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A Brief History of Mac Processors: Motorola 68 K for ARM

One of the most exciting announcements at WWDC 2020 was Apple’s plans to move from Intel chips on Macs to custom ARM-based processors similar to the A-Series chips used in iPhones and iPads. So we thought it would be fascinating to look at the history of processors on the Mac in the last 36 years since the iconic first Macintosh.

1984-1995: Motorola 68 K

Motorola 68 K processor

1984 The Apple Macintosh computer had an 8 MHz Motorola 68000 CPU. While under development, an early Mac prototype used an 8/1

6-bit Motorola 6809 CPU. But after a designer noticed the impressive graphics routines created for the 68000-based Apple Lisa, the more expensive 16/32-bit 68000 was chosen.

While the Apple Lisa only used a 5 MHz 68000, the new Mac prototype could run at 8 MHz. This appealed to Steve Jobs, who was eager to set up the Lisa team.

Over the next decade, each Macintosh used the successors of 68,000, including the pure 32-bit 68020, 68030 and 68040 chips. These became faster and more complex over time. In all, at least 72 different Macs used 68k CPUs, with the latest being the 1995 PowerBook 190.

1994-2005: Power PC

Apple PowerPC model

In the late 1980s, new trends began to take over the computing industry, overshadowing the older CPU architecture.

Apple partnered with IBM and Motorola to design a common CPU platform that could compete with “Wintel” (Microsoft-Intel) dominance.

The Power Macintosh 6100 used the PowerPC architecture, after which around 87 different Mac models used the same. C Cock speeds increased from 60 MHz all the way up to 2.7 GHz, which was remarkable for that time. The final Apple PowerPC model was released in November 2005.

2006-now: Intel x86

Intel x86 processor

At WWDC 2005, Apple announced the transition to Intel chips, and the first Intel Macs were announced in early 2006. These included an iMac and MacBook Pro, which almost quadrupled the performance of its predecessors.

Furthermore, from Mac OS X 10.4.4, Apple included an advanced emulation technology called Rosetta that would help maintain interoperable software compatibility.

Soon, applications began to be available as universal binaries that could run on both PowerPC and Intel Macs. When the transition to x86 finally came full circle, Rosetta was removed from Mac OS X 10.7 Lion going forward.

So far, around 80 Mac models have mentioned Intel processors. But this long run could come to an end in 2021, or even late in 2020, when rumors of ARM-based Macs make the rounds. What impact will this have on the future? We can only speculate.

Why ARM?

Apple ARM processor for Mac

Apple Silicon is designed to make Macs even better, taking performance and energy efficiency to whole new levels. The company is more than equipped to succeed in this work thanks to its work on the iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch, all of which have specially designed chips.

Like the iPhone, which has always stood out from other smartphones for its deep and seamless integration between software and hardware, ARM-based Macs will do the same.

They will boast the gold standard for security and enhanced graphics features in pro apps and games.

Furthermore, it will probably be cheaper for Apple to produce its own chips instead of relying on Intel. These cost savings could be pushed to consumers in the form of cheaper Macs if Apple decides to go that route.

But what about current Macs?

If you already own an Intel-powered Mac, you do not have to worry about Apple continuing to release software updates for current devices for years to come. At the same time, users will be able to run Intel apps on Apple Silicon Macs, thanks to a background translation process, Rosetta 2.

Exciting times to come!

The history of the processors that power Macs is truly a fascinating story, and the future will be even more so. Apple Silicon will provide interesting new development features in the technology world, and we are happy to see what the future brings!

I have been writing about technology for over 10 years now. I am passionate about helping people solve their technical problems with simple and practical solutions. At iGeeksBlog, I write and edit tutorials and reviews of accessories for all things Apple has. My work has previously appeared in magazines for Live IT and Woman’s Era. When I’m not working, I love reading and traveling.

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