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Apple Silicon MacBook Pro with ARM release date, price, performance and leaks

Apple Silicon MacBook Pro
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Apple Silicon MacBook Pro laptops may be on their way as early as October, starting the biggest series of changes in Apple computers in ages. Apple Silicon is the name the company is using for its ARM-based computers, and we learned about this branding at WWDC 2020, when Tim Cook broke the big news.

A switch to these new chips will allow for major changes up and down Apple's laptops and desktops — and it's rumored no Mac will be left behind (eventually). And, yes, these chips will be based on the same technology as the A-series iPhone and iPad processors. 

While it may seem like inside baseball for some, Apple Silicon will have massive ramifications that are seen throughout Apple's next systems, in particular its MacBooks. ARM-based MacBooks could see big improvements that allow for redesigned chassis, longer battery life and lighter designs. And both the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro could really use a shot in the ARM when it comes to design.

This would be a massive and important weapon in Apple's arsenal to regain ground against competitors that have caught up in the Mac vs PC war, most notably in the Dell XPS 13 and HP's Spectre laptops.

Here's everything you need to know about Apple Silicon.

Apple Silicon MacBook Pro release date

The dates and rumors are all over the map, so we'll break them down, and explain which sounds most likely. There was no MacBook-related news during Apple's Sept. 15 event, which focused on Apple Watch and iPad announcements.

What seems more likely is the rumor that Apple Silicon MacBooks will debut at an October 27 Apple event that's leaked out. Another leak suggest the 12-inch MacBook will be reborn with Apple Silicon and that and MacBook Pro (13-inch) models will get the ARM update this fall as well.

The next devices to transfer from Intel chips to Apple Silicon are the iMac and MacBook Pro (16-inch), which will get ARM versions in 2021, while Apple still sells Intel versions. 

Then, in 2022, the iMac Pro and Mac Pro, along with the remaining iMac and 16-inch MacBook Pro models will be converted to Apple Silicon. The ARM Mac Mini will arrive in either 2021 or 2022. Yes, the MacBook Air is missing from this list. We're as confused as you are.

But for now, only Apple Developers can get Apple Silicon Macs, as Apple revealed a development system that runs inside the Mac Mini enclosure. As for firm hardware release dates, we only know that the first Mac based on Apple Silicon will be released sometime in 2020.

Yes, at WWDC 2020, Apple CEO Tim Cook said we should expect to see the first Apple Silicon-based Mac released at some point this year. That relatively short window was first leaked by tweeter @l0vetodream, when they posted that there will be an "ARM Mac this year." 

It's important to keep in mind that Cook also said that this transition from Intel to Apple Silicon will take a full two years. So it's not as easy as flipping a switch.

Apple Silicon MacBook prices

Apple's pricing plans for the ARM MacBooks may have just leaked out, and given us lower prices than we expected. In tweets from Apple leaker @Komiya_kj we found out that we might be getting a $799 ARM MacBook (arguably replacing the $999 MacBook Air) and a $1,099 13-inch MacBook Pro, which would be drops of $200 for each. That MacBook may not be a new MacBook Air, but instead an update to the 12-inch MacBook that doesn't even show up on Apple.com.

The price drop may be explained by Apple's ability to offer its Apple Silicon-based devices at lower prices, since it's manufacturing them for itself, and not buying them from Intel. 

This could give Apple the ability to price any ARM MacBooks lower than it did before. Historically, Apple's never felt a need to compete in the cheap sections at Amazon and Best Buy, so we don't expect a huge drop. But since Apple Silicon is a change from Intel chips, and some compatibility issues may arise (no matter how good Rosetta 2 is), such a price drop would help sweeten the deal.

Apple Silicon performance

New benchmarks show that the A12Z-based Apple Silicon test kit for developers thrives on Geekbench natively, with a multi-core score of 4,555 and a single-core score of 1,098, which put it on par with the iPad Pro.

Apple claimed that Macs with Apple Silicon will stand up against desktops and laptops because they can provide higher performance with lower power consumption. This makes them very appealing for laptops, where battery size often hurts portability. 

