Apple’s breakup with Intel has begun.
Apple unveiled a new series of Mac computers on Tuesday that use processors it created for the first time. Since 2005, Apple has relied on Intel to make the processors that underpin Apple’s laptops and desktop computers, meaning those computers used virtually the same chips as many other PCs.
The move away from Intel was the latest sign of the growing power and independence of the technology industry’s largest companies. Apple is large enough and rich enough to design and make those chips itself. Apple has already made the chips inside iPhones, iPads and the Apple Watch, and now it creates essentially all major parts of the Mac, from the software to the hardware to the components that power the computer.
Apple had announced the transition in June, and said then that it would show off the first Macs with Apple processors later this year. Apple said on Thursday that it was making “a family of chips” and that it would take two years to transition all of its Mac computers to the new components.
Apple announced new Macbook Air and Macbook Pro laptops, as well as a new Mac mini desktop computer. All of the computers went on sale on Tuesday.
In a prerecorded 45-minute infomercial, a format that has replaced Apple’s live product launches during the pandemic, a series of Apple executives described how the new Apple processor, called the M1, would make the new Macs faster and more power efficient.
“Every Mac with M1 will be transformed into a completely different class of product,” Johny Srouji, a former Intel engineer who leads Apple’s chip-design team, said in the video. He said the new chip could achieve three times more “performance per watt.” That enabled the new Macbook Pro to have up to 20 hours of battery life, the most ever for a Macbook, Apple said.
For Intel, Apple’s shift continues a drumbeat of bad news that largely follows its delays in delivering performance gains in its chips. It also illustrates the gains possible for computer makers with the engineering prowess to design blocks of chip circuitry that handle specific tasks, like graphics and machine learning.
Though Apple represents a small chunk of Intel’s business, analysts have warned that any major performance leaps by Apple might spur other major computer makers to start designing chips of their own or turn to other suppliers, such as Qualcomm. Microsoft is already selling laptops powered by that company’s chips.
But the Apple presentation didn’t provide details of the benchmark tests used to justify the claimed speed improvements. “Performance of the new M1 chip is nearly impossible to gauge as the company didn’t provide any detailed substantiation around any of the performance claims made,” said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy. “I think these should be scrutinized extensively.”
An Intel spokesman said the company remained focused on delivering the most advanced PC experiences and a wide range of technology choices that redefine computing.