Apple has taken the wraps of its first Macs to runs on Apple Silicon - the name Apple is using for its custom-made ARM-based chips that it will be transitioning to over the next two years.

Apple launched three new Macs powered by the M1 chip at its 10 November Apple Event.

As expected the new Silicon Macs include:

  • 13in MacBook Pro: two new models, one with 8-Core CPU, 8-Core GPU and
    256GB storage, the other with 512GB storage.
  • MacBook Air: two new models, one with 8-core CPU, 7-core GPU and 256GB, the other with 8-core CPU, 8-core GPU and 512GB.
  • Mac mini: two new models, one with 8-Core CPU and 8-Core GPU
    256GB storage, the other with 512GB storage.

The company confirmed back in June 2020 that the first Silicon Mac would launch before the end of 2020.

In this article we wil run through what need to know about the three new M1 Macs and what the transition from Intel to Apple's ARM-based SoCs means. We'll also look at what the move might mean for the graphics capabilities of Apple's new Macs.

We'll also look at the software that the new Mac could be capable of running - while it will theoretically be able to run iOS apps it may not be able to run Windows anymore. 

ARM MacBook release date

Apple has confirmed that three Silicon Macs are available to buy now.

Customers were able to buy the new devices from select Apple Store locations and Apple Authorised Resellers from around 17 November 2020.

What will the next Silicon Mac be?

Apple has said that the transition from Intel to Apple Silicon will take a couple of years.

We anticipate the roll out being something like this:

  • 14in MacBook Pro - second quarter 2021 / third quarter 2021
  • iMac - second quarter 2021 / third quarter 2021
  • 16in MacBook Pro - second quarter 2021 / third quarter 2021
  • Mac Pro - third quarter 2021 / fourth quarter 2021

We forecast Apple's next Silicon Mac here.

Apple Silicon Mac prices

There had been some speculation that the price for the new Silicon Macs could fall, after all Apple no longer needs to pay Intel so can pass some of that saving onto customers. Of course that isn't the case for the MacBook Pro, but the more expensive MAcBook Air has had a slight £50/$50 price drop while the Mac mini is £100/$100 cheaper.

Lots of leakers and commentators had made predictions about the pricing thoguh.

Back in July 2020 tweeter Komiya suggested that the price of a new ARM MacBook would be $849 - with a $799 price for students.

In a tweet on 24 July, Ihacktu (aka iHacktu Pro) claimed that a new Silicon MacBook would cost just $800. His tweet was deleted soon after.

In the same tweet Ihacktu also suggested that a new Silicon 13in MacBook Pro would start at $1,099. More information here: Silicon MacBook could launch on 27 October and cost $800.

The good news is that the prices didn't go up - it's often the case that when Apple introduces a new product the price goes up.

However, we think that in this instance Apple wants to make the upgrade attractive to consumers and for that reason we expected that the pricing would be similar to what it was - and that is the case.

Apple apparently expects high demand for the Silicon MacBooks it's producing, want to know more? Read: How many silicon MacBooks Apple expects to sell.

What is Apple Silicon?

Apple announced that it will be moving away from Intel processors inside its Macs to its own home-made processors - called Apple Silicon - at WWDC in June 2020. You may have heard them referred to as ARM processors, that's because the architecture that underlies them is known as ARM.However, these aren't ARM processors - ARM just licenses the instruction set architecture to Apple, Apple designs the chips and everything else.

And Apple has a lot of experience in designing chips: it's been making its own processors for a while now - every iPhone, iPad, and many other Apple products have Apple processors inside. Indeed, some Macs already had an Apple processor inside - the T1 and T2 are ARM-based security related chips that appear in various Macs.

This won't be the first time Apple has made such a transition, in 2006 it moved from PowerPC chips to Intel. Just as was the case back then, this latest move won't happen overnight and there will be a lot of work involved behind the scenes, not just for Apple but also for developers who will need to translate their apps to run on the new architecture (although initially apps will be automatically translated using Apple's Rosetta system). We have everything you need to know about Apple Silicon here. You might also be interested to read about how Apple Silicon will compare to Intel here.

Read more about the M1 chip here: How good is Apple's M1 chip really?

We also compare the various Intel Macs with their M1 models here:

Apple silicon

Silicon Mac Graphics

The specs of consumer focused Macs are very different to those destined for professional users - especially professional creatives. The GPU provision of Silicon Macs is the most obvious question - and the biggest concern for professional users.

However, most consumer Macs currently have integrated Intel graphics. What graphics will the new Apple Silicon Macs offer?

Apple told developers at WWDC that Apple Silicon Macs will sport custom Apple GPUs. In a developer support document Apple advises not to underestimate an integrated Apple GPU, saying: "Don't assume a discrete GPU means better performance... The integrated GPU in Apple processors is optimized for high performance graphics tasks."

Apple is describing the GPU in its M1 system on chip as it's most advanced GPU. This GPU features up to eight cores that are capable of running nearly 25,000 threads simultaneously. It also boasts 2.6 teraflops of throughput, according to the company.

Apple claims the GPU can handle "extremely demanding tasks with ease, from smooth playback of multiple 4K video streams to rendering complex 3D scenes."

At least for consumer Macs using an Apple integrated GPU would make sense, and it shouldn't be a huge leap for the company - Apple already makes its own GPUs for the iPhone and iPad.

However, when it comes to pro focused Macs, such as those that currently use AMD GPUs the transition will be more complex. The company has plans to make high-end graphics processors that will hopefully meet the demands of this group. Tead about Apple's Silicon graphics plans. This is no doubt the reason why the iMac and other pro-focused desktops and laptops won't be transitioning to Apple Silicon soon.

iMac Graphics

Silicon Mac software

The first Apple Silicon Macs will run macOS Big Sur - the operating system that is being developed for both types of Mac. However, there is a lot that these new Silicon Macs will be able to do that their Intel counterparts won't.

For one thing it will be possible to run iOS apps on the new Silicon-powered Mac. This means that developers won't have to develop separate versions of their apps for Mac and iOS/iPad OS - one app could work on all platforms. However, it seems that developers aren't all falling over themselves to do so. Read: New Macs will run iOS apps - but not Facebook, Google Maps or YouTube.

This reminds us of a 9to5Mac report back in May 2018 that revealed details of an in-house project as Apple codenamed 'Star' that suggested that Apple was creating an ARM-based processor to be used in a "brand-new device family" that would run a derivative of iOS on a Mac.

That 'Star' project related to a product with that has "a touchscreen, a SIM card slot, GPS, compass, is water-resistant and also runs EFI," according to 9to5Mac. EFI (Extensible Firmware Interface) is the boot system used by Macs.

Wouldn't it be nice if this new Apple Silicon Mac had a touch screen? Speaking of which, this is why we think Apple needs a touchscreen Mac.