Discussion Quo vadis Apple Macs - Intel, AMD and/or ARM CPUs? ARM it is!

moinmoin

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Jun 1, 2017
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Due to popular demand I thought somebody should start a proper thread on this pervasive topic. So why not do it myself? ;)

For nearly a decade now Apple has treated their line of Mac laptops, AIOs and Pro workstations more of a stepchild. Their iOS line of products have surpassed it in market size and profit. Their dedicated Mac hardware group was dissolved. Hardware and software updates has been lackluster.

But for Intel Apple clearly is still a major customer, still offering custom chips not to be had outside of Apple products. Clearly Intel is eager to at all costs keep Apple as a major showcase customer.

On the high end of performance Apple's few efforts to create technological impressive products using Intel parts increasingly fall flat. The 3rd gen of MacPros going up to 28 cores could have wowed the audience in earlier years, but when launched in 2019 it already faced 32 core Threadripper/Epyc parts, with 64 core updates of them already on the horizon. A similar fate appears to be coming for the laptops as well, with Ryzen Mobile 4000 besting comparable Intel solutions across the board, with run of the mill OEMs bound to surpass Apple products in battery life. A switch to AMD shouldn't even be a big step considering Apple already has a close work relationship with them, sourcing custom GPUs from them like they do with CPUs from Intel.

On the low end Apple is pushing iPadOS into becoming a workable mutitasking system, with decent keyboard and, most recently, mouse support. Considering the much bigger audience familiar with the iOS mobile interface and App Store, it may make sense to eventually offer a laptop form factor using the already tweaked iPadOS.

By the look of all things Apple Mac products are due to continue stagnating. But just like for Intel, the status quo for Mac products feels increasingly untenable.
 
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uzzi38

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Oct 16, 2019
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I'm just going to preface by just saying I can't say I know everything for certain.

What I can say is this:
- ARM based Macs are not only a possibility, they're incredibly likely.
- There is no evidence of Apple using AMD CPUs at all. (Damned shame too).
 

senttoschool

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Jan 30, 2010
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My opinion on most likely to least likely scenarios:

Scenario 1: Apple does not use AMD CPUs at all. Apple's laptop arm chips should almost be ready. They will move all of their laptops to ARM by the end of next year. Moving them to AMD is wasted engineering and marketing effort even though they'll be uncompetitive for up to a year until the entire lineup gets moved to ARM. Their Mac Pro lineups are low volume so they won't bother. Intel will also lower prices to help the Mac Pro compete. Apple will take its time building a giant ARM chip for Mac Pros and migrate them over within the next 5 years.

Scenario 2: Apple only uses Threadripper/Epyc chips for Mac Pros. Laptops and iMacs will still be ARM only. For this to happen, Apple might think that building a chip that can compete with Threadripper/Epyc is going to take another 5+ years and Intel won't catch AMD in the meantime. They'd rather have their engineers focus on improving their mobile and laptop SoCs in the for now which are much higher volume. They'll eventually move Mac Pros over to ARM but not for a while.

Scenario 3 (my wish): Apple moves to Zen2/Zen3 for 1-2 years before ARM. This could happen if their ARM chips aren't ready and Intel just can't come close to Renoir and Zen3+Navi2. MacBook Pros will move to AMD APUs. iMacs will use Ryzen. Mac Pros will piggyback on the effort and move to Epyc. Maybe they'll experiment with ARM for the Air first.

Scenario 4: Apple stays with Intel for 2 more years before ARM. In this scenario, Apple's ARM chips aren't ready yet but Intel's 10nm is able to compete somewhat and/or gives Apple a major discount. Apple deems the effort to move over to AMD as not worth it in the mean time.

Keep in mind that Apple envisions apps working seamlessly between iOS, iPadOS, and MacOS. This is not a secret. The best way to achieve this is to have all of their platforms run the same CPU architecture. Apple will move to ARM no matter what to make this a reality. It's only a matter of when.

I wish for scenario 3 to happen. I own a 2015 Macbook Pro 15" and every Macbook Pro since has been complete garbage. I need an upgrade but I will refuse to upgrade if I have to buy a 14nm Intel CPU in 2020. And I highly doubt Apple will upgrade their 16" Macbook Pro to ARM before late 2021.

I also think that if Apple calls AMD and says they'll use an AMD APU for the next 2 years, AMD will bend over backward to release Zen3+Navi2 APU asap. AMD would see it as an opportunity to put their best products in the most premium computers on the market. It's the fastest way to shed their "budget" image forever.
 
