Should I Buy an Intel Mac Today or Wait to Buy an Arm-Based Mac?

Apple at this year's Worldwide Developers Conference announced its intention to transition away from Intel processors to Macs powered by its own Apple Silicon chips starting in late 2020. Apple says that by using its own Arm-based processors, it will be able to build better Macs that will boast better performance while also being more energy efficient.

arm vs intel
Apple's announcement at WWDC 2020 was expected, but the timing of the transition has left many people in the market for a new Mac wondering whether they should buy one now, or wait until the first Macs powered by ‌Apple Silicon‌ arrive. If you count yourself among those facing the same dilemma, then keep reading. This article summarizes the most salient points to consider.

Where Have I Heard of Arm Before?

Apple is no stranger to Arm-based architecture, and if you're already wedded to the Apple ecosystem, you probably own a device powered by Arm chips. iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Apple TV all use Advanced RISC machine (Arm-based) processors instead of Intel chips, which use the CISC instruction set.

macprot2chip
In fact, the MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, iMac Pro, Mac mini, and Mac Pro are already equipped with Apple-designed Arm processors, in the form of the T1 and T2 chips that power the Touch Bar, Secure Enclave, and other features in these machines.

Indeed, Apple's familiarity with the architecture is one of the reasons the company has decided that it's time to make the wholesale switch for its desktop and notebook machines.

Will Arm-Based Macs Be Better Than Intel Macs?

Apple says it has been working on a family of system-on-chip processors for its desktop and notebook Macs that will usher in a new set of features and deliver "incredible performance."

Apple loves superlatives, but the details are still thin, so it's hard to know exactly what performance gains are in store. But based on past and current architecture, there are some benefits we can be sure of.

apple custom silicon mac
Thanks to Apple's years of experience honing power-efficient chips for its Apple Watch and iOS devices, it's fair to say that we can expect a better balance of high performance and low power consumption. Apple's custom chips will also provide best-in-class security with the Secure Enclave, along with high-performance graphics capabilities for professional apps and games.

‌Apple Silicon‌ chips will also include Neural Engines and Machine Learning Accelerators, making Macs ideal platforms for machine learning. Other technologies set to feature include a high-quality camera processor, performance controller, high-performance DRAM, unified memory, and cryptography acceleration.

In addition, Apple has developed several custom technologies that it can build into ‌Apple Silicon‌ to integrate the system and further boost the Mac's capabilities, making it stand out from the competition. Just take the T2 chip in current Macs, which integrates the system management controller, the image signal processor, the SSD controller, and a Secure Enclave with a hardware-based encryption engine, not to mention the Touch Bar and Touch ID.
applesiliconbenefits
By going all-in with its own silicon, Apple is increasing its ability to control both the software and the hardware, just like it does for iPhones and iPads, which should make for an improved user experience overall. Not only that, apps designed for the ‌iPhone‌ and the ‌iPad‌ will run on ‌Apple Silicon‌ natively when the first Mac with an Apple-designed chip is released.

How Much Faster Will Apple Silicon Macs Be?

The truth is we don't know yet. Apple seems confident in the future performance of its Arm-based Macs. Presently, Apple is providing developers with a Developer Transition Kit, which is a ‌Mac mini‌ with an A12Z iPad Pro chip. This is based on a 2019 Arm CPU that was designed for the ‌iPad‌, so shouldn't be seen as representative of what Arm Mac performance will ultimately be.

Due to the change in CPU architecture, current Intel Mac software will be translated under Rosetta -- this means that performance of unoptimized software will be slower until developers have a chance to support the new Arm processors.

Early benchmarks show how the developer kit performs with unoptimized software, and delivers benchmarks roughly on par with 2013 to 2015-era MacBook Pros.

It's worth noting, however, that the Arm-powered 2019 ‌iPad Pro‌ running Arm-native benchmarking software is faster than the 13-inch MacBook Pro (2019) in single core and multi-core benchmarks.
a12z mac mini developer transition kit

Overall, these early benchmarks seem promising, bearing in mind that Apple's Arm-based Macs that run ‌Apple Silicon‌ will have new chips designed for specifically for the Mac and based on the A14 chip created for the 2020 ‌iPhone‌ lineup with a 5-nanometer process.

When Are the First Apple Silicon Macs Due to Launch?

At WWDC in June, Apple said that the first Mac that uses ‌Apple Silicon‌ will be introduced before the end of 2020. The company didn't offer any more details beyond that, but rumors suggest Apple is developing at least three Mac processors all of which are based on the A14 chip in the upcoming 2020 iPhones.

Respected Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo believes the first Macs that will adopt Apple's custom chips will be a refreshed 13.3-inch MacBook Pro and a redesigned 24-inch ‌iMac‌, with the updated machines to launch in the fourth quarter of 2020 or early in 2021.

a14 MacBook Feature
Apple analyst ‌Ming-Chi Kuo‌ has also said that Apple plans to release at least six Mini-LED products by the end of 2021, including 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models, so it's possible that these new Macs will be among the first to run on ‌Apple Silicon‌.

