Apple's decision to move to the ARM platform poses a big problem: does it make Intel Macs obsolete?

Within the next few years, Apple will switch to Apple Silicon, which means a switch from the Intel to the ARM64 platform. This will make Macs faster and more energy efficient. However, we don't intend to discuss the technical detail here (you can read more about the technical details about Apple Silicon and how Apple Silicon will compare to Intel elsewhere on our website).

Instead we will look at a new problem for Mac users that this change brings about: Should you buy a Mac with an Intel CPU now? We know that there are still some in the pipeline, Tim Cook announced as much, and with the arrival in August 2020 of the new 27in iMac with updated Intel processors the question is even more pertinent.

Apple intends to complete the change within two years. So by June 2022 all iMacs, MacBooks and even the Mac Pro should run on Apple Silicon. If your Mac is built on the old platform Apple will continue to support it with updates, but it is possible that support from new software and services from third parties will start to become increasingly sparse over the next few years.

This might sound familiar to those who remember the last time Apple made such a change. In 2006 Apple made the switch from PowerPC to Intel. The consequences of this change were that the value of outdated PowerPC Macs declined because the new Intel Macs were much faster, and eventually, with the arrival of OS X 10.7 Lion in 2011, no longer supported. As a result formerly expensive G5 and G4 Macs that were sold second hand were priced a lot lower than they would otherwise have been. Read Should I buy a second hand Mac?

Wondering whether to buy an M1 Mac? Read Should I buy an M1 MacBook or Mac? Read about the first Apple Silicon Macs.

Problem: How long do you intend to use your Mac for?

If you buy a Mac with an Intel processor this year, you should consider how long you are prepared to wait until you replace it. If you change your MacBook every year or every three years, there probably won't be an issue.

However, compatibility problems may start to emerge within four or five years. So if, for example, you want to use your expensive iMac for the next five years you need to consider the fact that you might start to experience compatibility problems before the end of that period. In this case, it might make sense for most users to wait for the next iMac generation with ARM CPUs. [Wondering how long do Macs last, read this]


Problem: Compatibility

The decision about whether to wait for an ARM Mac also depends on the hardware and software you use with it. For example, if you are a music professional you might have invested a lot of money in audio hardware and software and will want to know how well your USB devices that require drivers will cope with the new platform.

On the other hand, Apple has reassured that current Mac software should probably run without problems on the new platform: thanks to technologies such as Rosetta 2 and virtualisation Apple promises that older Mac programs will work smoothly and quickly.

Problem: Windows

Another problem was noticed during the presentation: When the new system was introduced, the virtualisation software Parallels Desktop was shown, with which many users use Windows on the Mac. What was significant was that it was Linux that was virtualised under Apple Silicon rather than Windows. There is concern now that the Intel version of Windows will not run on Apple Silicon at all, or, if it does, very slowly.

Linux on ARM Mac

Boot Camp may not work either, which will be bad news for users of finance software, for example. If your company runs Windows on Macs beware that this may not be possible in the ARM-powered future. It may be that Intel Macs were accepted quickly because of their support of other operating systems such as Windows and Linux - without an ARM version of Windows the popularity of the Mac could decline.

There is one small consolation for owners of an Intel Mac at least: Even if there is no more support from Apple, their computer will still be able to run Linux and Windows for a very long time.

Apple MacBook

Should I buy a Mac?

If you are a home user you probably don't need to worry. An Intel Mac will not cause any problems over the next few years - the first generation of ARM Macs, on the other hand, might.

That's part of our reasoning for recommending the August 2020 iMac. We also recommend it on the basis that it may be the last Mac that can run Windows. Read about why we think you should buy the new iMac here.

For companies and self-employed people who want to use their Mac for the next five years, this will be a problem. If that is you, it would be wise to postpone major investments until more information about software compatibility and Windows support is available.

Hopefully we will know more about compatibility in the next few weeks - the first test devices are already with developers, so we expect to learn a lot over the coming months.

If you still want to buy a new Mac read our Best Mac Buying Guide for help deciding which Mac to buy. You could also check the following links for the best deals right now:

You may also like to read Should I buy new Mac now?

This article originally appeared on Macwelt. Translation by Karen Haslam.