Back in June, Apple announced a major change to its Macs: Starting in late 2020, its new laptops and desktop computers will move away from Intel and use processors built by Apple using the same ARM architecture it uses on phones and tablets. It’s a seismic shift that won’t happen all at once (especially since Apple just updated the Intel-based iMac), but it leaves consumers with an important choice to make. Should you buy an Intel-based Mac now, or wait for one with Apple’s new custom silicon?
Why Apple’s New Processors Matter
Longtime Apple fans will recall that Apple made a similar transition from its PowerPC processors to Intel chips back in 2005. Among the benefits at the time, using the same processor architecture that comparable PCs used meant it was easier for developers to bring popular Windows apps to the Mac (or at least emulate the ones that didn’t get direct ports), ushering in a thriving era of compatibility and development for Mac users.
Today, Macs are much more common, and it’s not as difficult to convince big developers to make apps for Apple’s platforms (some will even fight in court for the privilege). But Apple’s other devices, including the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch, use Apple’s own custom processors. As such, they live in their own separate world. Developers making apps for both Macs and iPhones would have to do extra work to make their apps available on both platforms. With the switch to Apple’s own processors, it will be possible to write an app once and run it on most Apple devices with minimal modification.
There’s also a possibility that Apple’s new processors will be faster than Intel processors would be, but that’s still a bit of an open question. The company has suggested that the processors in its iPhones and iPads are so efficient that when translated to larger devices, it will give Macs a leg up on the competition. However, it hasn’t cited any benchmarks for laptop or workstation usage yet, and over the short term, it’s possible that apps automatically converted to work on the new processors will take performance hits that eat through any gains (more on that later). However, over the long term, Apple-made processors could offer better performance and make developing for all Apple products simpler.
Will My Intel Mac Be Obsolete Next Year?
If you need to buy a Mac right now, and all that’s available is an Intel-based Mac, you might reasonably wonder if it’s going to be out of date soon. That isn’t likely to be the case. (At least, no more than every computer is out of date the minute you buy it.) Apple says it will support Intel Macs for years, and there are even some Intel-based Macs that haven’t been released yet.
If you purchase AppleCare+ with your Mac, then you’re promised at least three years worth of support from the time you buy it, which means that even if you buy one of the new Intel-based Macs, you won’t be stranded without support for a while. However, that only applies to accidental repair damage and priority tech support. You can keep using your Mac long after that, often with minimal issues.
In general, Macs tend to receive OS updates for many years. Big Sur, the newest version of macOS, will roll out to Macs released as far back as 2013, indicating that even seven-year-old Macs are still getting the latest software. Furthermore, Apple provides service and parts for Macs for up to five years after they’ve stopped being sold. In other words, even if you bought a new Intel-based Mac today, it would likely still receive OS updates, qualify for service, and have spare parts available in 2026.