Technology

MacBook Execs, an “M1X” chip, and different issues to anticipate at Apple’s October occasion

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Enlarge / Apple could be preparing to show us the next evolution of the MacBook Pro.

Another month, another Apple event. Fresh after a September event that delivered new updates for the entire iPhone range, some new iPads, and a gently tweaked Apple Watch, Apple is preparing for another event on Monday, October 18th. And this time around, we expect the company to focus on the Mac, which is still in the midst of the transition from Intel chips to the Apple Silicon chips that make new Macs feel more exciting and important than they have in years have done.

We’ll be watching Pacific live from 10am on Monday, but in the meantime we’ve gathered all the current rumors and compiled a list of the things we’re most likely to see (plus a thing or two, that’s not that likely). The short version is that Apple should finally be preparing to show us powerful Apple silicon chips.

The “M1X” chip, or whatever it’s called

Just as the MacBook Air, the latest 13-inch MacBook Pro, the Mac mini, and the 24-inch iMac all use the same M1 chip, we expect the next round of Macs to use the same silicon. Commonly referred to as the “M1X”, the chip’s exact specifications are a bit of a mystery as Apple’s chip design is one of its best-kept secrets. But it’s not hard to guess the general gist of what we’re going to get – new chips that will improve the performance of the Intel processors they are replacing, while also allowing for dramatic improvements in battery life. The recent updates to Intel MacBooks struggled to do one or the other of these things, but the M1 Macs did both.

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To replace the higher-end Intel Macs, the M1X has to have a bit more of everything than the M1: more processor cores, more GPU cores, and support for more monitors, as well as Thunderbolt and USB ports. Without adapters or docks, the M1 can only control two monitors at a time, including the computer’s internal display. We would also expect configurations with more than 16GB of RAM, the current maximum for M1 Macs.

A report late last year suggested that a higher performance chip destined for the MacBook Pros could contain up to 16 of Apple’s performance cores, although recent reports suggest we have an eight performance core and two chip Power saving cores might consider efficiency cores. Even eight performance cores should be able to surpass the 4, 6, 8 and 10-core processors of today’s Intel Macs. The M1X will also reportedly be available with 16 or 32 GPU cores, compared to the seven or eight GPU cores included in the standard M1 (Apple could also improve graphics performance by increasing the memory bandwidth, as it does on some older ones iPad processors was the case, but we haven’t heard anything specific about that).

New MacBook Pros

New MacBook Pros that replace the 13-inch four-port MacBook Pro and the 16-inch MacBook Pro are most likely to come from Monday’s event.

Apple’s first Apple Silicon Macs were very conservative from a design standpoint – the MacBook Air, dual-port MacBook Pro, and Mac mini all injected new courage into computers that looked exactly like the ones they were replacing. But the new MacBook Pros could be a little more adventurous, in the style of the 24-inch iMac.

For example, persistent rumors suggest that the 13-inch MacBook Pro could become a 14-inch MacBook Pro. And breadcrumbs remaining in some macOS betas suggest that Apple is working on laptops with higher-resolution screens that could obsolete the scaled, non-native resolution that all current MacBooks use by default. With a more efficient chip, Apple could also take the opportunity to downsize the huge 100 Wh battery on the 16-inch MacBook Pro, reducing the size and weight of the 4.3-pound laptop. Other improvements could be a more energy-efficient mini-LED backlight for the displays and possibly even a 120Hz refresh rate (coverage for the 120Hz refresh rate is thin but would work fine with macOS Monterey’s support for external monitors with variable Frame rates harmonize).

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Other rumors suggest that Apple will roll back some of the more controversial changes made to the MacBook Pro in 2016 when the laptops last underwent a major overhaul. Alleged schematics from earlier this year suggest the MagSafe power connector could return along with a full-size HDMI connector and SD card slot. These changes would reduce the number of Thunderbolt ports to three, but some types of ports would make the laptops even more convenient overall for people who frequently use external displays or SD cards. The Touch Bar can also be removed in favor of a physical row of function keys.

A faster Mac mini

The 2020 Apple Mac mini equipped with M1.

The 2020 Apple Mac mini equipped with M1.

Samuel Axon

We’d say the new MacBook Pros are a pretty safe bet, but there are a few less likely, but still possible, Mac updates Apple might introduce.

Apple already has an Apple Silicon Mac mini, but you may have noticed that the company continues to sell a version of the 2018 Intel Mac mini with more ports and up to 64GB of RAM. Recent rumors suggest that Apple could replace this machine with some sort of “Mac mini Pro” that would take advantage of the M1X’s improved performance and connectivity. The current Apple Silicon Mac mini is great for basic use or even light photo and video editing, but an M1X Mac mini would be a better workstation for code compilation or professional video editing, tasks that generally use all of the processing power that they can become.

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