced that it would replace ONTRENDINGPLUS with Intel), but this is the first time that Apple will go on to manufacture its own processors.
In this article, we will try to determine the differences between Apple processors and current Intel processors, but before proceeding there are some doubts that need to be addressed.
First, we will explain why Apple has decided to stop using Intel as the manufacturer of its processors. Then we will talk about some of the reasons why Apple wants to use its own chips, and we will also explain the difference between Apple Silicon and ARM in case you think it is a showdown between Intel and ARM. We will also determine how risky Apple’s decision is and why Apple is willing to take that risk.
Once we have answered all these questions we can now properly compare Apple Silicon and Intel. We will also know if you should buy the first Mac with Apple Silicon or if it is better to wait for the next generation.
Why will Apple stop using Intel?
The decision to stop using Intel has long been rumored. Back in 2015, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo (while still working at KGI) predicted that Apple would start designing its own Mac chips in the coming years.
This prediction was based on the theory that Apple’s own processors (back then, the A9 and A10 chips of the iPhone and iPad) would become good enough for the Mac. It was suggested that the decision to use their own processors would it would give Apple better control over the launch and functions of Macs.
Then, in April 2018, a Bloomberg report titled “Apple Plans to Use Its Own Chips in Macs From 2020” revealed details of an initiative by Apple (with Kalamata as code name) that would allow the company “to be able to better integrate new hardware and software , potentially resulting in systems with better battery life.” The initiative was part of a strategy to make all Apple devices work well with each other, according to “sources familiar with Apple’s plans.”
In October 2018, Kuo (then at TFI Securities) suggested that the decision to move from Intel to an ARM-based chip of its own would offer several benefits to Apple, primarily: it would no longer depend on the release schedule of Intel processors, it would increase its profit margin, and a possible improvement in the stock market if Apple used what was saved to reduce Mac prices.
As for letting go of relying on Intel, Intel has had problems in recent years trying to reduce the size of the transistor to 10nm (with the idea of being able to include more transistors in a processor). The consequent delays, and the cancellation of the generation of the Cannon Lake processors, have undoubtedly frustrated Apple. But that was only part of the problem with Intel. Former Intel engineer François Piednoël told PC Gamer that Apple was increasingly bothered by flaws: “Apple became number one in trouble with this architecture.”
Apple has detailed its own reasons why to stop using Intel. The company highlighted the fact that the transition “would establish a common architecture across all Apple products, making it much easier for developers to create and optimize their apps for the entire ecosystem.” Apple also mentioned “Apple’s advanced silicone capabilities” and “high-level performance and powerful new technologies.”
Other benefits highlighted by Apple include the fact that developers can “make their apps for iOS and iPadOS available to the Mac without making any changes.” The transition will also “give the Mac high-end performance and more powerful GPUs, allowing developers to create even more powerful apps and games.”
Apple also explained that, thanks to this decision, developers will have access to “technologies such as the Neural Engine”, which “will make the Mac an incredible platform for developers to use machine learning”.
There is another reason why now is the time to stop using Intel and, in fact, it ties in with Apple’s reason for replacing PowerPC with Intel in 2005-2006. Back then, Intel was the market leader, it had Windows support and PowerPC couldn’t compete with it. 15 years later, PC sales have stagnated and where we see growth on mobile devices. And it turns out that the fastest growing mobiles are those that have a chip designed by Apple.
Will Apple switch to ARM?
Perhaps you had heard the rumors that Apple would stop using Intel before it announced its transition to Apple Silicon. In that case, you may be wondering if Apple hadn’t decided to use ARM processors on its new Macs.
Apple has made it very clear that it is transitioning to Apple Silicon, not ARM. Apple has developed its own ARM-based systems on chip (SoCs), but to say that the end processors are ARM would be like saying that macOS is Unix just because it is Unix-based. There’s a lot more to ARM than Apple’s chips, and that’s perhaps why Apple SoCs have proven superior to ARM-based processors (like Qualcomm’s Snapdragon).
Apple’s on-chip systems offer advanced features not available in other ARM processors, such as advanced power management, machine learning, Secure Enclave, Neural Engine, Apple’s own GPU, and much more.
That does not mean that the ARM does not contribute anything. It is based on RISC (Computer with Reduced Instruction Set), while Intel (also known as x86) is based on CISC (Computer with Complex Instruction Set).
Remember how we said transistors were one of the challenges Intel faced in trying to reduce their size? Processors based on the RISC architecture do not need as many transistors as CISC-based processors, which reduces their cost, energy consumption and heating.
These benefits mean that ARM works well for small devices like smartphones and tablets , but also laptops and even servers. In fact, there is an ARM-based supercomputer – the world’s most powerful supercomputer, Fugaku , uses the ARM SoC designed by Fujitsu.
The existence of this supercomputer suggests that the move to ARM processors means that Apple will not be able to manufacture processors suitable for its Mac Pro workstation.
After spending years trying to win over creative professionals again, it would be a big surprise if Apple left them unattended. There is no reason why Apple can’t use its insights to create ARM-based Apple processors that meet the needs of all users.
However, there is another device designed for creative professionals who have been left behind because of their ARM processor: the Microsoft Surface Pro X . Although the Surface does at least use Windows (using Windows in ARM was already a great difficulty in itself), there are few apps that work with an ARM-based processor. Microsoft offered an emulator that could convert 32-bit Windows apps to work on the Surface Pro, but cannot convert 64-bit apps like Adobe Lightroom.
