The Difference Between ‘Universal’ and ‘Intel’ Apps (and Why It Matters for Your M1 Mac)

The Difference Between ‘Universal’ and ‘Intel’ Apps (and Why It Matters for Your M1 Mac)
Photo: Farknot Architect, Shutterstock

Apple’s M1 Macs are known for speed, and for good reason: They wake up immediately and churn through tasks, often without breaking a sweat. You might think that your M1 MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, iMac, or Mac mini maintains this level of performance no matter what you throw at it; as it turns out though, the apps you use have a major affect on that.

A little M1 history

You might notice that some apps on your M1 Mac open instantly and run like butter, while others bounce in the dock before launching a bit sluggish. There’s a reason for this; not all apps are made for M1. For the uninitiated, M1 is Apple’s first chip designed for their Macs; essentially, Apple now makes its own “brains” for its computers.

For years, Intel made all the processors and integrated graphics cards for Apple, while AMD produced the dedicated graphics cards for certain machines. Apple combines its own processor, graphics card, memory, and more onto one, highly-efficient chip. But it’s not just the hardware; because Apple makes both the hardware and the software for its Macs, it can finely tune and optimise that experience like most companies cannot.

Apps are either optimised for M1 or for Intel

Of course, app developers can optimise their apps for M1, as well. When they do, third-party apps can run as well as Apple-made apps, resulting in an excellent computing experience. Apps are split into two versions: “Universal” (sometimes “Apple Silicon”), which are optimised for both Intel and M1-based Macs, and “Intel” which are optimised for Intel machines.

You can still run Intel apps on an M1 Mac, they just needs to go through an emulator called Rosetta 2. That experience is not optimised for M1, so you likely won’t get the performance from Intel apps that you do from Universal apps.

How to check if your apps are optimised for M1

It’s easy to check whether your apps are Intel or Universal. Click the Apple in the top left, hold down the Option key, then choose System Information. Under Software, click Applications. Here, you’ll find a complete lists of apps on your computer. Take a look at the Kind tab at the end; this will show you whether an app is Intel or Universal. If you want to sort the list by this metric, just click Kind.

The thing is, you might have Intel apps on your Mac that could be Universal apps. If you migrated your apps from an older, non-M1 Mac, for example, they may have come over in their Intel version. If there’s an app that you know has an M1 version, like Chrome, for example, you can uninstall it and reinstall it to run the M1-optimised app on your Mac. Just head back to System Information to make sure the M1 version is now on your computer.

In addition, when you download apps from the internet, pay attention to whether they have options to download the app for M1 or for Intel-based Macs. You’ll want to make sure to download the M1 version, if so. If there’s no option, and the app shows up as “Intel” on your Mac, there’s likely no M1 version.

 

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