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As powerful and efficient as the Apple M1-powered MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac mini are, some Mac fans decided to skip the first laptops powered by Apple silicon in hopes that whatever comes next might be better.
It’s a reasonable strategy if you don’t live life on the computing cutting edge. Apple is almost certain to update its two most popular laptops with even faster M-series processors. These chips are also likely come to more Apple desktops and laptops in the coming months. So what new features and performance increases can you expect if you decide to wait? Rumors are flying, and they’re painting a rough sketch of what the future of Apple silicon-powered computers might look like. The rumors are also telling us when the new models are likely to be announced. Like many other new tech products launched during the COVID-19 pandemic, there might be significant delays.
Let’s break down the latest conjectures and educated guesses from the Mac-o-sphere.
What Will Apple Call Its Next Mac Chip?
The Apple M1 is the first modern processor for computers that Apple designed in-house. This efficient but mighty system on a chip (SoC) rivals the best performance that competing Intel Core and AMD Ryzen laptop CPUs have to offer.
Chips for laptops and desktops evolve at breakneck speed, with new Intel silicon, in recent times, getting refreshed about once a year. If Apple keeps up with all of this innovation, its next Mac-centric processor might be a refinement of the current M1 rather than a great leap forward. So it stands to reason that it probably will take the “M1X” moniker instead of jumping all the way to “M2.” That’s according to some leaked benchmarks from CPU Monkey and other rumors, all of which seem to suggest the next chip will be a speedier version of the same basic chip design.
There could be a few more CPU cores in the next chip; the leaked benchmarks point to 12 CPU cores and eight graphics ones. That’s up from eight of each type of core in the current design. The M1 has four high-performance cores and four high-efficiency cores so that it can direct the appropriate amount of power to computing tasks with different requirements.
Apple doesn’t share too many details about the processors it uses in its products, whether they’re designed in-house or even if they are made by Intel. So we don’t know the official top clock speed of the M1, although the CPU Monkey benchmark results suggest both it and its successor will have the same 3.2GHz upper speed limit. In theory, with more cores comes more power consumption, though, and the leaked benchmarks suggest that the rumored M1X will need more than 45 watts at peak.
What Will the Next Mac Desktops Look Like?
Reliable rumors suggest that Apple will likely make significant updates to both its desktop and laptop lineups in 2021.
Desktops are perhaps the most sorely in need of an overhaul, with the iconic iMac all-in-one (AIO) receiving few cosmetic changes since its current design language debuted more than a decade ago. While the 27-inch iMac was updated last summer with Intel’s 10th Generation Core CPUs, the entry-level 21.5-inch version is starting to look mighty dated. Apple could replace both sizes of its iMac with an all-new design inspired by the company’s Pro Display XDR external monitor, according to Bloomberg. The new models will likely ditch the thick black borders around the screen and eliminate or reduce the strip of metal beneath it. They’ll also probably do away with the curved back in favor of a flat surface akin to the Pro Display XDR, Bloomberg reports, citing people familiar with Apple’s plans.
The new iMac will likely use next-generation versions of Apple’s own processors instead of the Intel ones in the current lineup. Whether that’s the rumored M1X or another chip remains to be seen.
In addition to an iMac revamp, Apple also plans to introduce new versions of the Mac Pro desktop, according to Bloomberg. This traditionally sized tower, unlike the iMacs designed without a built-in screen, is aimed at professionals with serious computing needs. It currently offers beefy Intel Xeon processors and can be configured with multiple GPUs. Bloomberg suggests Apple will continue offering Intel versions of the Mac Pro while also introducing an Apple Silicon version that will be about half the size of the current desktop.
The iMac Pro, meanwhile, is unlikely to get Apple silicon, at least in the near future. Apple confirmed that it plans to discontinue this top-of-the-line AIO once existing stock is exhausted.
Are New MacBooks on the Horizon?
The MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro with M1 chips debuted to plenty of praise last fall. Aside from new silicon, however, they’re virtually unchanged from their predecessors. Apple does plan to launch a completely new Mac laptop in a 14-inch screen size at some point this year, according to analyst Ming-Chi Kuo.
In a research note obtained by MacRumors, Kuo writes that Apple will announce two new MacBook models, with a refreshed 16-incher debuting along side the 14-inch laptop. Besides the next-generation Apple silicon that is likely to power them, they’ll also feature resurrected design elements like HDMI ports and SD card readers, Kuo claims. (Current MacBook Air and Pro models employ only USB Type-C/Thunderbolt ports for video output.)
Apple removed these features from its Pro notebooks in 2016, motivated in part by what executive Phil Schiller described as the cumbersome process of using a notebook with an SD card attached. “You’ve got this thing sticking halfway out,” Schiller said of SD cards at the time. Bloomberg also reports that the new Mac laptops will ditch the Touch Bar, the narrow, touch-enabled screen mounted above the keyboard, which has long been criticized by some users.
Release Date Rumors: When Will New Macs Be Introduced?
While exciting Macs are clearly on the horizon, they’re probably not going to hit the Apple Store imminently. Although Apple may hold a launch event later this month for new products, it will likely be focused on new mobile devices and accessories, not new Macs.
In fact, we may have to wait until the second half of the year to see if many of the rumored Macs mentioned above actually appear. Two new MacBook laptops scheduled for mass production in May or June have been pushed back to late 2021, according to Nikkei Asia. It’s unclear which models these are, but a 16-inch MacBook Pro using Apple silicon seems likely to be one of them.
If you opted to skip the M1-powered Macs while you wait for whatever comes next, you might be left hanging just a little bit longer. It isn’t all quiet on the Apple front, however, as the rumored launch event this month will likely be chock full of noteworthy designs. AirTags, a new iPad Pro, refreshed AirPods, and an Apple TV are purported to be on tap.
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