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Look for the Mac to begin the transition to Apple-designed ARM chips soon

In a note to clients — as noted by MacRumors — analyst Ming-Chi Kuo says Apple plans to launch several laptop AND desktop Macs with its own custom designed ARM-based processors in the first quarter of 2021 (or perhaps late this year).

He believes that ARM-based processors will significantly enhance the competitive advantage of the Mac, allow Apple to refresh its Mac models without relying on Intel’s processor roadmap, reduce processor costs by 40-60%, and provide Macs with more hardware differentiation from Windows PCs.

Less expensive, and more frequently upgraded Macs, would be nice. Of course, such a transition will involve hiccups and there are some costs issues to deal with.

For instance, Apple now users the integrated USB controller in the Intel chipset. Kuo thinks Apple will, in its move to ARM, have to source that controller elsewhere: most likely ASMedia that could end up being the sole USB controller. (Hmmm, is that something Apple could also bring in-house in the future?)

ASMedia Technology is a Taiwanese integrated circuit design company owned by Asus. It produces designs for USB, PCI Express and SATA controllers.

Kuo thinks that, for 2020 and 2021, Apple will continue to support existing USB 3.1 speeds, but that ARM-based Macs will implement USB 4 in 2022.

When USB4 ports debut, they promise maximum speeds of 40 Gigabits per second (Gbps). That’s double the maximum of current USB 3.2 Gen 2×2. As with other versions of USB, USB4 will be backward compatible with USB 2.0 and up, and in some cases, those USB4 ports will even work with Thunderbolt 3 gear.

As for ARM-based Macs, here’s how the Sellers Research Group (that’s me) sees the roll-out progressing (and it will gradual, not all-encompassing): first the MacBook Air (unless Apple tests the waters with a new version of the 12-inch MacBook), next the Mac mini, next the iMac, then the MacBook Pro, and finally the Mac Pro. I don’t expect to see any ARM-based Macs targeted to pro users until 2022. (I’m not sure how long the iMac Pro will be around now that the Mac Pro is here.)

In August 2018, ARM presented its roadmap for future CPUs, saying that they’ll be able to outperform Intel chips. If so — and there’s a difference between a company’s hype and reality — ARM-based Macs are almost a certainty.

ARM says its upcoming CPUs will boost performance by more than 15% each year between now and 2020. It says this trajectory will “surpass Moore’s law,” which says that the number of transistors in a dense chip doubles every two years.

Apple is already building its own iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch chips. It has also created fingerprint chips, and designed a chip for its AirPods that allows pairing with other Apple hardware. The tech giant also built the AI chip introduced with the iPhone X. The next logical step is making chips for its desktop and laptop lines.

“The key question is not the timeline but just how smoothly Apple is able to make the shift,” opines Axios. “For developers, it will likely mean an awkward period of time supporting new and classic Macs as well as new and old-style Mac apps. “Apple has already made several big shifts in the 25-year history of the Mac, moving from Motorola chips to PowerPC processors and then to Intel. It’s also moved from the classic Macintosh operating system to the Unix-based Mac OS X.”

Dennis Sellers
the authorDennis Sellers
Dennis Sellers is the editor/publisher of Apple World Today. He’s been an “Apple journalist” since 1995 (starting with the first big Apple news site, MacCentral). He loves to read, run, play sports, and watch movies.