Should I buy an Intel Apple or ARM Apple?
September 5, 2020 12:50 AM   Subscribe

As someone who often uses Windows on my iMac, I am a little confused about Apple's impending switch to ARM. I was planning to buy a new iMac next spring, and by then I'm guessing those new machines will have ARM architecture. But will I be able to run Windows on it?

My skimming of the internet says the answer to that is "no." That new Apple Macs will not run Windows as they will no longer have Intel-based chips. Is that the case? If so, should I get an iMac now, before the switch? (Seems like a very risky move for Apple, because one of the selling points of Macintosh has been the ability to run both systems, and now they're voluntarily choosing to deny users the use of Windows).
posted by zardoz to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Apple have said that they plan to release Intel Macs for at least the next two years, so this year's iMac is not likely the last Intel version. You can, in all likelihood, wait until next spring and still be able to buy an Intel iMac.

I suspect the first Apple Silicon desktop machine will be a Mac Mini (since that's the Apple Silicon developer machine right now and they just refreshed the iMac) and the first Apple Silicon laptop will, I hope, be a return of the MacBook 12" using the new chipset.
posted by fireoyster at 1:34 AM on September 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

It is true that (normal) Windows will not run on an ARM CPU and that you will not be able to disk m dual boot Windows and MacOS as was previously possible. I would be surprised if it turns out not to be possible to run Windows in a (slowly) emulated x64 VM while running MacOS, however.

If running Windows natively is something that you require, you'll definitely want to get an Intel Mac before they no longer exist.
posted by wierdo at 1:47 AM on September 5, 2020 [2 favorites]

The short answer to "will I be able to run Windows on ARM Macs" is "not right now". It's reasonable to expect that companies who currently make virtual machine (emulation) software for MacOS, such as Parallels, will bring out new versions that will run Windows on ARM. Microsoft also makes a version of Windows that runs on their own ARM hardware so it seems likely that something will be available sometime. If you need to actually boot your Mac into Windows, as opposed to running it in a VM, then ARM Macs will be no good to you initially and possibly ever.

Re the timing of the changeover, Apple said it would take 2 years, which is what they said when they transitioned to Intel, but that was all over in 18 months. And taking 2 years to transition does not mean they will be releasing Intel Macs in 2 years. It means the last Intel machine will have been replaced by then and it will probably be sooner. If they release the first ARM Mac before the end of the year then it seems likely that at least some of the current range are the last Intel machines of that model.

Given that the iMacs have only just been updated, you should be safe to buy one of the current models according to your spring timeline, though you might want to keep an eye on a rumour site or two to make sure you don't get caught out. They will no doubt be good performers for years to come and won't get old more quickly than ARM machines.
posted by mewsic at 2:10 AM on September 5, 2020

It’s worth noting that there is a version of Windows 10 compiled for ARM, but currently Microsoft does not sell it to individuals. So it’s technically possible. However, I doubt there’s much ARM Windows software available.
posted by Automocar at 8:04 AM on September 5, 2020

Microsoft sells ARM devices itself. Windows 10 for ARM includes an emulation layer that can run 32-bit Intel apps as well (though a bit slowly, and you won't want to try anything demanding). Currently they don't even have an ARM version of Office, though I can't imagine they won't have one eventually. As both Microsoft and Apple are moving toward ARM, I'd expect this situation to get better over the next couple years. If it doesn't, Apple will probably continue making Intel Macs a while longer, then.
posted by kindall at 9:33 AM on September 5, 2020

If it's a foregone conclusion that you're going to buy Apple, go with the ARM systems.

Modern Intel IA-64 systems are fundamentally unsound due to the inclusion of the Intel Management Engine. The most optimistic possible interpretation of this "feature" is that it is a huge, unauditable security hole. There are credible arguments to be made that it's a backdoor, or even part of an NSA SIGINT project. (The AMD Platform Security Processor is similar, and likewise awful.)

ARM isn't known to have anti-privacy features baked in at a hardware level in a similar way. (That doesn't mean the CPU manufacturers haven't done something nefarious on the sly, but they've at least been a lot more subtle about it.)

As for Windows compatibility: I don't know your use cases or your workflow. But in general and with exceptions, one doesn't need Windows anywhere near as much as one might think. Look at the reason(s) you want Windows, and for each one, ask: 1) Is there a way I can do literally that exact same thing on another platform? and 2) If not, what are the alternatives that work on other platforms? Getting rid of Windows pays enough dividends that it's worth some effort to do that.
posted by sourcequench at 11:13 AM on September 5, 2020

FWIW, my guess is that it's likely that, by the time more than a couple macs are running Apple silicon, Redmond and a number of other interested parties, including Apple, will have figured out various solutions for Windows ports. Maybe I'm missing some reasons they wouldn't? As a Mac/Linux/Windows/Hackintosh household (with one of those early OS9/OSX titaniums still kicking around!), we've decided to cross that bridge when we come to it. If it takes longer than I expect, I'll wait to upgrade until it works. It's entirely likely that this slows down hackintoshing for a while, but I'll be pretty surprised if it wrecks other OSes on Mac hardware for any length of time.
posted by aspersioncast at 4:38 PM on September 5, 2020

There was a version of Windows compiled for ARM. It was sold for use on a Microsoft device that is no longer commercially available. With the release of ARM Macs, Microsoft might decide to sell that version of Windows, and Office might follow, but the real problem after that will be a lack of third-party applications.

There are few reasons to run Windows on a Mac, but probably one of the main reasons is to run Steam and games compiled for Intel. Once the main processor switches over to ARM, and graphics processors switch away from AMD to Apple's own GPUs, those games will no longer work, until game companies recompile for ARM and target Apple GPU APIs (like Metal).

Other than that, Windows might run in some form under a Mac, but realistically you probably won't be able to do much more than run Windows and, maybe, Office, depending on what Microsoft feels like doing.

Parallels and other virtualization products don't work for apps that require bare metal performance, and that's unlikely to change. If you need Windows, buy a Windows machine (or an Intel Mac, if you need a Mac, as well).
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 10:33 PM on September 5, 2020 [2 favorites]

Derail: sourcequench introduces details that will cause confusion.

tl;dr actually answering the question: if your current iMac keeps running Windows adequately, put it in a cupboard and connect via Remote Desktop when you get whatever new machine you go for.

It's right to talk about Apple's commitment to your privacy, they're the closest to an integrated stack of hardware and software you can buy for home use. (IBM do still make mainframes for which they produce everything, top to bottom, on US soil but they're not affordable.)

The T2 is Apple's security co-processor, opaque and likely to be a derivative of the ARM TrustZone co-processor licensed whole by AMD for Ryzen and Epyc. "Enclave with ARM core and TrustZone" is a fair description of both Apple and AMD's approaches. Server-class ARM chips such as Annapurna Labs' Graviton2 offer memory encryption so that one app can't steal data another spp's data without getting seemingly-random junk, it's unclear if Apple Silicon adopted this module into their designs yet.

IA64 is Itanium's instruction set, not the x86-64 or AMD64-compatible Xeon, Core, Pentium and Atom chips. x86-64 does have Intel Management Engine, an opaque execution environment shown to have numerous vulnerabilities, mostly caused by bad integration with the performance-optimised parts of Intel's CPU's. (The performance side goes for results fast, the security side needs through and slow deliberation, and the hand-off is messed up.)
posted by k3ninho at 4:53 AM on September 6, 2020

« Older Has the older millennial generation been...   |   Name that 90s alternative/punk song Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments