A New 16-Inch MacBook Pro Is Coming Next Week – Will It Be Intel or Apple Silicon?

16 inch MacBook Pro Credit: Apple
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While it’s almost a certainty that next week’s One More Thing event will herald the arrival of Apple’s first ARM-based “Apple Silicon” Macs, there’s still been some speculation as to exactly what that lineup may entail, and now a new report is suggesting that it could be more expansive than we initially thought.

So far, most of the easy bets are on Apple refreshing its 13-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air models, since not only are these the most popular Mac models by far, but they’re also the easiest to make the initial transition, since they feature a basic integrated CPU/GPU design, rather than the discrete graphics processor that’s found on some of Apple’s higher-end models.

Several reports from earlier this year suggested that the 16-inch MacBook Pro would get the Apple Silicon treatment later on, and while no clear reasons were ever offered, many pointed to the fact that Apple needed more time to develop a better graphics subsystem — either a way to integrate existing Nvidia and AMD GPUs with Apple Silicon, or to develop its own equivalent of these more powerful graphics subsystems.

According to a report from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, however, it looks like Apple could indeed have the ARM-based 16-inch MacBook Pro ready to unveil next week as well.

Intel or ARM?

To be clear, Gurman is primarily pointing to the fact that Apple is preparing to release three new MacBook Pro models — a 13-inch MacBook Air, a 13-inch MacBook Pro, and a 16-inch MacBook Pro — based on supply chain reports.

The 13-inch models are being assembled by Foxconn, while the 16-inch MacBook Pro is being built by Quanta Computer.

This is the first report we’ve heard that the larger MacBook Pro could be ready to go with Apple Silicon already, but it also seems to fly in the face of information discovered last week — a specific reference to a 2020 16-inch MacBook Pro in the release notes for the Boot Camp 6.1.13 update.

Since Boot Camp is only supported on Intel-based Macs, this seemed to offer strong evidence that the next MacBook Pro would be an Intel-based model, similar to what Apple did with its newest iMac this past summer, but although Gurman doesn’t explicitly say the 16-inch MacBook Pro will feature Apple Silicon, the report strongly implies that the transition is coming to all of the models that Apple will be releasing next week.

Specifically, Gurman notes that the new MacBooks will feature variations based on Apple’s newest A14 chip, which made its debut in the new iPad Air and Apple’s iPhone 12 lineup earlier this fall, and in fact, many other reports have already suggested that it could feature the same A14X chip that will eventually find its way into Apple’s next-generation iPad Pro models.

The new Macs are also expected to include Apple-designed graphics and machine learning processors, although it’s unclear if these will be part of the A14X system-on-a-chip (SoC), or if Apple is creating its own discrete GPU, which would be particularly relevant if the 16-inch MacBook Pro is ready to get the Apple Silicon treatment already.

Notably, Gurman also adds that the new MacBooks will not feature any significant design changes on the outside, so these first Apple Silicon MacBooks may be almost indistinguishable from their Intel predecessors.

When Apple made the transition from PowerPC to Intel over a decade ago, the designs also remained largely unchanged, although Apple also chose the opportunity to move to the “MacBook” name; the previous PowerPC based laptops were known as “PowerBooks” on the higher end, and “iBooks” on the lower.

While other reports have suggested that a major redesign is coming to Apple’s MacBooks — possibly even bumping the smaller one up to 14 inches — those have generally consistently held to a 2021 timeline. For now, it sounds like Apple is more concerned with getting its first Apple Silicon Macs on the market than it is about undergoing any big design changes.

What’s also consciously missing from Gurman’s report, however, is any mention of the return of the 12-inch MacBook that we’ve been hearing reports about.

A Two-Year Transition

Despite this latest report, however, we’re still not convinced that the 16-inch MacBook Pro is going to be ready to go to Apple Silicon just yet, and it’s easily possible that supply chain reports are conflating the fact that Apple is planning an Intel 16-inch MacBook Pro with the ARM-based 13-inch models. It’s also not insignificant that they’re being assembled by different suppliers as well.

In fact, another tweet that appeared this week from the inscrutable but very often accurate @L0vetodream simply mentioned the possibility of two 13-inch MacBook models — presumably the Pro and the Air — although of course it’s hard to conclusively infer anything from the mere lack of any mention of a 16-inch model.

When Apple announced its move to Apple Silicon earlier this year, it made it clear that it would take about two years before it was able to be fully free of Intel chips in its Macs, and while that obviously still includes Apple’s desktop Macs, it still seems likely that Apple may be looking to do something much more sophisticated with its premium 16-inch MacBook Pro, which has traditionally offered much higher-end specs.

For example, there are rumours that Apple is working on a “desktop-class” A14T chip to go into its first Apple Silicon iMac next year, and according to Gurman, that system is already in the works for what could be an early 2021 release. We would expect a 16-inch MacBook Pro to also get a similarly more advanced chip than what will go into the 13-inch models.

In fact, there had also been some rumours that an ARM-based 24-inch iMac would debut before the end of the year as a direct replacement for the current 21.5-inch model, and while the lack of any more recent reports on that suggests it’s not going to happen, it’s worth noting that the smaller iMac, like the smaller MacBooks, also lacks the discrete GPU found in Apple’s higher-end Macs.

Apple is also said to be developing a new Mac Pro that will feature the same design as the current powerhouse, but come in at about half the size of its Intel counterpart.

It’s unclear however if that might be an additional model, as it’s likely that the Mac Pro will be the last to make the transition away from Intel chips, and of course the size of the current Mac Pro isn’t just about the CPU — it also has to be big enough to fit expansion cards and additional storage inside.

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