Apple has already confirmed that its ‌Apple Silicon‌ Macs will continue to offer support for the Thunderbolt USB-C standard, so there will continue to be an Intel element in the new machines after all.

What Does Apple Silicon Mean for Intel-Based Apps?

Apple has said it will continue to support Intel Macs for years after the transition to ‌Apple Silicon‌ is complete, so if you buy an Intel-based Mac today, you can expect to receive software updates throughout the life of the machine.

As indicated by its Developer Transition Kit, Apple expects most developers to start building native apps immediately. However, users will still be able to run Intel apps on Arm-based Macs thanks to Rosetta 2, a translation process that runs in the background and is invisible to the user.

rosetta 2
Apple has demoed Rosetta 2 with apps and games, and shown that there's no apparent difference between running an Intel app on an Intel machine versus an ‌Apple Silicon‌ machine. Everything works as you'd expect, but if performance is important to you it may take some time for all your software to be updated to support the new processors.

If you rely on Adobe software, the good news is that Apple has given Adobe early access to its Arm-based architecture, and Photoshop and Lightroom are reportedly already running smoothly on ‌Apple Silicon‌.

What If I Need My Mac to Run Windows?

Unfortunately, Boot Camp won't be available on Macs that run ‌Apple Silicon‌, and existing virtualization solutions also won't support running Intel Windows. Even if VMWare or Parallels were to offer that support, it would suffer from slower performance due to the different CPU architectures involved.

16 inch macbook pro windows

Microsoft does have its own native Arm version of Windows it uses on its Surface Pro X, but that is only available to manufacturers who resell Microsoft products under their own name and branding. As far as we know, there are no current plans make an Arm-based version of Windows available for Macs. Even if that were to become available for the Mac, it has its own compatibility and performance issues with traditional Intel Windows applications.

Should I Buy a Mac Now or Wait for Apple Silicon?

Apple is committed to supporting Intel-based Macs long into the future, and even says it has new Mac models in the pipeline that run on Intel processors.

In addition, Apple's existing Mac lineup has never looked in better shape. The 16-inch MacBook Pro and the recently updated 13-inch MacBook Pro in particular are well-rounded machines that offer very impressive performance across the board.

If running Windows is an important factor, then buying a current generation Intel Mac makes more sense than waiting. Intel Macs will be supported for years to come with new Intel Macs still in the pipeline.

In addition, if you are looking to buy a higher end Mac with specific software where performance is important to you, it also may not be worth waiting. Early ‌Apple Silicon‌ Macs may not replace the top-of-the-line for some time and native software will take some time to arrive.

13inchmacbookpro2020
If you don't need to buy a new Mac right away, and the idea of ‌Apple Silicon‌ excites you, it might be worth holding out for a little longer to see how things evolve. Apple says the first Arm-based Mac is set to be introduced before the end of 2020.

That said, Apple has also stated that it will take two years to transition its entire Mac lineup to ‌Apple Silicon‌, so depending on what kind of Mac you want, you could be in for a long wait.

Top Rated Comments

Piggie Avatar
11 months ago
I can't wait to see how great ARM macs will be.

However I think pretty much every single person here can agree on one very true point which has repeated itself with Apple products over many many years even going back to well into Steve Jobs time.

Expect any new Apple product, to get VASTLY better by the time the 2nd and 3rd models come out.

1st model (generally always issues)
2nd model fixes most of these problems, as they HAD to ship the 1st one and could not fix everything before launch so the 2nd one has all the things they really wanted to do with the 1st one.
3rd model, they'd had time to have a rethink and look at the good and bad points, and give it the love and polish to really make is a good well rounded product.

:)
Score: 64 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Plutonius Avatar
11 months ago
My opinion only but I would never even consider getting the first rev of a new architecture.
Score: 22 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Rudy69 Avatar
11 months ago
That said, Apple has also stated that it will take two years to transition its entire Mac lineup to Apple Silicon, so depending on what kind of Mac you want, you could be in for a long wait.
Let's not forget the PPC transition was supposed to start June 2006 and finish at the end of 2007. Apple ended up starting earlier and finishing August 2006.

If the transition proceeds smoothly I can't imagine Intel macs being sold after 2021
Score: 18 Votes (Like | Disagree)
ImperialForces Avatar
11 months ago
I'd say either buy an Intel Mac after their last upgrade or be prepared to wait for 5 more years for them to first introduce their ARM Macs and then iron out the kinks.
Score: 14 Votes (Like | Disagree)
mrbobbo Avatar
11 months ago
Unless you’re really excited about Apple Silicon I’d suggest waiting a few years. The first products are going to have problems in quality, compatibility, and support. Let somebody else help Apple shakedown the new line of product. Change of processor architecture is VERY impactful.
Score: 13 Votes (Like | Disagree)
l3it3r Avatar
11 months ago
Personally, I'm waiting. I have a 2018 15" MBP and have been very tempted to get a 16", but with the upcoming Apple-powered Macs, I'm perfectly happy waiting for them to be released. I've been testing Big Sur on my old 2013 MBA, and it's pretty nice, so I'm excited to see what happens with the new chipsets :)
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

tile sticker e1570533758981

Tile CEO: 'We Welcome Competition From Apple, But We Think It Needs to Be Fair'