Fortunately, Apple has been able to ensure that this does not happen. We already know that Adobe is committed to making its apps compatible with Apple Silicon. In fact, Apple showed how Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom work natively on Apple Silicon during WWDC’s inaugural keynote . In addition, Apple has the solution to make all applications work from day one: Rosetta 2.
Anyone who is concerned that ARM processors are not going well with professional Macs should know that the processors Apple is developing will not have the same difficulties as those we have seen on Windows laptops. Hopefully, we can trust that Apple will not disappoint the creative creative market again.
And what about the graphics?
Another concern for creative professionals is the graphics capabilities of these new Macs. Currently, some Macs come with an integrated Intel graphics, while others have a discrete AMD graphics card, such as the AMD Radeon Pro 5600M that we have as an option when buying the 16 “MacBook.
When Macs with Apple Silicon arrive, Apple says they will come with Apple GPUs. Although Apple’s integrated graphics cards are likely to offer higher performance than Intel’s, it worries that Apple wants to replace AMD GPUs with its own.
It should not be surprising that Apple can design a GPU. It already uses its own GPUs on iPads and iPhones with great success, and Apple also has very high expectations for ensuring that “higher performance GPUs” can be expected in new Macs with Apple Silicon. The company said the transition will lead to a Mac with more powerful games, an interesting statement since the Mac has long been considered not good for gaming .
We have already seen signs. During the WWDC keynote , Apple showed Shadow of the Tomb Raider running smoothly with Rosetta 2 in a special edition of the Mac mini with the A12Z that we usually find on the iPad Pro. Unity is also committed to working with Apple to Macs with Apple Silicon can use their player.
It’s not just about games: Maxon has promised that Cinema 4G is compatible with Apple Silicon and in the keynote Apple showed how it was executed using Rosetta 2.
All of this surely won’t stop the worry that Apple’s built-in GPUs may not compete with the discrete GPUs from AMD and Nvidia. This is probably why Apple said the following in this developer doc : “Don’t assume that a discrete GPU means better performance,” and “Apple’s built-in GPU is optimized for high-end graphics tasks. performance”.
For more information, Apple discussed the GPU architecture of its new Macs at a WWDC developer session. Apple uses TBDR (Tile Based Deferred Rendering) and not the IMR (Immediate Mode Rendering) used by GPUs from Intel, Nvidia and AMD.
The TBDR captures the entire scene, breaks it up into small regions, processes them separately, so you don’t need a lot of broadband memory. The scene is not rendered until occluded pixels (pixels that should not be visible) are rejected. In IMR, the entire scene is rendered first, before rejecting unnecessary pixels. This last process requires much more broadband memory.
Pros and cons of Apple Silicon and Intel
We have already talked about many of the advantages of moving from Intel to Apple Silicon and about some of the apparent disadvantages (specifically the experience with ARM in Windows). Below we detail the pros and cons of the transition.
- Apple will stop being frustrated with Intel errors and delays (such as canceling the generation of Cannon Lake processors).
- The Apple processors for the iPhone and iPad are good enough for the Mac.
- Apple will have more control over the Mac’s release schedule.
- Apple will not be tied to the Intel processor release schedule.
- Apple will be able to better integrate hardware and software .
- It should be possible to have better battery life.
- All Apple devices will be able to work together.
- Apple should see its profit margin increase and could use the savings to reduce the price of the Mac (although it surely will not).
- It will be easier for developers to optimize apps for the entire ecosystem: Mac, iPhone and iPad.
- Industry leading performance per watt.
- Higher performance GPUs should mean more powerful professional apps and high-end games.
- Access to the Neural Engine should allow developers to use machine learning.
- Apple leads the industry with its chips for smartphones and tablets and could do the same with the Mac.
- Unlike other ARM-based chips, Apple’s processors will have access to features like advanced power management, machine learning, Secure Enclave, Neural Engine, Apple’s own GPU, and much more.
- ARM-based processors do not need as many transistors, which reduces power consumption and prevents overheating.
- The world’s most powerful supercomputer, Fugaku, uses A64FX, an ARM SoC designed by Fujitsu.
- Apple has been manufacturing its processors since it designed the A4 chip in 2010, which means 10 years of experience. Arguably, Intel has many more.
- The first generation of any product has its risks. Apple Silicon is new and has not yet been tested on a Mac. We don’t know what Apple will be able to achieve.
- The ARM-based Surface Pro has had several problems due to software incompatibility , especially professional consumer apps.
- ARM is not compatible with x86 or x64 software , which means that some Windows apps won’t work without an emulator, although it seems somewhat insignificant for Mac users.
- One of the benefits of Apple’s decision to go for Intel in 2006 was that Mac users could run Windows on Mac. That opened the door to using Mac for users who didn’t want to leave Windows behind.
- Although ARM (and AMD) are getting closer, Intel continues to dominate, which means that developers will continue to design apps for Intel.
It seems that there are many advantages to leaving Intel and betting on Apple Silicon, and with Apple processors already rivaling Intel processors, it seems that it is a good time to do so. If Apple makes its own silicone, we shouldn’t have to wait years for Apple to update its Macs with the latest processors.
But this goes beyond processors: The benefits of having a unified architecture will bring iOS apps to the Mac, which in itself could change the way we use Macs. Perhaps it is the beginning of a new transformation in the world of computing.