Hello to everyone!
This post will discuss about another class of personal computers, the Apple Macintosh suite, and also about CPUs in Apple Macintosh PCs.
Although Apple Macintosh (aka Mac) personal computers may be seen as a rather exotic category of computers, they are still PCs, and their components are still PC Hardware! They may be harder to find and more expensive, but there are enough people who care about Macs and use them, so that when somebody wants a new Mac device in their house, besides other characteristics they will look also for an Apple Mac processor that provides quality, speed, and to put it in just one word: force! So let’s see what these Mac +++computers are, and which processors are preferred in Macintosh devices.
Where did Mac computers come from?
Apple Inc. introduced the first personal computer with a mouse and a graphical user interface (GUI), and that was in 1984. This computer was called Macintosh, abbreviated as Mac, and this name stayed so until our days. They have an own operating system (Mac OS X), so no Windows, no Linux on Mac devices (although these operating systems can be emulated via virtual machines).
Macintosh computers come in various flavors – their larger-sized Desktop line is known as Mac Pro Tower, and there are also two other Mac Desktop PCs whose physical forms are unusual to us, based on what we know about how a normal Desktop PC should look like: iMac systems, where we see only a “monitor” with a keyboard and a mouse, that are considered as all-in-one Desktop computers, and a sort of tiny Desktop Macs (portable at the same time!) named Mac Mini, which as of now is the only form I ever came across Mac computers.
The rest of the Mac PC palette mainly consists of portable devices which at their turn come in different forms – laptops like MacBook, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro.
A long time ago, there was also a Mac server line called Xserve, but it was discontinued in 2004.
Intel is the Apple Mac processor manufacturer
After using Motorola 68000 and then PowerPC processors, more recent Mac computers (from the 2000s on) turned to Intel x86 CPUs, and as a consequence, we will also see no AMD processor in a Macintosh device. When we talk about a Mac, be it portable or not, there is no room for any AMD Athlon, FX, regular Ryzen or Threadripper. Only Intel is allowed as a processor in a modern Mac system!
So, if you are looking for a Mac or if you want to upgrade yours, and in whichever case you are concerned about what CPU you are going to use, then please note that it can be only Intel as of right now. Older Macs feature PowerPC processors (not to talk about the oldest ones, that had Motorola CPUs), but we live today and of course we would aim at the current models – so once again, don’t expect an AMD CPU to come with your Mac device. It’s only about Intel.
Apple Mac processors have their own generations
When Mac processors had to migrate from PowerPC to Intel, the first Intel architecture that Mac CPUs adopted was Sandy Bridge (it sounds familiar, this same architecture was used for regular PCs too, since 2011). After that, Apple processors went through a succession of generations that’s pretty similar to which Intel CPU families succeeded in the case of non-Mac computers that used pieces from Intel: Ivy Bridge, Haswell, Broadwell, Skylake, Kaby Lake, and eventually Coffee Lake along with its so-called Coffee Lake refresh, with these processors representing also the most recent ones for laptops as of today. 8th and 9th Intel Coffee Lake processors are being used today in modern Macs, and the probable successor for Coffee Lake will be Ice Lake. Thus, if you want a Mac device and you are also concerned which Intel processor will be there, just think of Coffee Lake.
However, don’t expect very high core counts like in some extreme Desktop PC or Workstation configurations from the non-Mac world. The Coffee Lake refresh for Mac devices, that launched last autumn in 2018, barely offers 8-core Intel i9 support (meaning 16 threads in the CPU, of course). The iMac Pro line also used Xeon W processors having from 8 to 18 cores (these are not very recent releases), and in December 2019 we should witness the launch of a new Desktop Mac Pro version, that is supposed to make use of newer Xeon W processors having up to 28 cores. But they will also be very, very expensive, and the core count is still lower than in some AMD Threadrippers we may use in non-Mac Desktop builds.
