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Apple Will Move Macs to Custom Silicon, Details Transition From Intel

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple is transitioning its Mac computers to its own custom chip designs based on Arm. The company is detailing its transition away from Intel's processors at its annual WWDC  (Worldwide Developers Conference). Apple calls the new chip 'Apple Silicon.'

Apple's Johny Srouji, head of the company's chip design, said Apple's CPUs are often more powerful than PC laptops. He said he wants Apple Silicon to be more powerful while consuming less power.

Srouji said the GPU and battery life would be better, and privacy would be paramount. CEO Tim Cook said the company will launch the first Mac with an Apple CPU by the end of the year, while there are still more Intel Macs in the pipeline. He suggested the entire transition will take roughly two years.

(Image credit: Apple)

The first silicon will be on Macs with macOS 10.16, Big Sur. Apple made every app it has produced to operate natively with the new chips, and developers will merely have to recompile in xCode. Universal 2, a new binary that works on Intel Macs and Apple Silicon Macs, can use the binary for all of their users. Apple's Craig Federighi said Microsoft and Adobe are already working on apps. Those include Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Lightroom and Photoshop.

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Federighi said all demos during WWDC ran on a development system using Apple's 12Z Bionic chip.

(Image credit: Apple)

A new version of Rosetta, Rosetta 2, will let you run apps made for Intel Macs on Apple's own systems. It translates code when apps are installed, but can also do it while you use apps. Apple also showed gaming, including Shadow of the Tomb Raider, working through Rosetta 2 at 1080p with emulation.

Big Sur will have virtualization for Linux and Docker. You'll also be able to run iPhone and iPad apps natively on new Macs, all without developers changing anything.

(Image credit: Apple)

There will be a Quick Start program for developers, including forums, sample code and access to Apple support. There will also be a hardware developer kit: a Mac Mini with A12Z, 16GB of RAM and a beta of macOS Big Sur.

Analysts have often estimated that Apple's computers make up between 5 to 7% of Intel's client computing business.

"Apple is a customer across several areas of business, and we will continue to support them," an Intel spokesperson told Tom's Hardware. "Intel remains focused on delivering the most advanced PC experiences and a wide range of technology choices that redefine computing. We believe Intel-powered PCs—like those based on our forthcoming Tiger Lake mobile platform—provide global customers the best experience in the areas they value most, as well as the most open platform for developers, both today and into the future."

Apple developing its own chips in-house will allow it further control of its ecosystem, including not tying new computer releases to Intel's schedule. Apple already uses its own processors in the iPad, iPhone and Apple Watch. Its own T2 chip has already taken over some security and SSD controlling processes in its Macs alongside Intel processors, and the company has also made its own GPUs for the iPhone and iPad. Srouji said Apple had shipped over 2 billion SoCs on those devices.

This isn't the first time that Apple has transitioned between processor architectures on the Mac. It moved from the Motorola 68000 series to PowerPC, and then announced a transition from PowerPC to Intel at WWDC in 2005.

Updated June 22 at 3:15 p.m. ET with Intel's response.

Andrew E. Freedman is a senior editor at Tom's Hardware focusing on laptops, desktops and gaming. He also keeps up with the latest news. A lover of all things gaming and tech, his previous work has shown up in Tom's Guide, Laptop Mag, Kotaku, PCMag and Complex. among others. Follow him on Twitter: @FreedmanAE