For years, Apple has steadily revealed how the ARM-based chips in its mobile phones were catching up in performance to the beefier silicon you’d find inside a laptop or desktop — in 2018, the company claimed its new iPad Pro was faster than 92 percent of portable PCs. At some point, it seemed inevitable that Apple would turn the more efficient chips into the primary processors for its Mac computers, too.
Now, it’s official: Apple is migrating the Mac to its own homegrown silicon, starting later this year.
But are Apple’s ARM chips actually powerful enough now to replace the likes of Intel and AMD? That’s still an open question — because at Apple’s 2020 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), the company shied away from giving us any definitive answers.
This time, the company’s typical array of charts, benchmarks, and “fastest ever” claims for each new generation of homegrown ARM silicon were completely MIA. Apple wouldn’t chat about it when we asked. Even a prerecorded chat with one of its silicon architects didn’t provide much insight. Instead, the company showed a handful of canned demos and made some vague promises that the future might be faster.
Admittedly, we weren’t expecting Apple to hand us an ARM-powered Mac during a pandemic, and the prerecorded demos during the keynote and subsequent “State of the Union” address were moderately impressive. Using the same Apple A12Z Bionic chip you’ll find in an $800 iPad Pro, the company showed that a low-power ARM desktop can already handle a variety of power user apps on Mac, including:
- Versions of Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, and Lightroom running natively on ARM
- Three streams of simultaneous 4K Pro Res video in Final Cut Pro
- Rotating around a photorealistic stone face in Cinema 4D
- Rotating around a 6-million polygon scene in Autodesk’s Maya animation studio, with textures and shaders on top
- Rendering effects in the Unity game engine
- The games Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Dirt: Rally running on Mac smoothly (but at low-ish resolution and detail)
What’s more, Apple’s ARM-powered Macs will be able to automatically translate some existing Intel apps thanks to Apple’s Rosetta 2 conversion software: while they looked a little ugly, both Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Dirt: Rally were running that way, as was Autodesk Maya.
But for the most part, Apple seems to be asking developers to take its word that ARM will unlock “a whole new level of performance,” without discussing how that performance actually stacks up right now.
The company’s press release says very specifically that Apple’s new chips will “give the Mac industry-leading performance per watt,” and that’s a very deliberate turn of phrase. Apple’s arguing that by building the most efficient kind of chips it can — “the highest performance with the lowest power consumption” — it can achieve more raw performance by tipping the scales of that performance-per-watt formula toward more watts.
In other words, if you build a MacBook Pro-sized chip with a MacBook Pro-sized heatsink and enclosure, plus a MacBook-sized battery, your iPhone-esque processor theoretically has room to do a heck of a lot more work. But it’s almost always been true that ARM-based processors are more efficient than the competition, and the scales don’t tip on their own. Speeding up a chip isn’t just a simple matter of giving it more juice — you’ve got to design a beefy enough processor (or, say, the world’s fastest supercomputer) around that efficient architecture, and Apple isn’t bragging that it’s actually done that yet.
You may remember Intel’s Core M / Y-series chips, which wound up in the thinnest MacBooks, also began with Intel touting their relative efficiency — but they wound up starting off slower than their mainstream Intel counterparts and only became a worthy choice after a few more years of work. Perhaps the iPad Pro’s A12Z Bionic would make for a more powerful MacBook than Intel’s current low-power laptop chips, but Apple isn’t saying so; maybe it’ll take a later chip in Apple’s roadmap.
It also seems telling that Apple isn’t publicly planning to get rid of Intel anytime soon. Not only is Apple planning to release several additional Intel-based Macs in the future, but the company “will continue to support and release new versions of macOS for Intel-based Macs for years to come.” For a company that prides itself on the “courage” to often make a clean break with the past, it’s a little unusual. (Then again, this isn’t a product launch; it’s a developer conference.)
All that said, Apple does say we should expect pure performance — not just efficiency — in one category in particular: graphical performance. Apple writes that the ARM initiative will also give the Mac “higher performance GPUs,” including additional horsepower for games, and it showed off a few apps (Affinity Photos, Unity, the aforementioned Cinema 4D, and Dirt: Rally) taking advantage of Apple’s Metal framework to fire instructions directly to the GPU.
While that might not satisfy gamers used to having a dedicated Nvidia or AMD graphics chip, Apple’s integrated graphics might actually be a substantial boost over the Intel integrated graphics that ship in, say, a new MacBook Air. There’s also the possibility that Apple’s talking about building beefier GPUs of its own — though Apple isn’t talking about whether its CPUs will interface with laptop chips from AMD or NVIDIA, much less desktop GPUs or external GPUs right now.
And it’s true that not everything is about performance, anyhow. Apple is promising its ARM-based Macs will be able to run more kinds of apps than before, thanks to both native iOS app support and hardware-accelerated machine learning chops built into the silicon. They’ll be able to “keep cached cloud content fresh for days” even when your Mac is asleep, and Apple says using your iPad as a secondary monitor for your Mac will get better thanks to the image processing that Apple’s already built into its ARM chips. Though Apple didn’t provide any metrics, the company suggests ARM will provide more battery life, too.
Right now, Apple’s most important task is to convince would-be buyers that — this time — ARM chips won’t require them to abandon their old apps or make other unacceptable compromises in order to switch.
