Apple's planning an 'aggressive' shift from Intel to ARM processors, oft-correct analyst claims

The move to custom ARM processors could be swift.

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If you just bought a new MacBook Air with a 10th-gen Intel processor, it might soon be a collector’s item. Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who is rarely wrong with his Apple predictions, says Apple is planning a major transition to ARM processors in 2021, marking the end of a near-20-year partnership with Intel.

In an analyst note obtained by 9to5Mac, Kuo says Apple will adopt an “aggressive processor-replacement strategy” with numerous models targeted for Apple’s own ARM processors in 2021. He had previously predicted that the first ARM Mac would arrive in the fourth quarter of this year, but the effects of the coronavirus could push back those plans.

While Kuo doesn’t name any specific Mac models, most people expect the transition to begin with Apple’s consumer models, namely the MacBook Air, the Mac mini, and the iMac, before moving on to the MacBook Pro and iMac Pro. However, when Apple transitioned from PowerPC to Intel, the 15-inch MacBook Pro led the way, with the new 13-inch MacBook replacing the iBook before it could receive a new chip.

In speed tests, Apple A-Series chips in the iPhone and iPad perform better than Intel's newest Mac processors, but that doesn't take software optimizing into account. We've yet to see how a custom Apple chip will run applications on macOS or how much work would be required to port apps from x86 to ARM architecture. If Apple's Catalyst project is any indication, however, the transition could be a bumpy one. 

Kuo explains the move to custom ARM processors would be cost-effective for Apple, with an estimated savings of 40 percent to 60 percent. However, Kuo also notes that costs could rise elsewhere due to other components. For example, Kuo says Apple will shift to faster USB4 controllers, which are currently integrated into Intel’s processors.

Apple would see a significant boost in sales due to the switch, Kuo predicts, with annual Mac shipments rising by 50 percent to 30 million a year.

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