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uzzi38

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Oct 16, 2019
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My opinion on most likely to least likely scenarios:

Scenario 1: Apple does not use AMD CPUs at all. Apple's laptop arm chips should almost be ready. They will move all of their laptops to ARM by the end of next year. Moving them to AMD is wasted effort even though they'll be uncompetitive for up to a year until the entire lineup gets moved to ARM. Their Mac Pro lineups are low volume so they won't bother. Intel will also lower prices to help the Mac Pro compete. Apple will then focus on building an ARM chip for their Mac Pros and migrate them over within the next 5 years.

Scenario 2: Apple only uses Threadripper/Epyc chips for Mac Pros. Laptops will still be ARM only. For this to happen, Apple might think that building a chip that can compete with Threadripper/Epyc is going to take another 5+ years. They'd rather have their engineers focus on their mobile SoCs and laptop SoCs in the meantime which are much higher volume.

Scenario 3: Apple moves to Zen2/Zen3 for 1-2 years before ARM. This could happen if their ARM chips can't emulate x86 apps fast enough or just can't compete with Zen2/Zen3. MacBook Pros will definitely move to AMD. Maybe they'll experiment with ARM for the Air. Mac Pros will piggyback on the effort and move to Epyc.

Scenario 4: Apple stays with Intel for 1-2 more years before ARM. In this scenario, Intel's 10nm is able to compete somewhat and/or gives Apple a major discount. Apple deems the effort to move over to AMD as not worth it in the mean time.

Keep in mind that Apple envisions apps working seamlessly between iOS, iPadOS, and MacOS. This is not a secret. The best way to achieve this is to have all of their platforms run the same CPU architecture. Apple will move to ARM no matter what to make this a reality.
(Unfortunately) I have to agree with this. I'm leaning towards scenario 2, but even that might not happen.

Just one thing though - if they don't have a certain segment ready, I think they'll just stick with what they have already.
 

NTMBK

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Why do Apple have to build their own chip for the Mac Pro? Plenty of people are building powerful server ARM CPUs. Slap one of those into a tower and you're done. Mac Pro just doesn't have the volume to justify a custom Apple chip.

In my opinion they only need to build one additional chip- a higher TDP, higher performance part to cover the MBP, Mac Mini and iMac. The Air and Macbook can take the iPad Pro chip.
 

senttoschool

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Jan 30, 2010
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Why do Apple have to build their own chip for the Mac Pro? Plenty of people are building powerful server ARM CPUs. Slap one of those into a tower and you're done. Mac Pro just doesn't have the volume to justify a custom Apple chip.

In my opinion they only need to build one additional chip- a higher TDP, higher performance part to cover the MBP, Mac Mini and iMac. The Air and Macbook can take the iPad Pro chip.
I think you're right. Apple might just license from or outright buy a company who is making powerful server-grade ARM chips for their Mac Pros.

I was under the assumption that ARM chip makers will have a hard time competing with a 128 core/512 thread Zen4 CPU and many professional software companies will refuse the effort to make an ARM version just for the Mac Pro, especially if they've spent years optimizing for x86 instructions. No company wants to create two drastically different versions of their software.
 
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NTMBK

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I was under the assumption that ARM chip makers will have a hard time competing with a 128 core/512 thread Zen4 CPU and many professional software companies will refuse the effort to make an ARM version just for the Mac Pro, especially if they've spent years optimizing for x86 instructions. No company wants to create two drastically different versions of their software.
That's a good point! I think it depends just how much Apple are willing to piss off their developers. They already shunned industry standards like Vulkan in favour of their own proprietary nonsense.

Bear in mind that a lot of pro apps will get run on the MBP. If that goes ARM and the Mac Pro doesn't, I'd argue that it would annoy developers even more- because they would need to maintain both an ARM and an x86 codepath.

There's also the added benefit that more effort in ARM codepaths will also benefit the iPad Pro. The UI is entirely different, but a lot of the backend and libraries will be shared across apps.
 

coercitiv

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Jan 24, 2014
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My take on this hot topic is we're still looking at it from the wrong perspective: Apple isn't about to change the CPU inside their Mac, they're about to change the iPad into the Mac successor.

Let's take a small trip down the memory lane:
It doesn't matter how meaningful the benchmarks are, year over year we're seeing significant jumps in performance from the A chips, and they are doing it with headroom to spare (frequency wise). Meantime Intel keeps peeling away from the power consumption of their strongest cores, dropping watts every year. It's a collision course.