If you want to go for a Mac as a gamer, you will fit in well – 8-core CPUs are enough for most games, and it’s stated that even by 2020 there are no expectations that a game require more than 10 CPU cores. For those of you who like extreme core-count processors and workstation-like environments, or are targeting intense content creation: if you are not interested in expensive Mac Pros with older Xeons, then feel free to use non-Mac computers for your computing / creation / powerful PC purposes! Most of the Macs are not suitable for Extreme Edition processors. And anyway, Apple Macintosh computers are already pretty expensive!
Caution, folks: Desktop Mac configurations, especially the “not Mini” ones, will usually cost you many thousands of bucks (USD) if you afford them! The fact that the Mac product line is quite expensive is no news. And as for their operating system (the OS X), there are some tricky techniques called Hackintosh, that help people install the OS X on a non-Mac machine (normally this is not possible). And that non-Mac OS X system is called a bootleg system! Kind of piracy when installing this one.
But there is no way I sustain this practice, I am not promoting at all this type of OS installation. I witnessed some fellows doing that in October 2012, at my first job, with the Mountain Lion OS X version that was the latest version at the time; their Hackintosh installation failed; some Mac Mini systems had to be bought afterwards for the project that would have been developed for Mac, and thus I also had the occasion to see how a Mac Mini operates.
So if I were ever given the possibility to afford a Mac system and to opt for it, I would choose the correct way – an Apple Macintosh PC with the OS X installed on it.
Would you like to spend $35000 up to around $50000 on a single Mac Pro computer having at most 56 CPU threads? Soon in 2020 we will see a 64-core, 128-thread AMD CPU that may cost between $3000 and $4000, and building a PC based on this flagship Desktop CPU may stay under the $10000 price, so people who want strong Workstation resources for their PCs and still want to spend a lot more money for a Mac computer should really be rich. Very rich!
And to offer an answer for the question “Why is there no AMD CPU for Mac”: for many years before the Ryzen lineup appeared, AMD processors were either power-hungry and fast or low-powered and slow, and anyway, years ago when Apple had to decide what mark of CPUs to go for, AMD did not offer satisfying enough chips for Apple’s expensive standards that needed faster CPUs. PowerPC and Intel delivered better CPUs, and then we know well that before 2017, Intel was dominating the CPU market for PCs – so that Macs are following a certain tradition of going for Intel processors because at the time Apple decided what its future CPUs would be, Intel ones were matching the desired standards and AMD was not good enough, yet.
Maybe the very next years tables will turn for AMD and we will be facing the first Macs using Ryzen or even Threadripper processors, especially if we think of the top-tier Mac Pro Desktop computers. Which doesn’t mean those will be affordable for many of us. Prices for high-end Macintosh devices can reach tens of thousands of dollars!
I also noticed that GPUs being used in Mac devices are made by AMD – since 2013 there has been no more NVIDIA, as Mac Pro came to the world. So it looks like a Compensation’s Law is acting around here: if AMD cannot have Mac CPUs, at least the Mac GPU parts come from them (there are also integrated video chips in non-Xeon CPUs).
Best Intel CPUs for Desktop Mac PCs
When saying that we choose a CPU and thinking about physically mounting and connecting it to the motherboard, it’s more usual to do so if we are going to tackle a Desktop system. With laptops, hardware assembling is more difficult, and by choosing a laptop CPU we will most likely take the whole laptop. And many Mac computers are made “the laptop way”.
Besides this, the upper core limit for laptop CPUs is lower than the one in Desktop computers, and this applies to Mac computers too. And not even the Desktop Macs have the same range of supported CPUs: Mac Minis will not support a high-core-count Xeon CPU like the bigger Mac Pros do.
The strongest possible Mac computers belong to the Mac Pro line. Even the case has the apple with the bite on it, which is the well-known Apple logo. By the way, the reason for the existence of the bite is that if the apple had been kept in its entirety, it could have been mistaken as a cherry or a tomato (two different variants), so the graphics designer Rob Janoff established the bitten apple logo in 1977.
So what are the best of the best processors for Mac computers?
Well, Intel Xeon W processors are the preferred ones. They were firstly introduced in August 2017, and as technology doesn’t sleep, Xeon Ws have also gone through some upgrades since then. They are a distinct kind of Xeons, having been developed for Desktop systems on purpose, instead of being intended for servers as other Xeons are.
