What Intel’s latest roadmap updates mean for the Mac

Apple may end up making Macs with processors of its own design, but that’s not expected to happen soon. And if it does happen, it probably will take several years before the entire Mac lineup has transitioned to Apple-designed chips.

In the meantime, it’s safest to assume that the Macs of the next couple years will primarily use Intel processors. So any time we can get a look at Intel’s roadmap, we’re getting a peak at the heart of the Mac.

On Wednesday, during an investor presentation, Intel extended its public roadmap through 2020 and gave an update on future products and manufacturing processes. Here’s what that means for the Mac.

Ice Lake this year

Intel has been struggling to bring 10nm chips to market—the 14nm process node has lasted two years longer than expected—but it will finally ship volume processors for consumers with the 10nm process this year.

The company’s first large-scale 10nm consumer product is codenamed Ice Lake, and is expected to ship to Intel’s customers in June. It’s aimed at laptops, from ultra-portable up to high-performance models.

Intel Ice Lake Intel

Ice Lake should bring big performance benefits to MacBooks.

Ice Lake processors use Intel’s brand-new Sunny Cove CPU architecture, which should deliver the first real boost in single-thread performance in a long time. Most of Intel’s speed gains over the last few years are due to boosting clock speeds and adding cores, but the Sunny Cove architecture is expected to make each core faster, clock-for-clock.

Ice Lake should deliver the biggest boost in the non-CPU parts of the chip, however. The new Gen-11 graphics core will be up to twice as fast as the graphics in today’s MacBooks (except the 15-inch MacBook Pro, which uses AMD’s Radeon graphics). It will also speed up AI operations by a large amount, and incorporate faster wireless networking and integrated support for Thunderbolt 3.

skylake vs sunny cove Intel

The Sunny Cove cores will feature the first major changes to an Intel x86 core since Skylake CPUs were introduced in 2015.

All told, it means a new set of MacBooks with significantly faster CPU performance and much faster graphics performance. In particular, these chips should greatly accelerate video encoding, so video professionals are probably going to want to upgrade. Faster integrated wireless and a built-in Thunderbolt 3 controller may mean reduced internal complexity for Apple, which could mean thinner or lighter MacBooks, or maybe just more battery capacity.