Image Courtesy of The Verge

Buying an Intel-CPU MacBook Pro in 2020

As a tech enthusiast, I am writing this as a short heads-up to my friends who do not have much time to spend or learn what is under the lid of their Apple-branded laptops.

A couple of weeks ago, Apple announced one of their major planned changes for the MacBook line up: Apple Silicon! Yes. The CPU’s of the new MacBook’s will be in-house and those laptops will be running on ARM architecture. How that may affect an average MacBook Pro or any other MacBook device user? I’ll be trying to explain as simple as I can. This will not be a purchase advise, in the end, I am aiming to provide you the necessary info and make you decide.

As I said earlier, I’ll go as simple as I can. There are binary operations in your central processing unit (CPU) which happens on the Arithmetic Logic Unit integrated in… Just kidding.
To answer “What is ARM?”, let’s start with “What is Intel?” or “What is AMD?” They are both CPU manufacturers, companies who provide almost every CPU you have in your desktop or laptop “computers”. These CPU’s, especially the ones that Intel manufactured, were also the hearth of the Apple’s Macbook line-up since 2006.

An Intel or an AMD branded CPU has an “Instruction Set”. You may hear the terms like x86, x64, AMD64 and such, the most common term is the x86–64. What is x86–64 then? (and how many “what is X” questions there will be?) It is an “instruction set architecture” for the CPU’s that many modern computers include. It is, maybe not the best way to explain but, the description of how a CPU calculates 2+2.

ARM is a company which provides “another architecture” for many CPU’s in the field of computing. ARM does not manufacture the ‘chip’ itself, but provides the architecture to silicon manufacturers. You may not have heard the ARM or the architecture it provides, but if you are reading this from your smartphone, this text is rendered by one of the CPU’s that runs with ARM architecture. As I’ve mentioned, it is a different architecture than what Intel and AMD offers. In more simpler terms, CPU’s with ARM architecture calculate the arithmetic operation 2+2, different than the x86–64 but the result will be the same. ( 2*1+2*1 = 1+1+1+1 = (2*2)/1 = 4)

Up until now, what I’ve written may irritate CS students a lot and may not mean a lot to an average customer but I’ll hopefully funnel this writing masterpiece.

In summary: “Apple will not be using the same architecture when it switches to Apple Silicon and will be switching from x86–64 to ARM”

Even if the switch was today, for the average Macbook customer, replacement of the Intel CPUs with Apple Silicon will not create much of a difference, if, the device is utilized as an internet machine.

Most of the common apps will become suitable to new MacOS versions which will run on ARM. In fact, they are already pretty much suitable. Many smartphones have been utilizing ARM over a decade now. What that means is, a version of Google’s Chrome exists even today, which will become suitable to future MacBooks with very minor tweaks. Many apps, Microsoft’s Office package, Adobe’s software, VLC media player, etc, are already available on Apple’s iPad and iPhone which are running on ARM already! (This was one of the key announcements during Keynote 2020

What about the programs which are peculiar to the x86–64 instructions? Or what about the customers who use their Macbook’s as their main computing device?

Well, things may change drastically if you are NOT using your Macbook as an internet machine. So let’s continue with an use case:

There might be a customer, who bought a 2020 Macbook today, and a licence for a 3D CAD software for her/his freelance job. Her/His licence, if it is not a subscription based one, will probably keep functioning for a couple of more years without any additional costs.

Within four to five years, however, these would be the probable outcomes:

1- Apple will focus on arm and start pushing customer base to purchase Apple Silicon MacBooks, meaning operating system support and updates will be bottlenecked for the x86–64 side.

2- Company who made the 3D CAD software may stop software updates or support on Macs with x86–64 architecture.

3- MacBook may go faulty after 4 years and since the customer purchased the Mac version of the licence in 2020, customer is mandated to buy a new MacBook and run Rosetta 2 since the new one will be on ARM.

PS: What is Rosetta:

Apple announced that they will release the Rosetta 2, an app “emulator” which translates the instructions required by the software from x86–64 to arm. (The first Rosetta was introduced when Apple switched from IBM’s POWER architecture to Intel processors with x86) One thing about the Rosetta 2’s announcement is that is not a permanent solution but a tool for the transition period, which is around 2 years.

4- The software company may totally ditch the x86–64 dependancies and come up with a totally new software which is more capable within ARM environment. (and you will become unfamiliar to the products that you have been using)

Currently I am writing this with my 2017 13" Macbook Pro. This Mac will most probably get its software updates for two or three more years and after that this computer may not endure at all. So I am not worried about the transition for know because when it ends, this laptop will also complete its lifecycle.

I am using this laptop for coding and document editing on daily basis. If my MacBook were to disappear today and I needed to buy a new computing device:
1- I’d envy the new iPad Pro with the magic keyboard but double check if software development on an iPad is still a hassle
2-…Then check for the basic MacBook Pro that will satisfy my needs…
3-… But remember all the things that I’ve listed above and realize…
4-I am able to use Ubuntu, so would probably ditch the MacOS world for a couple of years and buy a laptop from another brand’s premium line up (like Dell’s XPS) which will still include the x86–64 architecture.

PS #2: One of the key arguments of Mac users are “It preserves its value when it becomes second-hand.” I don’t think this argument was a little bit damaged due to 2016–2019 MacBook’s butterfly switch issues and will no longer be valid for devices which are sold in between 2020 to 2024.

Thanks again for reading. Any feedback is appreciated.

You may also check one of my favorite YT channel’s comments and thoughts regarding the Apple’s ARM based Apple Silicon



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