Apple Announces Major Move to Custom ARM Processors in New Macs

Apple Announces Major Move to Custom ARM Processors in New Macs

Apple has made a massive move today, announcing that by year’s end it will be offering computers running on “Apple Silicon.” These new chips replace the Intel processors that have powered MacOS for the last 15 years. Let’s explain what that means, and see how it affects filmmakers.

Image Credit: Apple

What Is Apple Silicon?

Strange as it may sound, Apple has long been a leading processor manufacturer. Their powerful, custom chips have set them apart from other manufacturers in the mobile and tablet arenas. iPhones have consistently out-performed top offerings from Samsung and Google. And, amazingly, they sometimes outperform themselves. The latest generation of iPad Pros get better GeekBench scores than a brand-new 13” Macbook Pro. Apple has been pushing the performance envelope on these custom ARM chips, and it has paid dividends for them.

Today’s announcement, then, can be seen as almost inevitable. Apple has decided to begin placing these powerful custom processors in their Mac lineup as well, starting this fall. They have rolled out a suite of software products and updates to support this transition.Within a few years, I expect that all Apple computers will be running on Apple Silicon.

Why does Apple Silicon Matter? And What Is ARM?

These processors are not just Intel look-alikes. Apple Silicon processors are ARM chips, which are distinctly different from the x86 processors made by Intel and AMD. The details are less important than the impact: programs written for x86 processors will not run on ARM processors. You cannot run Photoshop natively on your iPad, and for many years could not run iPad apps on your Mac.

In 2019, Apple announced Project Catalyst, a project that allowed iOS and iPadOS apps to run on MacOS. In other words, it translated apps from ARM systems to x86 systems. At the time, it was received as a welcome boost to the Mac App store, but it turns out to be the foundation for what was to come. Apple proved it could successfully and smoothly translate ARM to x86. Now they are preparing to translate the other direction.

Will My Apps Still Work?

When Apple first made the move to Intel chips, they added a piece of software called “Rosetta.” This program smoothed the transition by emulating the old systems on the new x86 hardware. Fittingly, Apple has announced Rosetta 2, this time translating x86 into ARM. According to 9to5 Mac, this change will cause fewer problems than it might seem. To quote their developers, “Very few apps work at such a low level that they care about the difference in CPU architecture.” With some small tweaks, your favorite apps should be fine.

Image Credit: 9to5 Mac

Some Apps are Already Native

That said, all Apple Pro apps will run natively on the new systems, making this whole conversation irrelevant. Final Cut Pro editors should have no issues making the upgrade.

Adobe has been working closely with Apple to get up and running on these new chips. Apple demonstrated Adobe Photoshop running natively on stage, which bodes well for Premiere and After Effects. No word yet from Avid or Blackmagic Design ( DaVinci Resolve).

Adobe Photoshop running natively on an Apple Silicon computer. Image Credit: Apple

The Upshot for Filmmakers

This major move from Apple means a lot for the filmmaking community. To start, Macbook Pros have had issues with cooling their overpowered Intel chips for years. ARM chips are designed to draw less power and therefore create less heat. This will likely extend battery life and help keep their laptops away from thermal throttling without sacrificing performance.

Second, the iPad Pro demonstrates that performance is not about to be sacrificed. If a small and nimble iPad can perform so well on an ARM chip, imagine what a MacBook or Mac Pro will be able to do with more room for additional hardware and heat dissipation. Tim Cook demonstrated 4K editing in FCPX, and bragged that it could play back 3 streams of 4K footage simultaneously. Make no mistake, this is a boost to raw computational performance.

Third, the inter-operability of the entire Apple ecosystem going forward should not be ignored. iOS control apps, such as those for lights, motion control rigs, and more, will be available on Mac. And even more than that, desktop editing apps like Final Cut Pro may finally be available on iPad. That’s a major win for filmmakers and editors on the go, especially for documentaries and small crews trying to pack light.

A custom Hackintosh computer. Image credit: Hackintosher

Fourthly, unfortunately, this will likely lead to the end of Hackintosh computers, at least as we know them. A Hackintosh is an unapproved, non-Apple computer that still runs MacOS. This has proved to be a popular middle ground between Apple die-hards and custom-PC builders. Unfortunately, that only works if everyone has access to the same basic components that Apple already uses. Namely, Intel processors and AMD graphics cards. If MacOS in the future is built around Apple-exclusive processors, it will be very difficult to build your own. This will further lock people in to the Apple ecosystem.

 

When Will This Arrive?

If you are a developer, the answer is now. Apple is offering developer beta kits immediately. For the rest of us, the first computers with Apple Silicon processors will be available by the end of the year. From there, you can expect it to take over the entire lineup of Mac computers as they are refreshed one by one on their regular release schedule.

So what do you think? Will you make the switch? Or do you plan to hang back and see how it goes? Let us know in the comments!