We keep imagining a clash of the titans, Apple's big arm core vs Intel's mighty quad, when the real fight will be fought for the tablet, or to be more precise the device that will enable laptop like productivity with tablet like portability. The winner takes it all.
This post was from 2015. We had no Zen back then, and consumer desktop computing meant quads.

It's not the ad that matters, it's the change of course Apple made with regard to whom it markets the product. This marks an important turning point and shows they're getting more and more serious about what this forum discussed for years: moving away from Intel in their productivity oriented devices (and ecosystem).
This post was from 2017, after Apple aired their "What's a computer" commercial.

Apple has a new category in their product portfolio - the iPad Pro, which they improve continuously with better input options at hardware level and better multitasking at OS level.

They are building the ARM Mac in plain sight. The iPad Pro is their (expensive) early access program. Your next computer is not a computer.
 
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ksec

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Mar 5, 2010
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My opinion on most likely to least likely scenarios:

Scenario 1: Apple does not use AMD CPUs at all. Apple's laptop arm chips should almost be ready. They will move all of their laptops to ARM by the end of next year. Moving them to AMD is wasted engineering and marketing effort even though they'll be uncompetitive for up to a year until the entire lineup gets moved to ARM. Their Mac Pro lineups are low volume so they won't bother. Intel will also lower prices to help the Mac Pro compete. Apple will take its time building a giant ARM chip for Mac Pros and migrate them over within the next 5 years.

Scenario 2: Apple only uses Threadripper/Epyc chips for Mac Pros. Laptops and iMacs will still be ARM only. For this to happen, Apple might think that building a chip that can compete with Threadripper/Epyc is going to take another 5+ years and Intel won't catch AMD in the meantime. They'd rather have their engineers focus on improving their mobile and laptop SoCs in the for now which are much higher volume. They'll eventually move Mac Pros over to ARM but not for a while.

Scenario 3 (my wish): Apple moves to Zen2/Zen3 for 1-2 years before ARM. This could happen if their ARM chips aren't ready and Intel just can't come close to Renoir and Zen3+Navi2. MacBook Pros will move to AMD APUs. iMacs will use Ryzen. Mac Pros will piggyback on the effort and move to Epyc. Maybe they'll experiment with ARM for the Air first.

Scenario 4: Apple stays with Intel for 2 more years before ARM. In this scenario, Apple's ARM chips aren't ready yet but Intel's 10nm is able to compete somewhat and/or gives Apple a major discount. Apple deems the effort to move over to AMD as not worth it in the mean time.

Keep in mind that Apple envisions apps working seamlessly between iOS, iPadOS, and MacOS. This is not a secret. The best way to achieve this is to have all of their platforms run the same CPU architecture. Apple will move to ARM no matter what to make this a reality. It's only a matter of when.

I wish for scenario 3 to happen. I own a 2015 Macbook Pro 15" and every Macbook Pro since has been complete garbage. I need an upgrade but I will refuse to upgrade if I have to buy a 14nm Intel CPU in 2020. And I highly doubt Apple will upgrade their 16" Macbook Pro to ARM before late 2021.

I also think that if Apple calls AMD and says they'll use an AMD APU for the next 2 years, AMD will bend over backward to release Zen3+Navi2 APU asap. AMD would see it as an opportunity to put their best products in the most premium computers on the market. It's the fastest way to shed their "budget" image forever.
Scenario 5, Intel pays Apple enough money to keep them on Intel's platform. Remember there is also the GPU play, where Intel could have gave Apple their GPU for free as part of the package.

I mean seriously, there are far too many factor at play, but I still think Apple is unlikely moving to ARM. They will just play the Intel discount card for as long as they possibly could.

At least until thunderbolt is completely off the hands of Intel.
 

senttoschool

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Jan 30, 2010
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Scenario 5, Intel pays Apple enough money to keep them on Intel's platform. Remember there is also the GPU play, where Intel could have gave Apple their GPU for free as part of the package.
I think this is unlikely for these reasons:

1. Apple wants to be competitive.
2. Apple doesn't want its brand associated with anti-competition lawsuits.
 

chrisjames61

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Dec 31, 2013
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ARM would get me interested in getting a Mac again. After the switch from PowerPC they lost me as a Mac user from 1991 till my G5 stopped being a viable daily driver around 2010.
 

senttoschool

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Jan 30, 2010
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ARM would get me interested in getting a Mac again. After the switch from PowerPC they lost me as a Mac user from 1991 till my G5 stopped being a viable daily driver around 2010.
Interesting because their Macbook Airs and pre-2016 Retina Macbook Pros with Intel chips were amazing.
 

ksec

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Mar 5, 2010
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I think this is unlikely for these reasons:

1. Apple wants to be competitive.
2. Apple doesn't want its brand associated with anti-competition lawsuits.
1. There is nothing that is not competitive about Intel CPU. Especially if you look at the whole range of SKUs on offer from 5w to 250W. They are expensive and that is possibly the only downside to it. Hence the lowering price to Apple as incentive.

