Apple Silicon could signal the end of AMD GPU support in macOS

MacBook’s move to ARM: Why Apple could succeed where others failed
(Image credit: Apple)

When Apple announced that it would be moving to its own CPUs over the next couple of years, it came as a surprise to virtually no one and there is plenty of reason to believe that Apple will succeed in these efforts

However, a more surprising and, for some, disheartening rumor has emerged based on a slide posted by @never_released. Supposedly part of a WWDC session on porting Metal apps to Apple Silicon, the slide indicates that third-party GPU support will also be going away with the move to Apple Silicon (via ExtremeTech).

This move makes sense from Apple's standpoint, after all, one of the motivators for moving to its own CPUs is to have greater control of its supply chain and development, so it is only natural that the GPUs would follow.

The Apple GPU would use the same Tile Based Deferred Renderer architecture found in the iPhone and iPad as opposed to the Immediate Mode Renderer supported presently in Intel, Nvidia and AMD GPUs. Notably, this is a slight mischaracterization as all three companies have moved to a hybrid tile-based rendering approach with their GPUs in recent years.

This would be a concern to fewer customers than the CPU transition as only a handful of high-end Apple laptops and desktops include a discrete AMD GPU. However, it's the customers who spend the most on Apple hardware who will be affected by it. Presumably, this would also mean the end for external GPU support in Apple laptops, although that is an even smaller niche and was already likely in danger unless Thunderbolt 4 will be compatible with Apple Silicon.

Interestingly, Apple stresses in some of its support documentation on porting apps to Apple Silicon that it can squeeze a lot out of an integrated GPU, "Don’t assume a discrete GPU means better performance. The integrated GPU in Apple processors is optimized for high-performance graphics tasks."

This historically would have been a questionable claim, but the initial benchmarks from Apple's Silicon and the performance Intel has shown off from its integrated Xe GPUs in the upcoming Tiger Lake chips certainly back up the assertion.

Apple has given a roughly two-year timeline for its move to Apple Silicon from Intel CPUs, which is aggressive, but we know this has been years in the making. If Apple has been similarly laying the groundwork for this GPU move, it has managed to keep that shockingly quiet by comparison, which perhaps indicates that fans of powerful discrete GPUs may have a little more time before Apple abandons them.

Sean Riley

Sean Riley has been covering tech professionally for over a decade now. Most of that time was as a freelancer covering varied topics including phones, wearables, tablets, smart home devices, laptops, AR, VR, mobile payments, fintech, and more.  Sean is the resident mobile expert at Laptop Mag, specializing in phones and wearables, you'll find plenty of news, reviews, how-to, and opinion pieces on these subjects from him here. But Laptop Mag has also proven a perfect fit for that broad range of interests with reviews and news on the latest laptops, VR games, and computer accessories along with coverage on everything from NFTs to cybersecurity and more.