Is ARM-based Mac the beginning of the next decade for personal computers
This article is authorized by Sina Technology. Original title: Prodigal Watch: Can Apple’s self-developed computer chips lead the PC into a new era? , The content of the article only represents the author’s point of view, has nothing to do with this standing field, please do not reprint without permission.
At the recently concluded Apple WWDC2020, as the finale, Apple released a big move to announce plans for self-developed chips. Apple announced that Mac computers will switch to the company’s custom-made processors, which means close and friendly cooperation between Apple and Intel. The relationship will come to an end, and the relationship between the two will become more subtle.
So will Apple lead the PC into a new era, or will it finally be able to escape the shackles of Intel?
Throughout the history of PC development, it is not a common thing to change the processor architecture of the PC brand, especially now that the X86 platform is so mature, replacing the underlying hardware means overthrowing the dynasty that has worked hard for many years before, describing it as a Mac A “revolution” is not an exaggeration.
However, it is such a revolution, Apple has done three times before:
In 1984, Apple changed the Mac from MOS 8-bit 6502 processor series to Motorola 68K mechanism;
In 1994, from Motorola’s 68K series architecture to PowerPC architecture;
In 2005, Apple switched from the PowerPC architecture to Intel’s processor architecture, which opened a 15-year deep cooperation with Intel. Almost every generation of Mac will be equipped with custom chips from Intel. These chips are on other machines on the Intel platform. It is basically invisible in China.
Apple’s self-developed processor
A Mac based on an Intel processor means better hardware and software compatibility, even if there are differences in operating systems, but the common underlying protocol of the processor means better hardware and software compatibility. Windows is installed on Mac, and OSX is installed on ordinary PCs (also Even today’s macOS) has become possible. It can be said that Macs with Intel processors are rare open ports in Apple’s ecological closed loop.
In this way, the Mac with a changed architecture means that the Apple ecosystem is further closed.
Why launch self-developed processor?
A common view is that Apple does not need to release new products at the rhythm of Intel after changing the architecture. It can better deploy the Mac product line.
However, looking at the update rhythm of Intel and Apple in recent years, it can be clearly seen that Apple is not active in updating Intel processors. New products on Intel mobile terminals are usually released around October each year, and Apple’s autumn conferences are generally distributed in September and October, September is the new iPhone, and October is the new computer or other hardware. But MacBook series products often introduce new Intel processors in the spring or even the following summer.
The 16-inch MacBook Pro has not been upgraded to the tenth generation Core
At present, the 13-inch MacBook Pro on the official website has two options: eight-generation Core and ten-generation Core. The 16-inch MacBook Pro is still equipped with Intel’s ninth-generation Core processor. It is interesting that Apple just announced the upgrade of the MacBook Pro 16 graphics card not long ago For the AMD Radeon Pro 5600M, the other remains unchanged, and at this time, the tenth-generation Core processor of the same level with better performance and more advanced technology has flooded the entire Windows PC market.
Apple should switch to ARM at this time there are two main considerations:
First, the Mac based on the ARM architecture has a more durable battery life. In the future 5G era, real-time interconnection and long battery life will be an important competitive direction for PC products;
The second is that Apple hopes to control the Mac’s software and hardware ecosystem to replicate the success of the iPhone into the Mac product line, and create Apple’s fully controlled software and hardware ecosystem.
ARM architecture processor
The ARM architecture we are familiar with has the characteristics of low power consumption, low heat generation, long battery life, and real-time connection. From Qualcomm Snapdragon to Samsung Orion, from MTK to HiSilicon, these customized SoCs based on the ARM architecture have led smart phones. Development, these SoCs are the cornerstone of smart phone development, and the ARM architecture is the heart of these SoCs.
Apple A series of good performance
Apple’s A series processors are the top students in the ARM architecture, and they are the children of the best grades. So for Apple, the most important thing to worry about when moving from the X86 architecture to the ARM architecture is the performance of the product.
Performance is not a big problem
Unlike traditional CPU manufacturers, Apple has accumulated a lot of technology on self-developed chips. The self-developed chips they launched actually integrate a large number of subunits. In addition to CPU and GPU, there are NPU, audio, video, etc., which is more important What’s more, Apple can also integrate its own software.
At the same time, due to the same architecture, the new Mac equipped with Apple’s own research and development chips will be able to natively run iPhone and iPad applications.
In the specific parameters section, Apple did not announce too much. The current news is that Apple’s self-developed processor will adopt a 12-core design, including 8 high-performance cores and 4 energy-efficient cores, based on TSMC’s 5nm process technology.
Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx
Compared with the current ARM architecture processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx (8-core design, 4 large cores + 4 small cores) for the PC platform, Apple has a great advantage in the number of cores. The performance gap of Qualcomm’s flagship can be expected to be a chip with absolutely sufficient performance.
Live demo editing 4K video
Judging from the live demonstration, the newly released macOS Big Sur can run on the A12Z, which is the chip currently used on the iPad Pro. This also shows that Apple is ready on the system. What about other software? Apple showed off the Photoshop and Photoshop software made by Microsoft and Office, as well as its own Final Cut Pro X and Logic Pro X. There is no pressure to deal with large files and editing 4K video, it is really amazing.
But for a set of available systems, software is the more important part. The first problem encountered by Macs moving to the ARM platform is whether Apple’s native applications can run as stable as possible (not a big problem for Apple). The second and most important issue is the number of third-party applications and Whether the quality can reach the qualified level in the first time.
In the domestic ecological environment, the Mac-side software has been improved a lot in recent years, but I believe many old users of macOS still remember WeChat, Thunder, Baidu network disk and other software that lacked functions on the Mac a few years ago.
Whether the new Mac is used as a productivity tool or as an entertainment tool, basic software is a must. How does Apple convince developers to develop applications for the Mac, and how does the iPhone’s absolute advantage affect the Mac will be placed in Apple The important issue before us.
The development of a new front
In the past, PC or Mac, apart from the design and operating system, the same price, the same level of chip products in hardware performance, battery life, power consumption performance difference is not huge. In terms of endurance performance, the 2015 MacBook Pro 13 has a nominal battery life of about 12 hours. At that time, a Windows notebook of the same level can reach 7 hours. It is already a very high-end existence. Now, the 2020 MacBook Pro 13 has a nominal battery life Only 10 hours, Windows notebooks of the same level can easily reach or even exceed this time.
There are two main reasons for this result. First, the battery capacity of the 2020 MacBook Pro 13 has shrunk to 58.2Whr (the capacity of the 2015 model is as high as 74.9Whr). Second, macOS can no longer continue to optimize battery life through software optimization. Beat Windows.
After replacing ARM, MacBook battery life will be greatly improved
After changing to ARM, the battery life of the MacBook series is bound to soar. For those consumers who buy notebooks for basic office applications and are more concerned about battery life and portability, this attraction is huge.
Although such a Mac will not bring too much impact to Intel, AMD and many OEM manufacturers in a short time, the decline of Nokia and Motorola is still vivid, and both upstream and downstream manufacturers of the PC industry, including Microsoft, will try this The new direction, even if it is not based on the ARM architecture, will also introduce corresponding products to deal with the menacing Apple.
Snapdragon performance is useless
At present, the use scenarios of PC products have solidified into two directions of office and games. No matter mobile phones or tablets can replace PCs in these two fields. Windows PCs based on ARM are attempts by Microsoft and Qualcomm. At present, the results are not ideal.
Against the background of the Windows PC with X86 architecture, Qualcomm’s Windows laptop is more expensive, but its performance is weaker, and the design is not much different. It can be said that it has certain advantages in terms of battery life and real-time interconnection. There is nothing beyond that. For these reasons, the market response of OEM products is not good after listing, and Microsoft and Qualcomm seem to have slowed down the pace of new product iterations.
iPad Pro cannot replace computer
Before the ARM-based Mac, Apple also tried to use iPad Pro to change consumers’ office habits, but this iPad looks more like a computer equipped with iOS system, Apple even brought a touchpad The official keyboard cover makes iPad look like Surface.
Intel Lakefield architecture new processor
Looking back to the present, the Mac based on the ARM architecture will undoubtedly allow Apple to enter the situation of left and right fight again. However, in addition to the ARM version of the PC, Apple’s competitors will also have the new Lakefield architecture processor that Intel recently exposed. This new product based on 3D Foveros packaging technology uses five cores and uses a Sunny Cove. The high-performance core and four Atom Tremont low-power cores bring the performance equivalent to 54W under 5W power consumption. For Apple’s ARM, this will be an extremely competitive opponent.
But still that sentence, the most important thing that Apple has to worry about turning to ARM is the performance of the chip. This battle is a classic open platform and closed ecological contest. Is Apple’s powerful software and hardware ecological control more powerful? Intel’s open strategy is more powerful, we leave time to answer.