Why does Apple switch to ARM and will still support Intel Mac?

Recently, you may have seen or heard a lot about the release of a new Mac that may use Apple’s custom ARM in 2021. In fact, only at WWDC on 22nd and 86th, Apple announces that it will transition from Intel xXNUMX to customizing ARM on future Macs. The announcement of the statement caused a great sensation in the industry and the public.

It doesn’t seem surprising that Apple will perform such a conversion on the Mac because now the Mac is the only Apple device still running Intel x86. All other Apple devices, including iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, AirPods, and Apple TV are now customized based on ARM.

Since the iPhone 4 started running the A4 ARM chip, the iPhone has converted to use a custom ARM CPU core, and the Mac is also undergoing the same transition. In fact, Apple has already made some transitions to ARM on the Mac. You can see the customized T2016 ARM security chip on the Macbook Pro launched in 1 year. You can also see the T2018 ARM security chip on the iMac launched in 2 years.

However, the question is why did Apple switch from Intel x86, which has been used on Macs for more than a decade, to ARM on the Mac in the future? Well, if you want to know about this problem, don’t worry. As Apple embarks on the ARM transition, in order to better understand why Apple made such a decision, this article will first discuss the meaning of ARM and the difference with Intel. Then we will delve into the reasons why Apple switched from Intel to ARM on the Mac. Let us continue to check.

What is ARM

When it comes to the meaning of ARM, it actually has two meanings at two different levels. However, the former created or licensed the latter. Let’s see what they mean:

When you see discussions about the largest supplier of microprocessor technology and use the term ARM, it means a company called ARM. ARM is the abbreviation of Acorn RISC Machine, a British company dedicated to developing and designing its own processor set.

Now, it is a leading processor technology supplier, and its main mode of operation is to license its ARM instruction set architecture (a method of telling the processor how to recognize and execute code on a specific processing unit), allowing other companies to build implementations ARM’s custom CPU core. Command system. You can see Qualcomm’s snapdragon, Helio P65 MediaTek, the iPhone A13 bionic chip 11 and Huawei Kirin is custom ARM CPU core instruction set architecture licensed by ARM Limited.

When you look at the discussion about a specific CPU core and use the term ARM, it stands for the CPU architecture developed by the ARM company. The so-called ARM processor is a CPU core built by dozens of different companies based on the ARM architecture.

Instruction system:
The total set of all instructions in machine code that can be recognized and executed by a specific processor.

CPU architecture
CPU can only work when a specific instruction (instruction set) is given. That is, the CPU processor needs to be implemented through the instruction set. The connection between the processor and the instruction set is what constitutes the CPU architecture. Different CPU architectures usually have their own instruction sets.

Today, ARM has become the most commonly used CPU architecture, and almost all telephone companies have licensed and used it in modern mobile devices (such as smartphones and tablets) and other consumer electronics products (such as smartwatches, TVs, and headphones). Moreover, ARM is entering the PC market. You can see the introduction of ARM-based Windows. You can also notice that Apple’s new Mac running its custom ARM CPU will be available.

ARM VS Intel CPU core: what’s the difference

Intel is also a ubiquitous CPU architecture, especially in many different CPU cores, especially Intel x86, which uses Intel. ARM and Intel are the two main CPU architectures used by all smartphones and many PCs today. Before exploring why Apple is preparing to replace Intel x86 with custom ARM processors, it is necessary to compare ARM and Intel CPU cores. Let us see the difference:

ARM VS Intel CPU core: instruction set

As mentioned earlier, the CPU only works through a given set of instructions, which can be recognized and executed by the CPU processor. Currently, there are two main types of instruction sets, including CISC (complex instruction set computer) and RISC (reduced instruction set computer). In terms of the instruction set, the difference between ARM and Intel CPU cores is that the former is RISC and the latter is CISC.

ARM’s RISC instruction set provides simple instructions scattered in multiple lines, and each instruction is executed in a computing cycle. In contrast, Intel’s CISC is a single line of complex instructions that can provide more instructions, many of which perform multiple tasks.

ARM VS Intel CPU core: performance and energy efficiency

In terms of processor performance, it is not recommended to declare which is better. However, due to the complexity of one line of instructions, Intel has done a good job in improving performance and compatibility with the power-hungry desktop and notebook CPUs. However, decoding complex instructions consumes more power, thus reducing power efficiency.

Unlike Intel, ARM processors that use a simple RISC instruction set minimize energy waste. Also, because of the simple instruction set, they require fewer transistors, allowing the use of smaller integrated circuits. All of these have brought high energy efficiency to the ARM processor.

ARM VS Intel CPU core: customized or sold directly

There is another important difference between ARM and Intel CPU cores-the granting method. Intel CPU cores are developed and manufactured under the full control of Intel itself, and then sold directly to other companies. In contrast, the ARM CPU core is mainly customized by the licensee based on the ARM CPU architecture licensed by ARM.

In fact, compared to Intel CPU cores sold directly by Intel Corporation, a custom ARM CPU manufactured by a specific company can bring good results, such as high performance, if built correctly.

ARM VS Intel CPU core: heterogeneous computing

Another difference between these two types of CPU cores lies in a unique feature of the ARM architecture-heterogeneous computing. This function enables the ARM architecture to include both FPGA-style programmable logic and software-programmable engine, which greatly enhances the flexibility of users so that the required functions can be implemented in hardware, software, or a combination of both And platforms. Applications such as machine learning, deep learning, and 5G wireless will benefit from this new feature of the ARM architecture.

In addition, because it allows different CPU components to work together, heterogeneous computing can improve the performance of the ARM CPU core. In addition, this feature is particularly useful for keeping the TDP (Thermal Design Power) of mobile applications low, as this leads to the high power efficiency of the ARM CPU.

In contrast, Intel CPU cores do not use heterogeneous computing, so they cannot match ARM in terms of performance and efficiency.

A brief summary of ARM VS Intel comparison

From an engineering point of view, ARM and Intel CPU cores are different, and they have their own advantages and disadvantages. However, it is worth noting that for decades, ARM has become the main choice for low-power portable devices (such as smartphones), and Intel is a relatively new product in this field. In addition, the ARM architecture is now entering notebook computers and other consumer electronic devices that require high power efficiency.

Why is Apple preparing to switch from Mac’s Intel to ARM

Apple’s decision to change the Mac CPU from Intel, the world’s most common PC CPU product line, to a custom ARM decision seems radical, but there are indeed some key factors that make this decision irreversible. Now, please keep in mind the above exploration on ARM and the comparison between ARM and Intel to better understand why Apple is preparing to transition to ARM on future Macs.

Apple can now develop high-performance custom ARM chips for Mac

As early as 2006, Apple moved the Mac to Intel x86 because it was unable to invest a large amount of internal chip design team and a large number of funds to develop its own processor technology. However, it is now able to develop its own Mac processor.

On the one hand, since the launch of the iPhone 4 running the A4 ARM chip in 2007, Apple has been developing its customized ARM CPU core for each new iPhone and even iPad, thus enhancing the strength of the internal chip design team. It has extremely high specificity to optimize the ability of its own ARM chip. On the other hand, thanks to a large number of mobile device sales, Apple now has huge funds to promote the development of new projects (shift to developing its own ARM CPU on the future Mac).

Intel stagnates PC processor technology

Intel’s stagnation in PC processor technology is also part of the reason for Apple’s transition from Mac CPUs to ARM. Intel x86 used to be the most popular CPU on PCs. But for many years, Intel has not made any breakthroughs, such as a new leap in the efficiency of x86 processor technology and computer functions.

In addition, due to stagnant sales of WinTel PC, Intel did not make good innovations in PC processors. The stagnation of WinTel PC is unable to invest enough funds for the innovation of PC processors, resulting in a decline in the overall performance of PC processors. All these make Apple’s determination to convert Macs into custom ARM chips even firmer.

Apple is consolidating supply

Apple has always insisted on integrating all components from the components on the logic board to Apple devices (such as iPhone, Mac, Apple Watch, and AirPods) to the supply and distribution lines. In other words, Apple is integrating the supply of processor chips under its central control in order to create more customized functions in its Apple devices.

Apple began to develop its own A-series ARM chips on the iPhone and even the iPad because it wanted to integrate chip supply under its own control instead of relying on Qualcomm. The Apple T1 ARM chip in the MacBook Pro and the T2 ARM chip in the iMac Pro also enable Apple to integrate the supply of CPU cores, thereby bringing powerful customized phone features such as Touch ID, FaceTime, and TouchBar.

Apple plans to unify the operating system on different Apple devices

Apple plans to unify the OS on different Apple devices because the unification of the OS means that all Apple devices can share the same OS and the same applications. At present, because the iPhone and iPad are both driven by iOS, they have been unified. Therefore, if a laptop (Mac) running macOS can also run iOS, the OS can be unified.

In fact, it is the CPU architecture that makes the operating system work properly. Having said that, if the CPU core is based on the same CPU architecture, the operating system can be unified. Now, the Mac is the only Apple device that still uses Intel x86 instead of a custom ARM CPU running iOS. Therefore, in order to unify the OS on different Apple devices, the Mac needs to be transferred to Apple’s custom ARM so that it can run on iOS.

Final words

Apple officially confirmed that the conversion of its Mac CPU from Intel to ARM is essentially a CPU architecture developed by ARM Holdings. This CPU architecture is the basis for a large number of ARM CPU cores in almost all smartphones and many notebook computers today. In the comparison of ARM VS Intel, these two types of CPU cores are obviously different in the instruction set, engineering viewpoint, performance, and efficiency, which makes them have their own advantages and disadvantages. However, for the foreseeable future, ARM is undoubtedly the primary architecture of choice for the portable device industry (such as smartphones).

In fact, due to its custom ARM development and investment capabilities, the pursuit of integrated supply and a unified operating system, and Intel’s stagnation in PC processors, Apple’s decision to migrate to Mac’s custom ARM is inevitable. In any case, we are very happy to see the next era of Apple running its custom ARM CPU Mac.

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