Apple made waves in the computing world by choosing to build its own custom-built processor chips into its Macs instead of using Intel’s processor chips, which it had used for decades. Apple’s own processors are called Apple silicon chips and are similar to chips used in iPhones and iPads.
This guide covers everything you need to know about Apple’s silicon chips, how they compare to Intel processors, and how the company plans to switch the entire Mac lineup from Intel chips.
What are Apple Silicon chips in Macs?
Apple had been using third-party processor chips from Intel in its Macs for decades. This made sense, as Intel is one of the top processor manufacturers, with over 72% of the CPU processor market share. However, due to supply chain and performance issues, Apple decided to develop its own processor chips for its Macs, called Apple Silicon Chips.
Apple’s silicon chips are ARM-based, which means they use a different chip architecture than Intel’s computer processors. ARM chips are more commonly used in mobile devices, such as Android devices, iPhones, etc. Apple already had experience developing ARM chips for the iPhone and iPad, so it decided to design an ARM-based Mac silicone chip.
This allowed Apple to have full control over all aspects of the processor, including power efficiency, performance, and more. Likewise, it could integrate the iPhone and Mac ecosystems more tightly, since both now run on similar processor chips.
Apple first released its silicon chips with the late 2020 MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, dubbed the M1 chips. This represented the first transition away from Intel chips.
The company then introduced Apple silicon chips in almost all of its other Macs. Apple then introduced upgrades for the silicon chips, namely the M1 Pro, Max, Ultra, and M2 chips. These are new iterations of the original Apple Silicon M1 processor, with various performance improvements. We’ve compared all of the M1 chips to the M2 chip if you want to see how they stack up.
Why did Apple switch to silicon chips?
Apple has faced performance limitations and supply chain issues with Intel chips, leading it to develop its own ARM-based chips. Since Apple now has full control of the chips, it can optimize their design to deliver better performance, improve efficiency, and consume less power. This in turn leads to much better performance and longer battery life.
Typical Intel PC internals have separate components such as CPU, GPU, RAM, etc. These can be from different companies, allowing for greater user customization based on user needs.
In contrast, Apple’s silicon chips integrate all of these components onto a single chip, which powers all of the different features of the Mac. This system-on-chip enables the improved efficiency offered by Apple’s silicon processors. It is also important to note that these Apple silicon chips are exclusively available only for Apple devices.
Are Apple Silicon chips better than Intel processors?
Apple has years of experience developing efficient ARM chips, with all of its iPhone and iPad chips powered by Apple’s own bespoke silicon chips. It’s no surprise, then, that Mac silicon chips outperform their Intel counterparts and have led to much improved performance on Macs.
There are various benchmark tests available to compare the performance of Apple’s silicon chips with various Intel processors. However, real-world performance is what users usually care about.
A quick comparison by robots.net shows that the M1 chip in a MacBook Air upscaled 4K video to 1080p in just over 9 minutes. In contrast, the Intel XPS 13 processor completed the same task in over 18 minutes and the Yoga 9i took over 14 minutes. While this may not be representative of all situations, it does provide a general idea of the superior performance and efficiency available from Apple’s silicon chips.
One area where silicon chips still seem to be lacking is multi-core performance, as high-end Intel processors typically have larger cores at their disposal. However, this will only be significant if you are performing power-intensive tasks, such as rendering 4K animations.
Switching to its own chips allows Apple to release updates on its own schedule and with more regular technology improvements. One downside to Apple’s silicon chips, however, is that you can’t install Windows using the standard Boot Camp Assistant method.
Application compatibility on Apple Silicon Macs
Since Apple decided to switch from Intel chips to its custom silicon chips, apps have to be updated to take advantage of the new technology. However, to help both users and application developers during the middle stage, Apple introduced Rosetta emulation on its Macs.
Rosetta emulation allows older applications to run normally on Apple silicon computers without being rewritten for an ARM chip. This means that almost all apps work the same as before. However, applications using Rosetta cannot take advantage of the improved performance of silicon chips until developers update them.
Rosetta gave developers time to update their applications for silicon chips, resulting in much faster performance. The difference is significant in applications such as Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe Photoshop, with newer versions running much faster than before (up to 80% performance increase over Intel counterparts).
Essentially, any application that ran on Intel Macs will also run on Apple’s silicon Macs. However, if they have not been updated by the manufacturer, they might not benefit from the improved performance of the new chips.
The future of Apple computers
Apple has mostly transitioned all of its Macs to silicon chips except for the Mac Pro. The company updates its processors every year, starting with the M1 chip in the 2020 MacBook Pro and MacBook Air, before introducing the M1 Max and M1 Pro and the M2 chip in recent releases.
With Apple’s transition to an all-silicon lineup, Intel Macs have a limited lifespan. The company is bound to stop software updates for Intel Macs soon. Recent versions of macOS include some features that are only available on Apple Silicon Macs. This includes live text, enhanced dictation, FaceTime portrait mode, object capture, and more.
So, if you’re looking to buy a new Mac, it’s a wise move to consider a silicon Mac for long-term compatibility rather than an Intel Mac, which may be a bit cheaper, but may soon lose its support.