On November 10, 2020, Apple officially launched its M1 processor and set in motion its escape from the Intel ecosystem while also casting a steely eye at Nvidia and AMD as Apple strengthened its proprietary fort and said, now what?
The M1 shook the foundation of the industry, causing a ripple effect, as the Apple MacBook Air became a tiny, fanless, affordable laptop for content creators that offered photo and video editors a lightweight option that could handle their on-the-go workloads or at least allow them to start editing while in the field. It also made getting into content creating more affordable for everyone, including students.
Once the first reviews for the MacBook Air with M1 started rolling out, it was clear that someone other than AMD and Intel could make not only a viable processor but also one that could change the processor landscape. Yes, it took years of R&D and I imagine a group of engineers locked in a lab with a portrait of Steve Jobs hanging over them pushing them to create something game-changing like the iPhone.
However, this is not an Apple worship piece, this is about what's to come. So I pulled on my stars and moon embroidered robe, whipped out my crystal ball, and beseeched the spirits of tech while burning silicon incense to peer into the future. I see a battle for the ages coming between Apple, Intel, AMD, and Nvidia with the possibility of a fifth tech company surprising us all and launching a CPU and GPU combo to challenge them all. Let's stare into the crystal ball and see what the spirits reveal.
Just remember, the spirits are brief, if not vague.
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Intel Arc GPU is coming for you
The Intel Arc GPU is showing up in laptops sold in China and the first results are beginning to come out, with it being compared to the Nvidia RTX 3060 GPU — a solid GPU for gaming and content creating. It may not reach the heights of the RTX 3080 Ti but, if the rumors are true, entering the dedicated GPU space at the level of an RTX 3060 would be a win for Intel after many years of users being disappointed in the company's integrated graphics platform.
Let's be honest, Intel has known for a long time its integrated graphics have been super regardless of how many times they've tried to sell users on its ability to edit content and gameplay capabilities. Nobody has been fooled and this approach just allowed Apple to quietly develop the M1 silicon and the recently released M2, proving it can be done.
Looking into the future, Intel Arc could become more of an issue for AMD and Nvidia if Intel delivers close enough performance at a more affordable price point. This would be great for young content creators and students looking for an even more affordable laptop than the MacBook Air. It could lead to a content creator's laptop with 32GB of RAM, a 12th Gen Intel Core i7HX CPU, and Arc GPU for under $1,000 or possibly even under $900.
Intel seems to be reading the tea leaves that have been floating in the ripples since the M1 splashed down, and is making conscious changes to its approach to the market. The thing is, Intel has to do all it can to make sure the Arc is well received, and market it to individuals that will benefit the most from its current capabilities.
With the new HX processors added to Arc GPUs, could Intel be placing itself in a position to challenge Apple? Honestly, even the crystal ball gets murky when asked this. I will say I can see the combination carving out a space for itself in the market that could make Apple CEO Tim Cook a little nervous, as the spirits whisper in his ear "it's time to get rid of that damned touch bar!"
Something's afoot at AMD
AMD has been a company many have discounted for a long time. Those in the know, however, do not, and AMD has enjoyed a bit of a revival these past few years. AMD has been recruiting top leadership talent as it seeks to start launching innovative and possibly market-altering products in the near future.
We know the new Ryzen Zen CPUs are coming, we know gamers are excited about them, and we know laptop makers have been finding ways to spread the love and offer consumers more AMD-powered devices.
Last February, AMD CEO Dr. Lisa Su stated that the company had secured its supply chain and will be able to make sure the company meets the demand for the Zen 4 CPUs and next-gen GPUs. That alone places AMD in a good space, and possibly ahead of the game especially since laptop makers have been scrambling due to pandemic-related shortages.
AMD also benefitted from the benchmark performance improvements across the board, which also entices consumers to trust its products to deliver the performance they require when creating content and gaming. Using technological innovations like AMD 3D V-Cache has improved performance to the point where several AMD CPUs are now considered on par with Intel chips. When you add that to a secured supply chain, AMD is looking like a fierce competitor.
When AMD's Ryzen 7000 series with Zen 4 architecture lands, it could give the company the push it needs to not just solidify its position but also grow, improving its market share exponentially.
AMD is already a gamer favorite in the GPU segment and as anyone knows, a good GPU is great for editing both photo and video content. By the time we enter the fourth quarter of 2022, AMD will have released its new CPUs and GPUs that could cause a stir for both Intel and Nvidia. As they say, a little competition is healthy but, with Intel soon to be releasing the HX and Arc, it feels like a battle royale worthy of WWE is coming together just between these two titans alone.