That’s the message that Apple tried the hardest to nail at WWDC, and it feels like the company is making good headway. It’s got Rosetta to automatically translate some of your apps, while a handful of key developers like Microsoft and Unity are building native versions of others. Apple’s developer sessions showed that — theoretically — creating a “universal” app for multiple platforms is as easy as pressing a button. Apple showed off file system and network access, virtual machines and peripheral support, the ability to natively play a game with an Xbox controller, and even a promise to let you boot from external drives with ARM-based Macs.
Watching Apple’s WWDC keynotes, it’s easy to imagine there might be no downside, no “legacy” apps you’ll need to abandon; just a whole bunch of extra iPhone and iPad apps you can now additionally use by upgrading to an ARM-based Mac.
But it feels very strongly like there’s something Apple isn’t telling us about performance, and we’ll need to wait to see. Improved performance is one of the most compelling reasons to buy a new computer, and an absolute requirement for pros. Performance is time, and time is money, after all.
Google's aluminum Pixel 5 has a hole in the back for wireless charging – MobileSyrup
If you spent some time studying the Pixel 5 specifications after Google announced the phone yesterday, you may be wondering how on earth the search giant managed to include wireless charging in an aluminum phone.
Well, Google confirmed the details to a few U.S. members of the press, including Android Authority’s David Imel, who shared the engineering behind it on Twitter. In short, the Pixel 5’s aluminum chassis has a physical cutout for the Qi charging coil. Google coated the whole back of the phone in a ‘bio-resin skin’ (read: plastic) that covers and protects the coal while also giving the back of the phone a flush, uniform look.
Google is using a Bio-resin on top of the aluminum of the Pixel 5’s body to achieve wireless charging. Basically, there is a physical cutout in the aluminum where the coil lives, and this plastic bio-resin sits on top.
— David ImeI (@DurvidImel) September 30, 2020
Google says wireless charging works as normal and can hit up to 10W speeds, just like on the Pixel 4.
While this simple workaround is relatively neat, it made me wonder why Google bothered making an aluminum-bodied phone if it was going to cover it in a plastic-like coating anyway. Google has a bit of a history doing stuff like this too. The Pixel 3, for example, has a glass back partially covered with a matte, plastic-like finish. The orange and white Pixel 4 also cover the glass back with a similar matte finish.
However, Imel explained that Google did have a reason: thinness. The Pixel 5 sports a 4,080mAh battery — the biggest to date in a Pixel device, although not substantially bigger than what other manufacturers offer. Google told Imel that using an aluminum frame with the super-thin bio-resin allowed it to keep the phone at 8mm thick while maintaining a premium feel.
As nice as glass phones are, I haven’t enjoyed the trend of flagships moving towards the ‘glass sandwich’ we see on so many phones now. Glass screen, metal band around the edge, glass back. If you drop a phone like this, it’ll probably break, and glass just doesn’t feel good in your hand. Granted, both these issues can be remedied with a case, but for me, cases add too much bulk.
While we don’t know how well the bio-resin will hold up over time, Google’s ‘aluminum with skin’ approach seems like a win, especially since it maintains wireless charging. Hopefully, we see other manufacturers take similar approaches and move away from glass-back smartphones.
Steve and Alex from Minecraft is the latest character coming to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate – The Verge
Nintendo unveiled this morning that Steve and Alex from Minecraft will be added to the character roster in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate for the Nintendo Switch. This is the second character announcement in the Fighter Pass Vol. 2 DLC that’s available for $29.99, following Min Min from Arms. There are four new fighters yet to be announced for the DLC.
In the short presentation, a brief preview showed off Steve in action, playing in a special Minecraft-themed stage. Players will be able to play as Steve or Alex, and swap to Enderman, or a Zombie as alternatives. The game’s director, Masahiro Sakurai, explained following the announcement that Steve and the blocky Minecraft style presented a big challenge for the team. He said, “We have to rework all our existing stages so that blocks can be placed in them.”
There will be a broadcast on Saturday, October 3rd at 10:30AM ET / 7:30AM PT that dives deeper on their play styles. That’s when the release date for the characters will be announced, too.
If for some reason you haven’t jumped into the game yet, the first Fighters Pass, available as an add-on for $24.99, added a slew of interesting characters to its already-packed roster. You’ll get Dragon Quest XI’s hero, Banjo-Kazooie, Byleth from Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Joker from Persona 5, and Fatal Fury’s Terry Bogard.
You can rewatch the announcement here (skip to 29:42 for the action).
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate DLC fighter reveal: Start time, how to watch and our predictions – CNET
The Super Smash Bros. Ultimate roster is expanding once again, as Steve joins the battle. Nintendo announced the Minecraft star as the eighth downloadable fighter to the Ultimate roster in a three-minute YouTube reveal on Thursday.
Steve is the second fighter in the $30 Smash Bros. Ultimate’s Fighters Pass Vol. 2, after Arms alumni Min Min was announced back in June (that was FOUR months ago, what the…?). The pass is set to include six new fighters, and Nintendo said they’ll be available by the end of 2021.
The previous $25 Fighter Pass included Persona 5’s Joker, Dragon Quest 11’s Hero, Banjo-Kazooie (guh-huh!), Fatal Fury’s Terry Bogard and Byleth from Fire Emblem: Three Houses. They each came with a new stage and music.
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