Apple Silicon vs Desktops and Notebooks

(Image credit: Apple)

We're all wondering, though, how will apps run on day 1, when this first Apple Silicon Mac releases this year. ARM Macs running on Apple Silicon in 2020 seemed unlikely before this past week, as developers will want time to translate their apps from the Intel/x86 structure to the Apple Silicon/ARM code. Fortunately, Apple's also got a weapon in their back pocket that allows them to release Macs before everyone's caught up.

Apple's done this all before, moving from PowerPC to Intel, so for its move from Intel to Apple Silicon, it's announced Rosetta 2, the ARM-emulation technology that succeeds Rosetta, which was used to let PowerPC apps run on Intel Macs. 

Apple Silicon running Maya

(Image credit: Apple)

In a pre-taped demo at WWDC 2020, Apple showed that the powerful and demanding Maya 3D rendering tool and Shadow of the Tomb Raider can well run on Rosetta 2. We've talked to developers worried about Maya on ARM and how games will work under emulation, so this is the kind of thing that needs to be seen in person to be truly believed. 

Remember the Microsoft Surface Pro X? That ARM processor powered laptop suffered from incompatibility issues. If Apple wants to replace Intel smoothly, it can't have such concerns.

Apple Silicon Macs will also run other platforms. At WWDC 2020, we saw that Linux and Docker will run in windowed modes on these Macs, and Apple claims near-native performance. 

Apple Silicon virtualization for iOS apps

(Image credit: Apple)

iPhone and iPad apps will also run on macOS in the Apple Silicon future. You'll be able to download these apps directly from the App Store and run them on the desktop. Apple provided a couple of examples in Monument Valley 2 and the Calm app.

Apple Silicon MacBook specs

A new leak, again from @komiya_kj, has given us reason to think that one of the ARM MacBooks with Apple Silicon chips will be a 12-inch MacBook that has the same 4380mAh battery as the 13-inch MacBook Air. 

This makes us think that either Apple is giving the MacBook Air a significant redesign and slimming down — which would make sense alongside the rumored 14-inch MacBook Pro — or that it's bringing back the 12-inch MacBook that's long since been essentially forgotten about. 

That should net the ARM MacBook a serious battery life leap, as the MacBook Air lasted 9 hours 31 minutes on our web surfing battery test, running on less power efficient Intel processors.

Apple Silicon chips

Apple didn't break down the names of the Apple Silicon chips it will use in upcoming Apple, but it revealed that the Developer Transition Kit will feature the same A12Z system-on-chip seen in the iPad Pro 2020. A report from Bloomberg stated the first Apple Silicon chips for Macs will have at least 12 cores: 8 high-performance cores and at least 4 energy efficient cores.

Apple Silicon dev transition kit

(Image credit: Apple)

Considering that Apple has updated its A-Series ARM processors on the iPhone on an annual basis, we expect that an A14 chip will succeed 2019's A13 processors used in the iPhone 11 Pro Max. 

The A14 processor is also expected to be used in the iPhone 12. This means we should expect strong performance from the early Apple Silicon Macs, as the A13 Bionic chips in the 2019 iPhones are the fastest phone processors around, and the A12Z Bionic chip in the iPad Pro keeps pace with top-tier laptops. 

Apple Silicon processors

(Image credit: Apple)

At WWDC 2020, we saw a list of all of the major features and components of Apple Silicon system-on-chip technology. Those start with high-performance CPU cores and include high-efficiency DRAM memory, high-performance GPU and — of course — Apple's Secure Enclave technology seen across all Macs. Apple also cited "advanced power management" and a "low-power design" that will help for greater efficiency.

Apple Silicon MacBooks outlook

Apple's decision to move to Apple Silicon isn't just motivated by an improved user experience, as a greater control of its processor supply chain will likely reduce Apple's own costs. We just hope that this doesn't come at a cost to how the Mac works. 

Intel Macs aren't going away today, though. Tim Cook also noted at WWDC that 2020 will see Apple release Intel processor-powered Macs. Apple prognosticator Ming-Chi Kuo tipped us off to expect the iMac and MacBook Pro to be the first Apple Silicon-powered Macs.

Tim Cook rightly positioned Apple Silicon as one of the biggest moves in the Mac's history — alongside switches to PowerPC and Intel processors, and the launch of OS X — and we're looking forward to see all the major ways this will change the Mac as we know it.