The first Apple Silicon MacBooks: Specs, release date, price, and more

Apple is abandoning Intel and forging ahead with the creation of its own ARM-based Apple Silicon processors, something the company says will increase both performance and efficiency in its range of Macs. Apple says the first of these new Macs will be with us before the end of 2020 — so what exactly should we expect?

We have rounded up all the latest news and rumors concerning this new era of Apple computers, from the expected prices to the performance and internal specs. If there is anything you have wanted to know about the upcoming Apple Silicon Macs, you will find it here.

Price and release date

Apple WWDC 2020

At its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in June 2020, Apple revealed that its first Apple Silicon Macs would be out by the end of the year, with the transition taking around two years to complete. That suggests the first Apple Silicon Mac is basically finished and ready to go, so we may not have long to wait.

With Apple’s September event behind us, it seems likely that Apple will announce its first Apple Silicon MacBooks alongside the new iPhone 12 at a rumored October event.

Apple traditionally brings out new Macs in the fall, with the MacBook Pro 16, Mac Pro, and the updated MacBook Air and Mac mini all typifying this pattern in recent years. The first Apple Silicon Macs are expected to follow suit — despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Apple felt confident enough to announce the “end of 2020” date, after all. Twitter leaker Komiya has suggested an October announcement date, with a shipping date of either November or December.

Prices are a little more uncertain. Given the extra research and development costs going into Apple Silicon processors (Apple cannot simply buy the chips like it does with Intel), we would not be surprised if we see an increase in the current MacBook Air and MacBook Pro starting prices of $999 and $1,299. respectively. We could be wrong, though — when Apple replaced the MacBook Pro 15 with the massively redesigned MacBook Pro 16, it did so without increasing the price at all.

Komiya has suggested the Air could debut at $799, while the Pro would hit $1,099. Take this with a grain of salt – no Mac has ever launched as cheap as $799, and a $200 price drop for the Pro at the same time it gets an all-new processor feels like a stretch. Of course, we would be happy to be proven wrong!

Which comes first?

Apple has technically only committed to a single Apple Silicon Mac before the end of 2020. That doesn’t mean we’ll only get one, of course, but there are three options on the table that could get launched this year: The MacBook 12-inch, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro 13-inch.

Earlier reports from both DigiTimes and noted Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo stated that the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro would both lead the charge in the Apple Silicon transition. But which comes first? That’s where things get hazy. The reports leave room for one of the models to potentially launch slightly after the other.

More recent rumors, such as a report from The China Times, claim the first Apple Silicon Mac will be the MacBook 12-inch. Nothing is for sure, but a MacBook in 2020 followed by a MacBook Air and MacBook Pro update in early 2021 makes some sense. In the last big update to its laptop lineup, Apple led with the introduction of the MacBook 12-inch in 2015.

MacBook 12-inch

Apple MacBook-review-thin1
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

The controversial design was discontinued earlier this year, replaced more fully by the MacBook Air. Apple’s most experimental laptop, the MacBook included a number of divisive features, such as the butterfly keyboard,  fanless components, and the single USB-C port. At $1,299, it was never Apple’s cheapest laptop in the lineup, either.

A detailed report in August listed some of the key specs and features of the upcoming MacBook 12-inch. It’s said to come with a 12-inch Retina Display, and will still support a USB-C port and weigh less than 2.2 pounds. That was already true of the previous MacBook, which weighed 2.03 pounds.

Thanks to the efficiency of the ARM-based processor, this new MacBook is said to last between 15 and 20 hours on a single charge.

Apple has stated in the past that it will continue to iterate on the butterfly keyboard, and a new MacBook might be the perfect place to bring it back. Let’s just hope it’s evolved a bit since then.

Lastly, this new MacBook is said to come in at an aggressive new price of just $750.

MacBook Pro 13-inch

The MacBook Pro 13-inch was last updated in May, moving up to Intel’s 10th-gen processors and adding the new Magic Keyboard. Updating a MacBook model twice in one year isn’t unprecedented — it happened to the MacBook Pro 16-inch in 2019, for example.

The design, though, hasn’t changed since 2016. According to analysts and leakers, the first Apple Silicon MacBook Pro 13-inch will stick to the current design — large bezels and all.

On the other hand, there is much talk of Apple bringing out a 14-inch MacBook Pro with thinner bezels to replace the MacBook Pro 13. This would mirror what Apple did with the MacBook Pro 16-inch, which replaced the 15-inch model in late 2019. This redesigned model may have been delayed for a future update.

A recent patent filing has revealed Apple is working on super-slim bezels for future MacBooks that would be even thinner than those currently on the MacBook Pro 16-inch. We believe those are probably some way off, though, and certainly will not make it into the first batch of Apple Silicon Macs.

MacBook Air

MacBook Air 2020
Luke Larsen / Digital Trends

Lastly, the MacBook Air is on the docket to be one of the first MacBooks to get updated with Apple Silicon. Like the MacBook Pro 13-inch, the Air was last updated earlier thisspring, which would make this a quick turnaround for an update.

There haven’t been many details about any physical changes to the design of the MacBook Air. Like the recently updated iPad Air, the MacBook Air could stake out a middle-ground between the MacBook and the MacBook Pro.

There’s a chance, though, that the MacBook Air brand could also extend to the rumored 12-inch MacBook design. The MacBook Air name was brought back in 2018 because of the popularity of the original MacBook Air, and that makes it a particularly valuable piece of marketing. Cutting out the “MacBook” name wouldn’t cleanly match the iPad segmentation, but it could entice buyers try out an otherwise controversial design.

