Apple released the first ARM-based Macs
In June 2020 Apple announced its intention to transition away from Intel processors to Macs powered by its own Apple Silicon chips starting in late 2020. Apple said that by using its own ARM-based processors, it will be able to build better Macs that will boost better performance while also being more energy efficient. They kept their word: the first ARM-based 13-inch Macbook PRo is here with an M1 chip.
Apple is no stranger to ARM-based architecture, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Apple TV all use Advanced RISC machine (ARM-based) processors instead of Intel chips, which use the CISC instruction set. In fact, the MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, iMac Pro, Mac mini, and Mac Pro are already equipped with Apple-designed ARM processors, in the form of the T1 and T2 chips that power the Touch Bar, Secure Enclave, and other features in these machines. Apple’s familiarity with the ARM architecture is one of the reasons they have decided that it was time to make the wholesale switch for its desktop and notebook machines.
By switching to ARM with macOS, Apple simplifies the work for developers who want to release their software on all Apple hardware. They only have to develop for one architecture. The entire Apple ecosystem will become a large universal platform. In addition, developers can now use the Apple artificial intelligence APIs with the neural processing unit and they can use the Metal API for the GPU, just like apps for iOS and iPadOS.
Consequences for users and developers
The switch from Intel to ARM is not only a change of hardware supplier, but also of architecture, which has major consequences for users and developers, as software must be adapted. In the transition period, macOS will support both architectures, but ultimately the focus will be entirely on ARM.
By switching to ARM processors, Apple must adapt its operating system and make it suitable for that architecture. That has already been done behind the scenes and will be reflected in macOS 11 Big Sur. Apple also indicates that its own software has already been prepared for Macs with ARM chips. This includes the apps included with macOS as well as professional software such as Final Cut Pro X and Logic Pro X.
Emulation with Rosetta 2
For software that does not run on ARM and of which no conversion is yet in sight, Apple has released an emulator: Rosetta 2. This is a successor to the emulator that was present in Mac OS from 2006 to 2009, to run PowerPC programs on Intel- hardware. The new version of the emulator means that software compiled for Macs with Intel CPUs can run on ARM hardware.
Apple claims that Rosetta 2 is fast, but emulation will come with a loss of performance anyway. Emulation is no guarantee that all software will work. Compatibility issues may arise due to the different architectures. Apple does state that this will be less the case with Rosetta 2 than with the previous version, but how this will work out in practice remains to be seen.
Logic Technology is prepared
MacBooks are widely used in product design and (embedded) software development. We have worked closely with our partners to ensure that their software and tools support Apple’s ARM-based product development and that they run on ARM-based Macs. Here’s an overview of the currently compatible software and tools. If you have any questions, Please contact us, we are here to help!