At the end of the WWDC20 Keynote, Apple announced that it’s switching from Intel processors to its own: Apple Silicon. The release of custom Apple chips, powered by ARM, comes after a long history of using Intel-based chips, for the greater part of the 21st century.
Modeled after Apple’s use of its own chips on the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch, the company is switching to its own chips to give the Mac more performance per watt and better GPU performance.
Though we won’t go in-depth into the specific implications for machine learning, there’s a lot to be excited about when it comes to the future of ML development on Mac. Inevitably, the enhanced GPU performance will be a boon to machine learning developers, with benefits ranging from faster model training to reduced reliance on transfer learning. It will be interesting to see how ML engineers capitalize on Apple Silicon over time.
The Mac, often considered Apple’s flagship lineup, has seen a couple changes in the past. Let’s look at what those changes were and how they’ve contributed to the evolution of the Mac.
Motorola 68K to PowerPC
One of the earliest transitions in chip architecture was the transition from Motorola 68K chips to IBM and Motorola PowerPC chips. This was an incredible transition, which significantly improved the Mac and played an important role in understanding future transitions.
PowerPC to Intel x86
The most notable transition was the move from PowerPC chips to Intel processors, which have been used for almost half of the Mac’s history so far. With this transition, Apple announced a developer kit to help with the transition, similar to what they announced in the switch to Apple Silicon.
Performance and Experience
Undoubtedly, a switch to ARM-based Macs has a huge advantage for the performance and usability of Macs. Let’s look at how Apple Silicon will improve the Mac’s experience.
Performance per Watt
Apple Silicon promises a stark improvement in performance per watt, meaning that the Mac could potentially promise desktop-level performance with the power consumption of a notebook computer, as exemplified by Apple’s diagram:
Apps that support Apple Silicon natively will perform best on the new ARM-based Macs. Out-of-the-box, Apple’s own apps, including pro apps like Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro, will have native support for Apple Silicon. In addition, through their collaboration with Adobe, the Creative Cloud Suite will also have native support from the get-go. Eventually, Microsoft Office and other widely used programs will be able to take advantage of Apple Silicon’s performance.
iOS Apps on Mac
Another incredible benefit of using the ARM architecture across iOS, macOS, and watchOS is the ability to run iOS apps natively on Apple Silicon Macs. Without any additional work from the developer, most iOS apps can be installed from the Mac App Store.
To help developers transition their apps to support Apple Silicon, Apple has announced a whole host of tools to make native and simulated support for Apple Silicon as smooth as possible for users.
As the name suggests, Universal 2 allows developers to quickly compile their apps for Apple Silicon while retaining support for Intel-based Macs. By using Universal 2 in Xcode, developers will be able to use the same binary for both Intel-based Macs, while providing a native experience for those who are using a Mac with Apple Silicon.
An upgrade from their previous version of Rosetta (for the Intel transition), Rosetta 2 provides similar capabilities as its previous counterpart — allowing Intel-based apps to run on Apple Silicon Macs. So if app developers haven’t yet recompiled their apps with Universal 2, their users can still access legacy versions of the app through Rosetta 2.
For developers who need to use Linux, Docker, or similar tools, Apple has also announced virtualization tools for ARM Macs. These tools are expected to provide a seamless transition to Apple Silicon for developers who need server-side development tools.
Developer Transition Kit
Similar to the Intel transition, developers will be able to purchase a Developer Transition Kit, which comprises a Mac Mini enclosure fitted with the A12Z SoC — used on the latest iPad lineup. The Mac Mini will have 16GB of memory and a 512GB SSD — plenty for development needs. Also, macOS Big Sur and Xcode 12 will come pre-installed on the machine, which will be available for $500 (half the price of the Intel transition kit).
While Apple isn’t completely transitioning to Apple Silicon just yet, the announcement of their ARM-based chip for Mac is a huge step in a two year process to change Mac for the better.
Stay tuned for some great new tutorials on the latest frameworks this week, and get ahead of the crowd by taking use of them before they’re released to the public in the fall.
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