There is one piece of evidence that supports a MacBook Air adopting the MacBook design, and it concerns a key detail from Twitter leaker Komiya: The MacBook Air will be fanless. That lines up nicely with other rumors that Apple is working on a 12-inch Mac laptop. That device was fanless, and it also came in a 12-inch size. Could it be that Apple is going to revive this laptop, perhaps under the MacBook Air name or a new name entirely? It has been rumored before, so it is certainly a possibility. The other option is that Apple Silicon is so power-efficient that it simply does not need a fan for the lighter workloads the MacBook Air typically handles.

Performance

Apple loves keeping its secrets closely guarded, but despite its best efforts, some hints of Apple Silicon performance have slipped out of its tight grasp. The company was light on detail when it announced Apple Silicon at WWDC, but leaked benchmarks and reports have illuminated how Apple plans to power its new MacBooks.

A report from Bloomberg indicates that Apple could be working on three Mac-specific variants of the A14 processor, the same chip that will power the upcoming iPhones and iPads. The three variants may allow Apple to stagger processing power across its MacBook lineup, ranging from entry-level options like the MacBook 12-inch up to the MacBook Pro.

The first Apple Silicon Mac is said to run on the A14X, which is code-named “Tonga” internally. This is the same chip that’ll appear in the next iPad Pro, according to the report from The China Times. Using ARM’s big.LITTLE architecture, the A14X is rumored to have 12 cores — eight high-performances cores and four efficiency cores.

But how fast will these chips run on the Mac platform? Well, at the end of June 2020, we got wind of leaked benchmarks from the Apple Developer Transition Kit. This is a Mac mini equipped with an Apple Silicon chip that’s given to developers to help them port their apps to the new processor architecture. According to the Geekbench 5 benchmarks, the kit reached between 752 and 844 for single-core performance, and between 2,582 and 2,962 for multi-core performance. These were taken from Macs running the Rosetta 2 emulation software, not running natively on MacOS.

July brought the first batch of native benchmarks, which showed Apple Silicon hitting 1,098 in single-core and 4,555 in the multi-core tests. That is a massive uptick from the first benchmarks and shows more of what Apple Silicon may be capable of when it debuts later this year. The first Apple Silicon Macs should be even faster, as the Developer Kit used the current A12Z Bionic chip rather than the upcoming A14 chips.

Other expected specs

MacBook Air 2020 ports
Luke Larsen / Digital Trends

Aside from impressive performance, what else could we see in the first Apple Silicon MacBooks? As it turns out, quite a lot.

As we mentioned earlier, the features of the current MacBook Air and MacBook Pro are a dead cert, at least for the first batch of Apple Silicon Macs. That means Magic Keyboard and Touch ID (and Touch Bar on the MacBook Pro).

Leaks have hinted at other specs. For instance, MacRumors mentioned the battery that will likely be in the next MacBook Air. Registered with the Korea Safety Certification body, the 49.9Wh battery has a capacity of 4380mAh. That is the same battery as Apple has used for the past few MacBook Air versions. However, Apple claims its own processors have made great gains in efficiency, meaning you may get much more battery life from the same battery than in previous years.

Elsewhere, Twitter leaker Komiya has shared a series of specs expected in the first Apple Silicon MacBooks. They include the following options:

  • RAM: 8GB, 16GB, 32GB
  • SSD: 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB, 4TB
  • Four USB-C ports
  • Two or four Thunderbolt 3 ports, depending on the model (note this will not be Thunderbolt 4)

That last point is a little unclear. It could be that you will be able to buy an Apple Silicon MacBook with four USB-C ports, two of which will run on Thunderbolt 3 speeds, with the remaining two on USB-C speeds. Alternatively, Komiya may have meant that there will be options for two Thunderbolt 3 ports or four Thunderbolt 3 ports (which use the USB-C form factor), as is the case with current MacBook Pro 13 models.

Either way, the details are identical to what is offered in the current generation of MacBook Pro laptops, reinforcing the belief that the first Apple Silicon Macs will be like their predecessors in everything but the chip.

What we want to see

Apple Silicon is the start of a new era for the Mac, and that opens all kinds of exciting possibilities for the future. Aside from what we have heard on the grapevine, there are a few other things that we would love to see in the first Apple Silicon MacBooks.

First up is Face ID. We have said before that this would be the perfect addition to the Mac, but never has it felt more imminent. That is because code uncovered in MacOS Big Sur strongly hints that Apple is working to incorporate Face ID into the Mac, with references to FaceDetect and BioCapture present (these references are similar to those used to implement Face ID in iOS). Better late than never!

We would also love to see thinner bezels on every Apple Silicon laptop. Currently, the MacBook Pro 16 is the only one to have lost some weight in this area, with the majority of Apple’s laptops out-glammed by rivals like the Dell XPS 17. That may change, though, based on the aforementioned patent detailing ultrathin MacBook Pro display bezels. The problem, though, is Face ID — if the bezels are thinned as much as possible, how would the Face ID cameras and sensors be incorporated into the frame? Given the code references to Face ID, we think those sensors are here to stay for the time being — and the slimline bezels may be a little way off.

Speaking of the display, a mini-LED screen is also on our wish list. According to Ming-Chi Kuo, Apple is preparing a range of laptops (and devices like the iPad Pro) with this high-end tech. Not heard of mini-LED? It drastically ramps up the number of LEDs present in the display, affording many of the benefits of OLED without the burn-in issues. Kuo reckons it will not arrive until 2021 (likely along with the MacBook Pro 14), but we are holding out for the remote chance it could arrive this year.

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