Tuesday May 4, 2021 9:51 am PDT by
Just after Apple announced its AirTags, Tile CEO CJ Prober relayed his concerns about competing with Apple in the tracking space, and said that Tile would ask Congress to investigate Apple's business practices specific to Find My and item trackers. Prober this week did an interview with Bloomberg, where he further expanded on Tile's complaints about Apple and why he feels that Tile is...
signal instagram ads3

Signal Shares the Instagram Ads Facebook Doesn't Want You to See

Wednesday May 5, 2021 1:29 am PDT by
Encrypted messaging app Signal has had a series of Instagram ads blocked from the social media platform, after it attempted to show users how much data the Facebook-owned company collects about them and how it's used to push targeted ads. In a blog post, Signal described how it generated the ads to show users why they were seeing them, simply by declaring upfront the information that the...
tracking disabled ios 14 5

Analytics Suggest 96% of Users Leave App Tracking Disabled in iOS 14.5

Friday May 7, 2021 1:51 am PDT by
An early look at an ongoing analysis of Apple's App Tracking Transparency suggests that the vast majority of iPhone users are leaving app tracking disabled since the feature went live on April 26 with the release of iOS 14.5. According to the latest data from analytics firm Flurry, just 4% of iPhone users in the U.S. have actively chosen to opt into app tracking after updating their device...
fortnite apple logo 2

Epic CEO Tim Sweeney Admits App Store's 30% Cut Is Similar to Consoles, Would Have Accepted Special Deal With Apple

Tuesday May 4, 2021 1:54 pm PDT by
Apple's legal battle with Epic Games is continuing on, and during the second day of the trial, Epic Games' CEO Tim Sweeney continued his testimony against Apple. Sweeney was grilled by Apple's lawyers, and made several points seemingly favorable to Apple. In addition to mentioning how he prefers Apple's iPhone and values Apple's privacy policies that he's aiming to dismantle, Sweeney...
snapchat dark mode

Snapchat Rolls Out Dark Mode on iOS

Wednesday May 5, 2021 1:17 am PDT by
Nearly two years following the release of iOS and iPadOS 13, which included native, built-in, and systemwide dark mode, Snapchat, one of the world's most prominent social media networks, has finally rolled out a dark mode theme for iOS users. Snapchat began testing a dark mode theme of its app design late last year with a small group of iOS users. Now, Snapchat says that as of this week, it...
netflix sign up

Apple Discussed 'Punitive Measures' Against Netflix for Dropping In-App Purchases

Wednesday May 5, 2021 11:03 am PDT by
As the Epic Games v. Apple trial progresses into its third day, Apple's internal documents and communications with various companies are continuing to surface, giving us some insight into the dealings that Apple has had around the App Store. Back in December 2018, Netflix stopped offering in-app subscription options for new or resubscribing members and instead began requiring them to sign up ...
iphone 12 preorder purple

Apple Begins Transition to Randomized Serial Numbers With Purple iPhone 12

Wednesday May 5, 2021 9:17 am PDT by
MacRumors previously reported about Apple's plan to switch to randomized serial numbers for future products starting in early 2021, and this transition has now started with the new purple iPhone 12 model in multiple countries. With assistance from Aaron Zollo, host of the YouTube channel ZolloTech, we can confirm that the purple iPhone 12 released last month has a new 10-character serial...
airtag 1

AirTag Anti-Stalking Measures 'Just Aren't Sufficient' Says Washington Post Report

Wednesday May 5, 2021 6:03 pm PDT by
The safeguards that Apple built into AirTags to prevent them from being used to track someone "just aren't sufficient," The Washington Post's Geoffrey Fowler said today in a report investigating how AirTags can be used for covert stalking. Fowler planted an AirTag on himself and teamed up with a colleague to be pretend stalked, and he came to the conclusion that the AirTags are a "new means...
iphone 13 pro max dummy notch

iPhone 13 Pro Max Dummy Model Depicts Smaller Notch

Tuesday May 4, 2021 1:08 pm PDT by
Apple's iPhone 13 models are expected to feature a slimmed down notch, marking the first major change to the TrueDepth camera system since it was introduced in the 2017 iPhone X. We're still months away from the launch of the iPhone 13, but Lewis Hilsenteger of Unbox Therapy managed to get an iPhone 13 Pro Max dummy model that represents what we can expect from the new 2021 device. Dummy...
iPad Pro July Shipping

12.9-Inch iPad Pro Now Delivers as Late as Mid-July

Wednesday May 5, 2021 7:10 am PDT by
While the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro is set to launch in the second half of May, orders placed today are estimated for delivery as late as mid-July on Apple's online store in the United States — some two months later. The new 11-inch iPad Pro is faring better so far, with some configurations available for delivery in the last week of May. The new 12.9-inch iPad Pro features a Liquid Retina XDR ...