In 2021, Apple is expected to start launching several Macs computers with Arm processors instead of x86 Intel CPUs, according to a report from MacRumors Thursday. The rumor comes from Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, and it isn't the first time he has said this would be happening. Previously, Kuo had stated that Macs would move to Arm would in late 2020, though we suspect that recent developments in the industry may be the reason he pushed the date to 2021.
In addition to stating that some Apple laptops and desktops will pack Arm CPUs in 2021, Kuo is also confident that Apple will integrate USB 4.0 n Macs in 2022.
The Impact of Arm CPUs on Macs
Kuo is adamant that switching over to Arm CPUs on a portion of Apple's lineup will help the company reduce its reliance on Intel and cut the company's CPU costs by anywhere from 40-60%, MacRumors reported.
Given Intel's troubles getting to smaller fabrication nodes, it's plausible that Apple would be contemplating other CPU partners. The x86 architecture is also aging, and Arm chips have the potential, together with their smaller process nodes currently, to run more efficiently.
Nevertheless, a switch would require significant changes and additions to Mac OS and would also be a nightmare for program developers, who will have to port their programs over to the new architecture if they want to keep up. Thus, at least in the short run, any potential savings from switching to Arm would likely be overshadowed by development costs.
Of course, we must always consider the alternative. Intel might be running behind but is expecting to make big strides in 2021 and intends to catch up when it gets the 5nm fabrication process sorted out. It's possible Apple is simply waiting to see Intel's 5nm chips before committing to Arm.
USB 4: Thunderbolt 3 In Disguise
When it comes to USB 4.0, there's something interesting going on. For a long time, (and today included), the USB Type-C connector has been confusing, being host to an array of different protocols.
With USB 4.0. that will change. Intel's Thunderbolt 3 protocol that some USB-C ports presently support will become part of the USB 4.0 specification, and once standardized, all USB Type-C ports on USB 4.0 tech will, at last, be the same. That's great news for a company such as Apple, which prides itself in keeping things simple for its customers.
Kuo's expectation is that, ASMedia will become Apple's exclusive supplier for USB controllers on the line of Arm-based Macs in 2022.
I'm half-expecting Apple to jump ship to AMD first before ARM, at least on desktop, partly because AMD's semi-custom solutions is better established vs Intel and could get Apple an exclusive TR or EPYC variant with some missing features like AVX-512 and Registered ECC RAM, and partly because Apple has already been doing business with AMD as far as GPUs go.
As well, AMD is already in a unique position to work in their IF/Infinity Architecture to further blend CPU and GPU as one single, giant APU and being able to share memory to further improve workloads. There's also the fact that Thunderbolt 3 is now royalty-free and included in the USB4 spec, so one less reason to keep Intel.
Apple can still save on costs, while charging the same excessive premiums and banking the difference. AMD would also benefit with Apple funding a bit of the improvements and refinements too to bring even more workstation value to TR/EPYC.
EPYC certainly would have made way more sense for the Mac Pro. What with the additional PCIe lanes, PCIe 4.0, lower price and more cores. It also looks as though it can support more RAM.
Threadripper would be a better solution for the iMac Pro. Given many of the same reasons. Same for the Ryzen and the rest of the Mac lineup. Although I'm not aware of how Zen 2 holds up in the mobile space against current Intel offerings. Early teaser benchmarks look compelling.