Apple Silicon and the Future of DJing on the Mac

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So if you haven’t heard, and what is likely Cupertino’s worst kept secret, Apple has been looking to change over to its only silicon. Now in the past there was speculation on how long things would take, how would we get there, and now we have some definitive answers and for the DJ community, how it is going to affect us.

So first, and I can’t stress this enough, don’t panic. This is not going to happen overnight. And it’s not like Apple does not have experience with this since they moved from the Power PC over to Intel. They started that transition 15 years ago in 2005 and frankly, there were not as many headaches as people thought there would be. There was, of course, some growing pains. But they did it to what many would say was a great success.

Architecture

Now I am not going to deep dive into the architecture of RISC chip vs CISC chips, and if you are interested I would check out Linus Tech Tips for a really great dive into it. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KtgeS2hhV9U). But to boil it way down, Apple has been unhappy with the performance and cooling on Intel’s chips. In desktops that aren’t as big of an issue since you can slap massive cooling fans on them, but in a laptop where dissipating heat is much more of a challenge, Intel chips in Macs have purposefully been dialed back to keep cooling “manageable” and by manageable I mean just shy of being uncomfortable using as a laptop. 

CISC architecture is far more efficient in executing code per clock cycle, which means less strain on the CPU, which means less heat, which can mean more performance.

In addition, with Apple working off the same architecture as their phones and watches, it provides them with a lower cost, control over the instruction set, and phenomenal optimization of what is run on the chips.

Transition

So with that out of the way, what is in store. We already know Apple has at least one more iteration of Intel based equipment that is coming out this year. We also know that Apple is supposed to launch at least one ore more Apple-silicon based machines by the end of the year. 

The whole process is supposed to take 2 years, and I am assuming that means every chip with be Apple-based silicon by that point. 

During the transition there are ways that intel-based programs can run on these RISC based chips. Rosetta2 along with Universal Binary 2 will allow for the porting of programs over, at least through the transition period, and beyond. In the meantime many programs may not take a lot of conversion to make it RISC based as long as the instruction set is compatible. If there are some instructions that only has a CISC equivalent, that could be problematic.

Benefits

A net benefit to all this is since all Apple products will be RISC based, then running on mobile, laptop, and desktop are all viable options. So having, say, a full blown copy of Serato, Virtual DJ, or others on an iPad is an absolutely plausible scenario.

One mystery in all this is how the delivery of applications are going to happen. Will Apple force everyone to the App Store to make these transactions, and if so are the terms going to be the same, or change. Since this is completely voluntary on MacOS right now, that could be a bridge too far for many developers. I assume that most will want to stay operating on Apple’s platforms, but only time will tell.

So, where does that leave us? Well I don’t think there is any real doom or gloom here. Apple products post Apple silica will still be supported for some time. There are plenty of older laptops, especially 2009-2012 MacBook pros which are very desirable for DJs looking for cheap and upgradable equipment. But they will begin to fade over time. Those with 2016-2020 MacBooks right now will likely be safe for some time to come. BigSur is the latest edition and that is CISC and RISC compatible. I would wager the release after that will be RISC only, but there will be some support for devices and the OS for at least some time, possibly even a couple years post switchover.

Need Something Now?

If you are looking to buy now, I would say look at refurbished models. You can sometimes get a good bargain. I currently have a mid-2018 and late-2018 and still could not be happier with them. 

Summing It All together

As for DJ programs like VDJ, Serato, Traktor and others, I do believe they are going to make every effort to port over RISC-compliant applications. There is a substantial community of Mac users in our field and it would be frankly foolish if they do not. There is already RISC equipment that companies can purchase now from Apple to begin that transition. If they decide not to that will be the real shockwave.

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