We have to mention that the “monitor” iMac Pros also rely on the Xeon W processor line. Remember that iMac Pro PCs look like “simple” monitors, but they are actually all-in-one computers including the motherboard, the CPU, the RAM & video, the storage part, and unlike the big Mac Pro & the small Mac Mini, iMacs also serve their users as… monitors! You spend some thousands of USD (like from 5k on) and buy the iMac, then you only need a keyboard and a mouse and you are all set up.
You may wonder what the difference between an iMac and a laptop is… well, iMacs have stronger CPUs and are branded as Desktop equipments, still needing separate keyboard and mouse. A laptop has (and consumes) less power, it is not so expensive, and while it also includes a monitor, obviously the keyboard & mouse (Touchpad) parts are included too, which is why a laptop is a PC all by itself, and also portable (having a battery). To my current knowledge, there is no “non-Mac” Desktop PC to have the monitor and the “case part” all-in-one as iMacs do, and this is one of the things making the Macintosh world very special.
As we are approaching the ending of 2019, a new line of Mac Pro computers is going to show up, and there will be five Xeon-W CPUs to be supported by them. Unfortunately their full names are not yet unveiled, but there is already enough info for us to know that their core count will be from 8 to 28 as follows:
1) The 8-core Xeon-W will have 3.5 GHz of base frequency, 4.0 GHz of Turbo Boost, and 24.5 MB of cache.
2) The 12-core Xeon-W will feature a 3.3 GHz frequency and 31.25 MB of cache.
3) The next Xeon-W CPU in this lineup will have 16 cores running at 3.2 GHz, and 38 MB of cache.
4) Then follows the 24-core Xeon-W CPU with 2.7 GHz of speed and 57 MB of cache.
5) The flagship of the line will be a 28-core Xeon-W CPU with 2.5 GHz, and 66.5 MB of cache memory.
All the CPUs listed at 2-5 will have 4.4 GHz of Turbo Boost frequency. The current Xeon Desktop flagship is the W-3175X whose Turbo frequency is “just” 3.8 GHz, while having 38.5 MB of cache, so that it cannot be that 28-core part mentioned above.
If the new Mac Pro computers are oficially announced in December, I will update this post with the actual names of the above CPUs in order to make you know them more accurately.
It looks like the maximum RAM support for these processors can reach 1.5 terabytes. As Macs do surely have specific motherboards, I guess this memory support is for real, which means a huge advantage for Mac Desktop PCs over our usual PCs – but do not forget that prices are astonishingly high – depending on the configuration, the total price of such a computer may be over $50000 US! High-end enthusiasts going for Mac Pro must be really rich, like winning the lottery or own/inherit a business to afford that much.
As for the CPUs themselves, if purchased separately (and if that is possible, buying only the CPU without the whole Mac PC), expect them to be expensive too. The current 28-core Xeon W-2175X has its price listed as $2999 US on the Intel site, which means that buying it would cost some more, and the newer 28-core CPU may be even more costly, seen that some parameters like the cache and the Turbo clock are better.
Of course there are already other Xeon processors that are used in older Mac Pro systems, but those belong to 2012-2013 generations such as the 2.7 GHz, 12-core Intel Xeon E5-2697v2 CPU with 3.50 GHz of Turbo Boost and 30 MB of cache, clearly way too old to consider it as “the best” for our days, given the coming release that I have already mentioned, and since iMac Pro computers have already some stronger processors in their own production line.
So, now, what about the best processors in iMac Pro Desktop computers?
They are benefitting from the powers of four distinct Xeon W CPUs that were launched in 2017 and have 8 up to 18 cores. So these processors for Mac “monitor included” Desktop PCs are:
1) Intel Xeon W-2140B, having 8 cores at 3.2 GHz. Its Turbo Boost is 4.2 GHz. It has 19 MB of L2+L3 cache (L1 is 0.5 MB), supporting up to 512 GB of quad-channel DDR4-2666 ECC RAM.