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John Cummings
John Cummings
Guest
June 30th, 2020

Back in the day, I bought a top of the line Power Mac G5 workstation and less than a year later, Apple announced Intel chips. A whole new OS and suddenly my $3500 workstation was a dead-end doorstop. Fool me once…

 Tauri Taal
Tauri Taal
Member
June 26th, 2020

Cant see them competing with Ryzens… Id like to see how they edit RAW video with those. Pretty sure that aint possible in iPads. And now they jump out of nowhere and plan to beat Intel/AMD in terms of computing power? 7nm chips? Unlikely. Brace yourselves for performance drop.

Delp Winston
Delp Winston
Guest
June 28th, 2020
Reply to  Tauri Taal

It’s just “raw.” And CPU architecture doesn’t have anything to do with it.

But running current apps on ARM under X86 emulation is going to be a pathetic joke. I hope Apple doesn’t even bother with it, frankly. Force vendors to recompile their apps and get their toolchains into the 2000s if they want to serve the Apple market. And if they don’t, Apple can just kill off the computer business that it apparently doesn’t want to be in anyway.

Kyle Farris
Guest
August 4th, 2020
Reply to  Tauri Taal

FWIW, the iPad Pro (using a 1.5 year old chip) plays back 8K raw from the Canon R5 better than a $15,000 Mac Pro. Kinda crazy. I think we’ll be pleasantly surprised by the performance of Apple Silicon macs.

john
john
Guest
June 24th, 2020

it’s fine for mobile and laptop, how about for PC class, that uses many processor/multicore ? Is Apple already to make this multicore cpu ? or apple will be split their hungry job to multicore GPU ?

Delp Winston
Delp Winston
Guest
June 28th, 2020
Reply to  john

Apple already makes multicore ARM chips.

Crimson Son
Crimson Son
Guest
June 28th, 2020
Reply to  Delp Winston

But not workstation (MacPro) class. And the demand and priorities on those are significantly different from mobile and portable devices.
I’m sure Apple can do it but the current silicon seems to be for the low-end side, thus the Mac mini for devs.

 Brian DeViteri
Brian DeViteri
Member
June 23rd, 2020

“Adobe has been working closely with Apple to get up and running on these new chips. Apple demonstrated Adobe Photoshop running natively on stage, which bodes well for Premiere and After Effects.”

So everyone fully understands, ADOBE had been woking on iOS versions of Photoshop, Lightroom and Illustrator for YEARS now. It’s basically a port of an iOS app to Apple ARM macOS (which is not very difficult, per Apple).

There is no working version of Premiere or After Effects for iOS, not even a pre-beta/alpha version that can be demo’d. That’s a red flag. Premiere Rush is the closest thing Adobe could offer.

If your production can run on Premiere Rush, there’s no reason ARM will not work for you.
If your production relies on Premiere or AE with a suite of plugins, you might want to pay closer attention to the developments in the next 6-12 months.

Overall, this may be the slowest adoption of a new macOS version we’ve seen in awhile. Already planning on seeking approvals to stay on Catalina for longer than IT partners typically allow.

Delp Winston
Delp Winston
Guest
June 28th, 2020
Reply to  Brian DeViteri

Adobe should just open-source Illustrator and be done with it. It’s essentially abandonware at this point, so crippled by design defects that it’s better to run Corel Draw in a Windows VM than waste time trying to even select objects efficiently in Illustrator.

Daniel Wylie-Eggert
Daniel Wylie-Eggert
Guest
June 23rd, 2020

This will push a lot of us totally out of the apple eco system. I am very happy using a mid tier hackintosh, and not totally stoked to be a full time windows user, but not a lot of choice. I am already booting into windows a lot of the time these days. There is a great community built around the hackintosh and I will miss it.

Delp Winston
Delp Winston
Guest
June 28th, 2020

Yep. Apple is returning to the backwater from whence they finally emerged in the mid-2000s.

“Very few apps work at such a low level that they care about the difference in CPU architecture.” Ridiculous statement.

This will most likely make Macs unusable for content creators for years. It’s already painful getting plug-ins that are updated for 64-bit, and overriding Apple’s FUD in security preferences for every component one at a time.

Some blame lies with bloated dinosaurs like Avid, who can’t even field a competent Web site or purchasing/licensing experience in 2020.

And using laptop heat dissipation to justify this transition is a joke. Apple’s incompetent designs have crippled its laptops for years, from the thermal throttling to the offensively defective keyboards to the equally defective “Flexgate” connector that runs through a hinge and knocks out your screen after a year of light use. All because of “thinness” that nobody asked for.

BOUNCE
Member
June 23rd, 2020

Sounds great. Intel has really been losing ground when compared to AMD in mobile performance/efficiency; nice to see Apple innovating again. I’m open to a fresh start.

 Arie van der Winden
Arie van der Winden
Member
June 23rd, 2020

Thanks for this summary. I will certainly buy a new ARM processor desktop Mac when they are available.
I will wait until DaVinci Resolve Studio is able to work on this new platform.

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