Should I buy a new MacBook now or wait for Apple’s silicon?



The question I get most frequently from CNET readers is some version of: “Should I buy a 13-inch MacBook Air or a 13-inch MacBook Pro“That is easy enough to answer, depending on the budget and the needs of the interlocutor. But what happens when MacBooks or other apparently identical Mac computers like the iMac or Mac pro, are available both in traditional versions based on Intel and in new versions that use Apple’s own Arm-based silicon, as promised by Tim Cook during the WWDC 2020 keynote?

That adds a whole new level of confusion to purchasing decisions, especially for something that is generally considered a high-priced purchase like a MacBook or iMac. If you’ve been in the market to buy a Mac, whether you’re upgrading your own system or getting one for a student in your family, do you buy one now? Wait until the next update cycle, maybe in the fall? Or are you waiting for the new Arm-based versions of these Macs to arrive?

And will they look the same? Do you have the same names? You may recall (at least I do) that when Apple transitioned to Intel PowerPC chips, it was with a whole new product line, called the MacBook. There has never been a non-Intel MacBook, until now, at least.

Having a single product line, with the silicon versions from Intel and Apple, is just a recipe for trouble: No one wants to spend $ 1,299 on a new MacBook, just for choosing the “wrong” one. Not that we are completely sure that the exact same product will exist with two platform options at the same time. At the WWDC keynote, Apple said its first Arm-based computers will be available by the end of the year, while the full transition will take at least two years.

Which Apple silicone Mac will be first? My best guess would be Mac Mini, based on Apple that now offers Arm-based Mac Mini Developer Transition Kits, based on Apple’s Bionic A12Z system on a chip, for developers to help transition the software to the new platform.

But even without knowing the exact timeline of product transitions, we can sketch out some general tips on how to handle your future Mac purchases. No matter what, this won’t be like flipping a switch. The company says, “Apple will continue to support and release new versions of macOS for Intel-based Macs for years to come, and has exciting new Intel-based Macs in development.”

If you are buying a MacBook Pro or MacBook Air

The 13-inch Air and 13-inch Pro were recently updated. Performance on these systems is considered excellent, especially now that you can get quad-core CPUs on MacBook Air. If it’s a short-term need, I’d be comfortable buying a MacBook right now. I bet the new platform won’t hit those systems until 2021 at the earliest.

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Here is why you should wait to buy a new Macbook.


If you are especially focused on Photoshop or Final Cut

Consider waiting. The only real, solid details Apple offered on the new Arm-based platform was that Adobe had early access and already had Photoshop running smoothly on it, and that Final Cut was working similarly natively. That means that future development of those apps may lean heavily toward Apple’s silicon from now on.

If you use many native applications, and not necessarily the most popular ones

Buy a new Mac Intel, because I can’t say that small standalone apps, or those that are no longer supported, will have timely transitions. That means they will have to run in emulated or translated mode through Rosetta 2, which should work, but may not be optimal.


A still new MacBook Air 2020.

Dan Ackerman / CNET

You want the best battery life

Battery life on Intel-based Macs is excellent, but not much beyond Windows-based laptops. With the ability to control not just software and hardware, but also the platform, I suspect we’ll see a huge increase in battery life for new Macs, whenever they arrive. Consider waiting.

Use Boot Camp to run Windows on a Mac

I can’t imagine this is officially compatible with Arm Macs, so buy now or wait for more information. On the other hand, many Windows systems run on Arm platforms now (how well they run is, however, debatable), so it’s not impossible.

You are a mac player

You are? Really? I think this means the end of the current weak attempt to get more traditional PC games on Mac via Steam and other platforms (hence no I will never get Fallout 76 on Mac). But the ability to run iOS and iPadOS apps easily, along with game controller support, could make the future Apple Arcade Games more ambitious: I’m looking at you beyond a sky of steel!

At this point, there are still many unanswered questions about the transition from Intel to Arm, especially when different models will switch from platform to platform, except that it will take at least two years before Intel Macs are a thing of the past.