2. Bundling of CPU and GPU as packages isn't Anti-Competitive at all, although I know EU will find a way to it. Giving heavy discount to customers isn't illegal either, and is currently the industry norm. Especially when AMD is showing to be extremely competitive, And Apple could also switch to ARM when they *want* to, that is itself is much more of a threat to Intel than anything else. I seriously doubt any commission will challenge such a threat with lowering price as anti competitive.

To be fair I dont see any of these happening either. I just dont felt Apple actually cares about the Mac enough to do all these. I felt they are just milking the platform for as long as they could with minimum resources, all while working on iPad and iPhone.
 

uzzi38

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Oct 16, 2019
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If driver entries work in the Intel speculation threads, they can work here too.

. . .

(heh)
Haha, well fair enough I guess.

Though I do want to point out driver entires don't tell us much sadly in the case of Apple. There's also references to Brstol Ridge, Picasso, Raven Ridge and various other APUs from AMD there, which make me think they just copy-pasted key portions of either the Windows or Linux drivers.
 

DrMrLordX

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Haha, well fair enough I guess.

Though I do want to point out driver entires don't tell us much sadly in the case of Apple. There's also references to Brstol Ridge, Picasso, Raven Ridge and various other APUs from AMD there, which make me think they just copy-pasted key portions of either the Windows or Linux drivers.
They do use AMD GPUs, so. You may be right.
 

lobz

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Feb 10, 2017
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Why do Apple have to build their own chip for the Mac Pro? Plenty of people are building powerful server ARM CPUs. Slap one of those into a tower and you're done. Mac Pro just doesn't have the volume to justify a custom Apple chip.

In my opinion they only need to build one additional chip- a higher TDP, higher performance part to cover the MBP, Mac Mini and iMac. The Air and Macbook can take the iPad Pro chip.
Powerful in what? Serious question, not mockery or such.
 

NTMBK

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Powerful in what? Serious question, not mockery or such.
High multithreaded performance, with single thread performance in at least the ballpark of Intel. Give them another generation and they'll be an acceptable thing to transition to from the current Mac Pro CPU.
 

tamz_msc

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Mac Pro isn't getting Threadripper until AMD supports RDIMMs and LRDIMMs. Basically it is no replacement for Xeon W. Epyc doesn't have the clock speeds necessary to be a Xeon W replacement, even though it offers 128 PCIe lanes.
 

Glo.

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First of all, people are overblowing the idea of ARM based Mac. Yes, ARM based Macs are happening, but they are not what people think they are.

Macbook is the first Apple laptop which will get Apple ARM chip. Its a good stepping stone to try and see how the develeoper community will react to ARM's performance, and if they will want to optimize for ARM Apple chips. And there is a ton of x86 software on Mac...

ARM based Macs will be first limited to Chromebook-like stuff. Education, Apple Services Access. Its also a product that will finally port Xcode to ARM, allowing even development on the iPads.

ARM in mainstream is VERY distant future. The thing that is changing the outlook for Apple platform is that there is WAY more ARM based products in Apple Ecosystem, than there is x86. Apple sells 20 mln Macs annualy. They sell 10 times more just iPhones, and 6 times more iPads. If we combine all of active Macs in the world, they aren't even the number Apple iPads sells each year.

Lastly, do I believe Apple moves to ARM? Partially. They will need a lot of CPU cores to beat x86, and scale it from low, to high clocks. And remember its not Intel they have to compete with, but AMD, for their products to be better than competition. Beating Intel in last months is not a large effort. Beating AMD is a completely diferent mountain to climb.
Mac Pro isn't getting Threadripper until AMD supports RDIMMs and LRDIMMs. Basically it is no replacement for Xeon W. Epyc doesn't have the clock speeds necessary to be a Xeon W replacement, even though it offers 128 PCIe lanes.
For Apple to offer any EPYC CPU they have to rewrite the Kernel to support more than 32 CPU cores/64Threads.
 

tamz_msc

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For Apple to offer any EPYC CPU they have to rewrite the Kernel to support more than 32 CPU cores/64Threads.
I could not find anything that points to Mac OS X having a hard limit on the maximum number of supported cores.
 

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