Back in June, Apple announced a major change to the Macs: From the end of 2020, the new laptops and desktops will move away from Intel and use processors built by Apple using the same ARM architecture that they use on phones and tablets. It’s a seismic shift that won’t happen at the same time (especially since Apple just updated the Intel-based iMac), but it gives consumers 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
Many Apple fans will remember that Apple made a similar transition from its PowerPC processors to Intel chips back in 2005. Among the benefits of using the same processor architecture as comparable PCs at the time, it was easier for developers to bring popular Windows apps for the Mac (or at least emulate those that did not get direct ports), and ushered in a heyday of compatibility and development for Mac users.
Today, Macs are much more common, and it̵
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 iPhones and iPads are so efficient that when translated to larger devices, it will give Macs a head start in the competition. However, it has not cited any references for using a laptop or workstation yet, and in the short term it is possible that apps automatically converted to work on the new processors will take performance hits that eat through some gains (more on that later). In the long run, however, Apple-made processors can offer better performance and make it easier to develop all Apple products.
Will my Intel Mac be obsolete next year?
If you need to buy a Mac right now, and all that is available is an Intel-based Mac, you can reasonably wonder if it will be out of date soon. That is probably not the case. (At least not more than each your computer is out of date the moment you buy it.) Apple says it will support Intel Macs for years, and there are even some Intel-based Macs that have not been released yet.
If you buy AppleCare + with your Mac, you are promised at least three years of support from the time you bought it, which means that even if you buy one of the new Intel-based Macs, you will not be stranded without support for a while. However, this only applies to unintentional repair damage and priority technical support. You can continue to use your Mac long after that, often with minimal problems.
In general, Macs tend to receive OS updates for many years. Big Sur, the latest version of macOS, will roll out to Macs released as far back as 2013, indicating that even seven-year-old Macs still get the latest software. Furthermore, Apple offers service and parts for Macs for up to five years after they have stopped being sold. In other words, even if you bought a new Intel-based Mac today, it’s likely to still receive OS updates, qualify for service, and have spare parts available by 2026.