Is it real, or is it Nvidia
Where do I start? I have sat in on several demonstrations with the good folks at Nvidia and I am never disappointed. Actually, I have left Google Meets and Zoom meetings with them pondering my reality. Nvidia has been and is the leading GPU maker in my humble opinion. When I looked into the crystal ball to see what Nvidia's future may be, it looked back at me and said "how do I know, they create a reality of their choosing." This is to say Nvidia's GPUs are being used along with Nvidia Studio, and software from other makers to create entire reality-bending worlds that leave one pondering: what's next?
Even with freeware like Blender, if you have an Nvidia GPU-powered laptop, you can begin to create mind-altering realistic landscapes, worlds, and artwork. Over at Nvidia's website, there's a blog (opens in new tab) dedicated to the work of digital artists that will leave you speechless.
Nvidia's RTX 3080 and RTX 3090 GPUs are the stuff of legends, but we're focused on what is to come. With Apple recently launching its M2 CPU, boasting GPU improvements and up to 30% in performance improvements, you would think Nvidia would be worried, especially since Apple's senior vice president Craig Federighi flipped his hair as Apple made a push to let us know you can game with the M2. Sadly, we know the Apple gaming claim is pure poppycock. Although Craig's silver locks are stunning, they can't touch Nvidia in regards to gaming, and in my opinion, in content-creating power.
The crystal ball reveals that the Nvidia GeForce RTX 40 series will continue the company's trend of GPU superiority, but will surprise us all by being more powerful and running cooler with less energy consumption, which will extend battery life. Speaking of, battery life has been a constant complaint with gamers and creators alike, and adding a potent GPU that will sip energy and need less cooling should be the next step. This would give PC makers a true opportunity to go head-to-head with Apple's M2 MacBook Air.
Apple is getting a little lazy
Look, Apple makes good products. There truly is no direct competition for the Apple M1 and M2 MacBook Air. I said it, I wrote it, and I mean it. As far as relatively affordable content-creating laptops go, the MacBook Air is nearly unbeatable. I know, as I have been searching for a while now for a Windows laptop that could match it in weight, battery life, and overall performance. As much as this upsets me to also admit, it makes me cast the stink eye at other laptop makers — it's time to kick the Air off the top of this hill.
Now, the new MacBook Air is a far better choice than the M2-powered MacBook Pro, which Laptop Mag's Sean Riley will tell you. Apple completely dropped the ball with the 13-inch M2 Pro model by just popping a new chip in and screaming "tada!", and leaving us to stare at that hideous touch bar for another year.
My question is why? Apple has been at the forefront for a while, but is the 13-inch M2 MacBook Pro a harbinger of doom? Is it a sign of growing complacency within the company itself?
The M1 Ultra, Pro, and Max? Are you kidding me? They soldiered two big M1s together and once again screamed "tada!" It is being whispered in tech writer's bullpens across the land that Apple is banking too much on its well-established proprietary ecosystem and its user's fervor to sustain it. Sure, Apple is worth over $3 trillion (via Forbes) and has the funds to secure its supply chain possibly more so than other tech companies, but it shouldn't get lazy. Since it dropped the M1 and shook the industry up, other makers have started making changes, and are aggressively doing all they can to not catch up, but to surpass Apple.
Many content creators I have spoken to in recent weeks remain wholeheartedly devoted to Apple, with some admitting they own a MacBook for creator work and a PC for gaming. However, several did admit they've also started to use their Windows-based system more to edit content, just to kick the tires and see if it can compete. Many are of the opinion that although their PCs may not be their first choice, they admit they can get the job done. It shows there's for content creators to start looking elsewhere, especially if Apple keeps trying to pull a fast one on consumers.
So I once again peered deeply into the crystal ball to see what could be coming down the pipeline. Apple knows the M2 MacBook Pro is basically dead on arrival and will be counting on customers devoted to its ecosystem to just hop on board and buy. Also, with Apple possibly moving to a subscription plan for its hardware, why not just toss this thing out there and see what happens.
The future of Apple will be tied to the M series chipset for a while, and they will introduce a hardware subscription service. But, in the end, if they do not start making some design changes, the other laptop makers will be breathing down the company's neck sooner than later.
My prediction for content creation laptops is this. The MacBook Air is nearly perfect, but, with the help of Intel, AMD, and Nvidia, laptop companies including HP, Lenovo, MSI, Dell, and Acer won't be too far behind. Besides, the Dell XPS 13 is already one of the best laptops to get.
There are patterns to everything in the tech world and all you have to do is follow the news cycles to put two and two together. I believe there will be a shocking entry into the CPU and GPU game that may surprise a lot of people by mid-2023 — and I'm pretty damn sure of it.
Paying attention to press releases, one company, in particular, has been researching several areas that may seem unrelated but is actually all related to processor tech, and they already have a foothold in the laptop industry.
For now, the spirits have left, and the crystal ball no longer glows.