Apple’s remaking Mac computers, and it’s taking control to do it

Originally published November 13, 2020

Apple is making big changes to the insides of its computers. (Apple)

By Ian Sherr

Apple has always sold its computers like luxury cars, highlighting sex appeal while promising they can get the job done too. Now, with new innards it custom-built itself, Apple is hoping to kick that appeal into overdrive.

This week Apple began preorders for its new $999 MacBook Air and $1,199 MacBook Pro laptops, as well as its revamped $699 Mac Mini no-frills desktop. The company says the new machines can run laps around their previous iterations, hitting benchmarks that, according to Apple, make them among the fastest personal computers in the world. Plus, the company says, they’re able to do that while offering better battery life and, in the case of the MacBook Air, without a sometimes noisy fan too.

All those changes, Apple says, come from the company’s new M1 silicon chip that it built specifically to act as the brains of its computers. The move is a seismic shift for the company, which for the past 14 years has relied on processors made by chip giant Intel. Intel supplies a vast majority of the central processing units, as they’re known, used by PCs. But, soon, it won’t be supplying them to Apple anymore.

Apple has spent more than a decade on research and development, and at least $1 billion buying more than half a dozen companies, to create its own rival processor based on the well-regarded A-series chips that’ve been powering its iPhones and iPads for a decade. Now morphed into the M1 for its computers, the chip, Apple says, doesn’t just compete with processors made by Intel, it trounces them.

“Every Mac with M1 will be transformed into an entirely different class of product,” Apple’s senior vice president of hardware technologies, Johny Srouji, said when discussing the chip at the company’s online unveiling event Tuesday. “With its unique combination of remarkable performance, powerful features and incredible efficiency, M1 is by far the best chip we’ve ever created.”

Apple’s move to remake its computers follows its long-established trend of taking increasing control over both its devices and the components that power them. Apple has already created custom chips for security, such as with its Face ID and Touch ID unlocking features. It’s created custom image processing chips too, for making photos taken by its phones look that much better.

Apple also makes the iOS and iPadOS software powering its devices, allowing it to finely tune the hardware and software for those gadgets, like the iPhone 12, which CNET reviewer Patrick Holland said got some of our highest ratings ever. “5G support, a new striking design, improved cameras and four different models all add up to make the iPhone 12 an absolute unit,” he wrote.

For many people, it was a forgone conclusion that if Apple could take over the chips inside its Mac computers as well, it could deliver a similarly crowd-pleasing experience.

“The touted improvements strike at the heart of PC buyer concerns: performance and battery life,” said Ross Rubin, an analyst at Reticle Research.

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