Apple recently announced plans to pivot its Macs from Intel hardware to ARM-based chips that the company will be developing itself. However, the shift to ARM won’t happen all at once, meaning both Intel and ARM-based Mac models will be available at the same time. If you’re thinking about a new PC, should you buy and Intel-based Mac now or wait for the ARM models?
Why you should buy an Intel-based Mac right now
Macs have used Intel chips for years, but ARM is unproven
This video from AppleInsider makes a decent case for both options, but brings up valid concerns about early adoption for ARM-based Macs.
In the video, Andrew O’Hara says Apple expects the transition to ARM to take at least two years to complete. We know Apple plans to release a 13-inch MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro with the new chips in the coming months, but other ARM Macs won’t show up until 2021. While these early models are sure to be exciting, even the best devices can take a few iterations before they meet expectations. And since ARM will make it easier for Apple to upgrade Mac hardware, it’s likely we’ll see at least a few refreshes in the first few years.
Conversely, plenty of recently-released Intel-based Mac and MacBook models have great specs. A Mac release in 2020, 2019, or even 2018 could easily last you a few more years — more than enough time for Apple to perfect its ARM chips across a few hardware iterations, and for third-party developers to port over their apps.
All of your apps will work today
Because, yes, one of the biggest issues facing the new ARM Macs is app compatibility. Also in the video above, AppleInsider advises that third-party MacOS app might not work as well (or at all) on ARM Macs — at least at first.
Intel Macs, on the other hand, run all MacOS apps that exist right now (obviously), and certainly will continue to do so for plenty more years. Apple has a good track record of supporting older products well after launch, so its Intel Macs will absolutely remain relevant even after Apple has fully shifted to ARM.
You’ll be able to save some cash on older Intel Macs
As ZDNet points out, older Macs with Intel chips will still be plenty powerful, but they’ll also see a price drop once the ARM Macs start showing up — especially from aftermarket and refurb sellers. Those extra savings might make buying an Intel Mac increasingly worth it as Apple gets wilder about ARM.
If you’re a Windows user…
ZDNet’s video brings up another interesting point in favour of sticking with an Intel Mac for now: Windows 10.
Windows 10 drivers are compatible with Intel chips, so they can be easily installed as a second operating system alongside macOS with the Boot Camp utility. An ARM version of Windows 10 exists, but we have no idea if it will work on Apple’s new machines. That could mean the era of dual-boot Macs is over, or at least on hold — some experts think Windows 10 will have to eventually switch over to ARM if it wants to keep up with macOS, while others don’t think it matters much.
For now, though, we know at least some of Microsoft’s first-party apps are being ported to Apple’s new ARM architecture, it’s possible Windows 10 will still work on the new Macs. It’s safe to say it won’t at launch, however, so don’t ditch your Intel Macs if having a dual-boot machine is a must.
Why you should wait for ARM
Better macOS performance
CNET’s Iyaz Akhtar brings up many of the same issues as AppleInsider, but his outlook is a little more enthusiastic: The potential upgrades ARM poses are too good to pass up.
Having direct control over the Mac’s chipset means Apple can fine-tune its apps and macOS to work well on the new ARM hardware — much as it can optimise iOS performance on iPhones. Akhtar expects even the earliest ARM-based Macs will have better macOS performance, faster apps and better battery life than Intel Macs were ever capable of. It also makes it easier for Apple to develop and push new hardware and software updates at a faster pace.
Closer integration between macOS, iPadOS and iOS
CNET also suggests app compatibility issues may not be as bad as we’re expecting. Most of Apple’s first-party macOS apps will work on ARM Macs on day one, and major third-party publishers like Microsoft and Adobe are working to get many of their programs running natively.
The problem, Akhtar says, are the apps from smaller third-party developers and older software that doesn’t get updated as often. Luckily, Apple is prepared for this: Not only is Apple making it easy for developers to port their macOS apps, but the ARM hardware will let all iOS and iPadOS apps run on the new Macs, which should fill in many of the gaps while users wait for their favourite programs to get updates. Computerworld says this means we’re likely to see even more cross-platform compatibility between these devices, with Macs being able to directly emulate iPhone and iPad environments from a user’s desktop.
So, to buy a new Mac now or wait?
I think there are solid reasons to be made for buying now and for waiting, and it ultimately comes down to whether you feel experiencing the ARM upgrades early outweighs potential first-gen growing pains.
Personally, I’m excited to see how Apple’s new ARM Macs perform and what new capabilities Apple will be able to unlock now that it’s in control under the hood, but I’m leaning towards waiting, particularly when it comes to the 13-inch MacBook models. I think the real innovations will show up in later hardware revisions and high-end machines like the Mac Pro.
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