Apple's chip designers are preparing a new set of processors for 2021 that potentially create a significant threat to the Wintel, or Windows-Intel, alliance that's dominated personal computers since the 1980s.
Bloomberg's Apple watchers report that Apple chip engineers are busy making several successors to M1, the first iteration of Apple's Arm-based Silicon chips in the new MacBook Air, the 13-inch MacBook Pro and the Mac mini.
Early benchmarks show the M1 computers smash the Intel-based Mac siblings and even make Windows 10 on Arm look good compared with Microsoft's OS on its own Surface Pro X.
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Microsoft only licenses Windows 10 on Arm to manufacturers like HP and Lenovo as opposed to end users, so Windows can't run on Apple's new hardware. But an Amazon Web Services (AWS) virtualization engineer recently got a virtualized version of Microsoft's Arm variant of Windows 10 to run on Apple's M1 hardware.
Machines in the current lineup of M1-based Apple computers are relatively low end, but Apple's next target with its Arm-based chips – an evolution from the A-series chips in the iPhone and iPad – are aimed at high-end Wintel PCs.
Per Bloomberg, Apple's next M-series chips will significantly outpace the performance of the latest machines running Intel chips, according to sources familiar with the matter.
The move could make Apple's Arm-based hardware more popular with developers, some of whom have preferred to work on Windows PCs or Intel-based computers that can run Linux.
Linux kernel creator Linus Torvalds is keen on an M1 Mac, but refuses to buy one for development work because Apple hardware can't run Linux. He also thinks Arm servers for the cloud are out of reach right now because developers aren't using Arm-based computers at home, where they work.
Arm-based processors historically have not had the level of performance offered by Intel processors, but Arm processors have delivered better power efficiency, making them ideal for mobile devices. Apple silicon potentially changes the equation.
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Bloomberg reports that Apple's roadmap suggests the company is fairly certain it can deliver improvements that remove its dependence on Intel, which dates back to Apple's 2006 switch from PowerPC – the chip design it collaborated on with IBM and Motorola in the 1990s. Apple is planning to move to its own silicon in 2022.
Apple's shift to its own silicon throws a spanner in the works of the Wintel alliance, which also involves computer manufacturers like HP, Dell, Lenovo, and Asus. At the same time, Apple gets to extricate itself from the x86 Intel world.
Apple is reportedly planning for 16 power cores and four efficiency cores for its next line-up of chips, which contrasts with the eight-core chips in its highest-end Macs today.
According to Bloomberg, for Apple's higher-end desktop computers set for release in late 2021, the company is testing a chip design with as many as 32 high-performance cores – more cores than the most expensive Mac Pro desktop, which can be configured with an Intel chip with 28 cores.