2) Intel Xeon W-2150B, with 10 cores running at 3.0 GHz. Its L1 cache is 640 KB, and it also has 23.75 MB of L2+L3 cache, plus a 4.5 GHz Turbo Boost speed. Its memory support is the same as above.
3) Intel Xeon W-2170B, featuring 14 cores at 2.5 GHz. It has 896 KB of L1 cache memory, 33.25 MB of L2+L3 memory, and a Turbo Boost speed of 4.3 GHz. The memory support is the same: 512 GB of DDR4-2666.
4) Intel Xeon W-2191B, the line flagship with 18 cores rated at 2.3 GHz. Its L1 cache memory is 1.125 MB, and the L2+L3 cache memories sum 42.75 MB. Its Turbo Boost frequency and memory support are identical to those from the W-2170B part.
All the monitors are 27-inch-sized.
So, even the iMac Pro Xeon CPUs provide an insanely high RAM support. Let’s not forget that the bitten apple is everywhere.
Mac Mini computers are the most affordable Desktop PCs from Apple, but you can still overpass the $1000 price for them, if you want the best parameters and a large storage space like 2 terabytes of SSD. Currently, Mac Minis are able to support 8th-gen, six-core Intel Core i7 processors (so there is no i9 for them yet), and you can have up to 64 GB of DDR4 memory inside a little Mac Mini device. Isn’t it amazing?
An example of a six-core CPU for Mini Mac is the Intel Core i7-8700B CPU, with 3.20 GHz of base frequency and a Turbo Boost of 4.6 GHz. The CPU itself costs somewhat more than $300 US ($303 on Intel’s page). It also features 12 MB of Intel Smart Cache memory, supports up to 64 GB of DDR4-2666 RAM, and provides an integrated graphics chip (Intel UHD Graphics 630) able to take up to… 64 GB (!) of memory for video.
Best Intel CPUs for Mac laptops
When it is the time to talk about Mac laptops, we saw earlier that there are MacBooks, MacBook Airs, and Macbook Air Pros. The term “MacBook” means Mac(intosh note)book, since laptops are also called notebooks.
CPUs that Intel uses for these laptops are not very gifted in matter of core count: 8-core processors were introduced this year in 2019, on the MacBook Pro side, that at its turn is the most powerful Mac laptop type.
The 15-inch MacBook Pro supports an octa-core i9 processor, that is Intel Core i9-9980HK. This 8-core, 16-thread CPU has a 2.4 GHz base frequency, but the Turbo Boost one reaches 5 GHz. It features 16 MB of Intel Smart Cache memory, its TDP is 45W, it supports up to 128 GB of DDR4-2666 or LPDDR3-2133 (Low Power) RAM. However, as for the Mac laptop itself, it seems to support only 32 GB of DDR4. The i9 processor is used also in non-Mac laptops where the memory support can be ar large as possible. If you choose this Mac flagship laptop, please note that even a refurbished item can cost over $2000 US – remember, it is an Apple! 🙂
If you are more curious about MacBook Pros, here’s something interesting:
Apple Macintosh personal computers may not have as many users as other PC systems do, because their prices are very high. Yet, they are a fascinating universe of computers, providing a great computing power and also having some big advantages on the Desktop part, like the over 1 TB RAM support with Intel Xeon processors, or the amazing flavors like the all-in-one iMacs and the tiny Mac Mini systems.
Mac laptops are less powerful, but still expensive with respect to usual laptops; but be it a laptop or not, a Mac PC has always a bitten fruit to show us. Their brand is clear, universal (because the apple symbol appears everywhere), and pretty… exclusive, due to prices; for this reason, rich people who own businesses would rather have a chance to use strong Macs, while not-so-rich PC users have to opt for other PC brands.
Nowadays, Intel is the only coat that Mac CPUs can wear, whereas AMD gains Mac presence by GPU cards. Xeons can support enormous amounts of RAM on Mac PCs, but that is for ABBA’s “Rich Man’s World”.
Mac computers are different, precious, and also fascinating!