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Apple has officially eliminated all remaining traces of Intel on its latest redesigned M2 MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models. Looking to the future, the company is just getting started.
The redesigned MacBook Air is an overhaul of the company’s most popular portable notebook. Although other models, like the 14-inch MacBook Pro, feature Apple silicon chips, the 2022 MacBook Air offers the clearest picture of what we can expect from future Macs.
Apple kills the last trace of Intel
Apple appears to be going all-in on its own first-party chips. Or at least it commits to stepping away from Intel — even when it comes to the smallest components.
In the latest MacBook Air and M2-equipped MacBook Pro models, Apple has replaced an Intel-made chip used to control the laptop’s USB and Thunderbolt ports with a custom-designed piece of silicon.
According to an iFixit teardown of the device, the USB4 retimer is no longer Intel’s JHL8040R. Instead, it’s a custom U09PY3 chip. It’s not clear if the piece was designed by Apple or made by another manufacturer.
Though the change went largely unnoticed until semiconductor industry observer Skyjuice pointed it out, it means the latest MacBook Air and Pro models will not feature Intel-made components.
Technically, Apple still has a few Mac models with Intel chips. Most notably, the current Mac Pro is still Intel-based, and the company is sticking with an underperforming Mac Mini model.
But the M2 MacBook Air and MacBook Pro both herald the end of an era. Apple will almost certainly follow suit with its own portable notebooks, including redesigns of the 14-inch MacBook Pro and 16-inch MacBook Pro.
In other words, there will come a time when there won’t be a single Intel part in any Mac product. And that’s about to happen, as Apple has already said a Mac Pro is on the way.
Apple has long focused on reducing its reliance on outside suppliers. Developing your own Mac chips in-house is just part of this strategy. However, it’s likely that Intel’s mistakes also played a role.
Back in June 2020, a report suggested that Intel’s quality assurance issues with its Skylake chips may have contributed to Apple dropping them.
In addition, Intel also struggled to meet its roadmaps and deadlines. Just a month after the quality assurance news broke, Intel delayed the release of its 7-nanometer chips by six months. Intel previously delayed its 10nm chip shipments by three years.
And it hasn’t been a tick-tock for about a decade where there’s been innovation, then refinement, and then innovation again. It’s been tick-tock-tock-tock before.
Apple is better off developing its own chips. While issues like semiconductor restrictions and Covid manufacturing lockdowns can affect production, these would still be problems on top of a chip supplier not being able to meet its own deadlines.
No longer bound by Intel
Apple doesn’t design cases in a vacuum. When designing the 2016 MacBook Pro case, it relied on what Intel promised in terms of warmth and performance.
However, Intel was years behind on what it promised to release starting in 2015. Apple has historically used a case for five to six years before moving on. And this MacBook redesign was a victim of Intel’s promises made and not delivered.
These promises? Intel fulfills them nowYears after the MacBook was killed.
Instead, the 2022 MacBook Air represents a new era for the laptop that famously came out of an envelope. It’s a MacBook Air designed with Apple Silicon in mind. It shows a new direction for the company’s portable devices and for the Mac in general.
Apple has always preferred to maintain tight control over its stack, from firmware to full hardware to operating systems. This “full-stack” mentality is reflected in the ultimate computing-as-an-appliance device, the iPhone.
Apple Silicon and other custom chip designs are the purest expression of that on the more open Mac. And the new MacBook Air signals a sea change in the way the company looks at its desktop and portable computers.
Apple may not be planning to merge the iPad and Mac any time soon, but there’s no doubt that the company will continue to bring more iPhone- or iPad-like features to the Mac.
Apple Silicon was just the first example – there are other echoes of Apple’s smartphone design in its latest devices. For example, the latest MacBook Air uses a distinctly iPhone-like connector for its internal battery.
There’s no limit to how far Apple can go here. By leaving Intel, the company is freeing itself from the shackles of chipmaker legacy technologies. Apple Silicon allows the company to charge ahead.
The Apple Silicon iPad and the M2 MacBook Air are one side of the coin, compact powerhouses like the Apple Studio the other.
Apple Silicon has already introduced many benefits, both for Apple itself and for consumers. For example, it’s hard to argue against the performance and power consumption gains that Apple Silicon is bringing to Mac models.
And Apple undoubtedly has room to grow. The company could expand its thermal envelopes to get higher-performance chips without the need for massive cooling mechanisms or packages. An Apple Silicon Mac Pro could have a single “M2 Max,” or it could be loaded with a plethora of M-series chips.
Although Intel chips are catching up with Apple Silicon, they do so at a much higher power consumption. That means comparable Intel-based machines need larger batteries, which could put them at a disadvantage for portability and travel. For example, the TSA has restrictions on batteries larger than 100 watt hours.
Extrapolated based on the M2 chip, Apple’s silicon has plenty of room for growth in this area as well. The Cupertino-based tech giant makes its own parts to its own specifications. It is no longer limited to another company’s innovations, only its own.
From new controller chips to technologies that can add efficiency to Apple products, segments like the Mac only get better with time.
While many companies rate, such as wire cutter, put Mac laptops in their own Apple-specific category, they really deserve to be compared to Intel competitors. Most users don’t care if their machines are x86 or Apple silicon, and may choose the latter silicon for its quietness, thermal efficiency, and long battery life.
It’s been two years since the transition of publicly available Apple Silicon hardware began, and many more since the first plans were made internally. Since then, the company has achieved a great deal through the company, Apple is still at the very beginning.