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A crazy 12-core MacBook is coming. Here’s why that’s game-changing

When Apple updated the MacBook Air in March 2020, we were pleased to see it finally offer a quad-core Intel processor. It was long overdue, which hints at the struggles Apple has been having to get Intel to meet its deadlines.

But if you thought that looked good, you ain’t seen nothing yet. We’ve known for a long time that Apple is working on its own ARM-based processors to replace the current Intel chips in its Macs. Now, a new report from Bloomberg has revealed these could double or even quadruple the number of cores in each processor, potentially giving rise to MacBooks with 12 cores or more. Yes, higher numbers are usually a good thing when it comes to processors, but there’s more to it than that.

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Each core inside a processor is like one worker in a factory. The idea is that a processor with more cores will be able to get more work done in the same space of time than a single-core chip, just as a factory with more employees will be more productive than a single person working alone (this is, of course, a very simplified view).

A lot of demanding tasks such as video editing, engineering, or machine learning perform best on processors that have a lot of cores. It’s why even the most basic processor on Apple’s Mac Pro starts with eight cores and ramps all the way up to 28 cores — professional users often need that many cores to do their work.

Bringing cores to the masses

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Until now, chips with a lot of cores were reserved for expensive workstation chips like Intel’s Xeon processors. But in the last couple of years, higher core counts have begun to make their way to high-end mainstream laptops like the MacBook Pro 16 or the Dell XPS 15. This has put more multicore processing power in the hands of everyday people.

Still, these are expensive and larger laptops than what most people use. That kind of power is expensive to produce, but it also creates a lot of heat, which is not ideal in a thin and light laptop like the MacBook Air, where quiet, cool operation is paramount.

According to Bloomberg, that could all change when Apple switches to its own ARM-based CPUs. Bloomberg’s report claims the first of these chips will be a 12-core offering, with eight high-performance cores dedicated to demanding workloads paired with four energy-efficient cores that will preserve battery life.

We’ve long argued that the first ARM-based MacBook will be the MacBook Air because developers of powerful apps will need time to translate their apps, while Apple will need time to develop powerful chips that can compete with the Intel processors currently occupying its top-end machines. Bloomberg takes a slightly different approach, predicting Apple will debut its ARM CPUs in a “new MacBook,” potentially referring to a comeback for the discontinued 12-inch MacBook.

Either way, this kind of multicore processor would completely transform Apple’s lineup of MacBooks. Not only would they handle day-to-day processing and multitasking better, it would also allow for content creation tasks like video editing and music production.

The MacBook Air has only just become available with a quad-core Intel processor, and its entry-level model is still stuck on a dual-core offering. The 12-inch MacBook, meanwhile, never offered more than a dual-core chip.

Ensuring its first Arm-based CPU is a 12-core monster would be a huge statement from Apple. It would mean powerful components were no longer restricted to its most expensive devices. In fact, Bloomberg believes Apple will seek to go beyond 12 cores in the future, potentially making its high-end computers even more powerful.

Apple isn’t alone here — AMD’s Ryzen 4000 processors are highly energy-efficient, yet offer eight cores, making them perfect for devices like the MacBook Air. For several companies, high core counts appear to be the future — and that is great for users.

ARM-based Apple processors are due out in 2021, but we could see an announcement as early as Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in June 2020. That ground-shaking announcement could herald an exciting new era for MacBook users everywhere.

Alex Blake
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