Apple may phase out Intel chips in the 2021 Mac

24 Apr 2020

Image: © charnsitr/

As Intel struggles to meet global demand for chips, Apple is reportedly building its own processor for the 2021 Mac computers.

On Thursday (23 April), Bloomberg reported that Apple aims to start selling Mac computers with the company’s own ARM processors by 2021. According to the report, Apple will rely on the designs used in iPhone and iPad chips.

The tech giant is said to be working on three different Mac processors, known as systems-on-a-chip, which are based on the upcoming iPhone’s A14 chip. Sources told Bloomberg that the Mac chips will be “much faster than the processors in the iPhone and iPad”.

If Apple is successful in the development of these chips, the move could deal a significant blow to chipmaker Intel, which has been struggling to meet demand.

In the past, Intel delays slowed the release of Apple’s 12-inch Retina MacBook, after Apple designed the product on the assumption that a particular Intel chipset would be available sooner.

Apple’s new chip

Kalamata, the name Apple has given to this chip project, has been in the works for several years. In 2018, the company developed a Mac chip as part of this project, which was based on the iPad Pro’s A12X processor. This is reportedly what gave Apple engineers the “confidence” that they could replace Intel chips in Mac computers.

The first of the three Mac processors the company is building is said to feature a 12-core CPU with eight high-performance ‘Firestorm’ cores and at least four energy efficient ‘Icestorm’ cores. This would be double or quadruple the current number of cores that Intel provides to the business in its entry-level Mac devices.

Sources said that the chips will be built by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC), which is Apple’s partner for iPhone and iPad processors. The chips will come as self-contained units, featuring both a CPU and GPU.

Bloomberg suggested that having Macs, iPhones and iPads running on the same underlying technology may make it easier for Apple to “unify its apps ecosystem”, though despite the unified chip design, Mac devices will continue to run on MacOS, rather than iOS.

The iPhone-maker is also said to be looking into ways to ensure software that works on current Intel-based Macs will continue to work on the company’s first ARM-based computers.

Rumours about Apple building its own ARM processors have been circulating since 2012. There are reports that the company may make an official announcement about the chips in June, when Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference was set to take place, but it’s also possible that any announcements or product development could be delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Impact on Intel

Though Intel has seen a boom in earnings, with revenue spiking above expectations in Q1 2020, analysts fear that the company’s recent growth is not expected to last.

The company closed Q1 with net income of $5.66bn, which is a significant increase on last year’s Q1 figure of $3.97bn. In January, Intel was hoping that revenue for 2020 would reach $19bn.

Despite performing well, the company has been losing dominance in the CPU market, with AMD catching up in terms of chip performance. While many laptop manufacturers rely on Intel, more companies have been switching to AMD, according to The Next Web, which noted that Microsoft opted for AMD in its Ryzen-powered Surface laptop earlier this year.

The Next Web added that if Apple succeeds in building its own chips, “Intel’s business is destined to suffer”, particularly because Apple also plans to use Qualcomm’s 5G tech over Intel’s cellular modem technology. With that said, Apple has also been looking into ways to build its own 5G antenna.

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic