Mac Overview Updated April 19, 2021

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February 2010 - April 2021

History

The Mac is Apple’s lineup of computers, and it can be considered the company’s oldest product. The name “Mac” comes from the original Macintosh, which was introduced in 1984 and is also considered the first personal computer for the masses to have a graphical user interface. The first Macintosh hit the stores on January 24, 1984, costing $2,945.

Among all these years, Apple has introduced many different Mac models, ranging from desktops to laptops to professional tower machines. The current lineup consists of the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Mac mini, iMac, and Mac Pro. However, there have been other Mac models were discontinued, such as the eMac, MacBook, and iMac Pro.

The history of modern Macs began in 1998, a year after Steve Jobs returned to Apple. Apple had dozens of Macintosh computers at that time, but Steve decided to rethink the entire lineup. In 1998, Apple announced the iMac G3, which ditched the floppy disk and serial ports in favor of USB connectors.

Macintosh and iMac G3.

Unlike the Macintosh, the first iMac was considered a huge success — not only for its technology, but also for its unique design with colorful translucent plastic. Apple quickly expanded the Mac lineup with other models, which included the iBook and PowerBook (which became the MacBook and MacBook Pro) and the PowerMac, which is now the Mac Pro.

macOS

What makes a Mac the Mac is the macOS operating system, which has also had a long history since the introduction of the first Macintosh. Initially called Mac OS, the operating system was rebuilt when Steve Jobs returned to Apple.

The first version of Mac OS X was released on March 24, 2001 with a new interface that is still present in some ways in current versions of macOS. Apple’s desktop operating system comes with many free applications such as Pages, Keynote, Numbers, iMovie, and GarageBand.

With macOS, users also have access to deep integrations with other Apple devices. For instance, you can answer calls and send SMS from your iPhone using your Mac. Handoff lets you switch from one device to the other and pick up where you left off. Apple Watch users can unlock their computer without entering a password, and you can even copy and paste between devices.

macOS Big Sur running on a Mac.

Apple’s desktop operating system is also integrated with services offered by the company, such as iCloud, Apple Music, and Apple TV+.

The current version of macOS is macOS 11 Big Sur, which features a refreshed design with more transparency and vibrance, as well as features like Control Center and new widgets. Big Sur has also added more privacy controls to Safari and messaging effects to iMessage. This version of macOS requires a Mac computer introduced in 2013 or later.

Architecture Transitions

The Mac has had three major architecture transitions in its history. Apple’s first computers ran on Motorola processors, but the company decided to migrate to the new PowerPC platform in 1994. While this brought benefits at the time, the PowerPC processors were not delivering what Apple expected.

It was in 2005 that Apple confirmed the transition from PowerPC to Intel. Intel processors had become faster and more efficient than PowerPC, which enabled the development of new Mac computers that were more powerful and also more compact. Developers have been given access to a Developer Transition Kit running Mac OS X Tiger with Intel Pentium 4 to update their apps before the transition begins.

Power PC, Mac OS X, and Intel processor.

Apple said that the transition would begin in June 2006 and be finished by the end of 2007. However, the transition to Intel was fully completed in August 2006 when the company replaced the PowerMac with the new Intel Mac Pro.

As the years went by, Apple once again felt the need to have more powerful and efficient processors for its computers. This time, the company was already working on its own chips for the iPhone and iPad. In June 2020, Apple confirmed that it was changing the architecture of the Mac, now from Intel to ARM chips, which are called Apple Silicon.

Apple offered a Mac mini DTK running on the same A12Z Bionic chip as the 2020 iPad Pro. This way developers could once again update their apps ahead of the transition. In addition to being more powerful and energy efficient, the ARM architecture of Apple Silicon chips has enabled Macs to run iOS apps for the first time.

Apple M1 chip.

The first Apple Silicon Macs were released in November 2020 with the M1 chip, and Apple says the transition should be completed by 2022.

Current Mac lineup

Apple currently sells a variety of Mac computers, which includes MacBooks, Mac mini, iMac, and Mac Pro. While some of the Macs have already been updated with an Apple Silicon chip, others remain with Intel processors.

MacBook Air

The MacBook Air is Apple’s most affordable laptop and it has become popular for its light, compact design. It’s powered by the M1 chip and is offered with 8GB or 16GB of RAM, plus it has a 13-inch Retina display and Touch ID.

Unlike the MacBook Pro, the MacBook Air has a Magic Keyboard with function keys and no Touch Bar. The laptop has only two Thunderbolt 3 compatible USB-C ports and a headphone jack. Prices start at $999 in the US. It’s offered in silver, space gray, and gold.

M1 MacBook Air.

Apple introduced the latest generation of the MacBook Air in November 2020 and there are no rumors of a significant upgrade coming in 2021. It’s worth mentioning that the laptop has no fans due to the high efficiency of the M1 chip, which also delivers incredible performance when compared to the previous MacBook Air with Intel processor.

MacBook Pro

There are currently three different versions of the MacBook Pro, which are the 13-inch MacBook Pro with M1, the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Intel, and the 16-inch MacBook Pro with Intel. All three models feature a Retina display, Touch ID, and Magic Keyboard with Touch Bar.

The entry-level MacBook Pro with M1 beats the other models with Intel processors in terms of performance, but it does have some limitations. The M1 models do not support multiple external displays and only come with two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 connections and a headphone jack, while the Intel models have four USB-C ports.

M1 MacBook Pro.

The M1 MacBook Pro is only available with 8GB or 16GB RAM, while the Intel models can be configured with up to 64GB RAM. Only the 16-inch MacBook Pro has dedicated GPU for better graphics performance. In the US, prices start at $1299. MacBook Pro is offered in silver and space gray.

Although the M1 MacBook Pro was released in November 2020, rumors suggest that new redesigned MacBook Pros are coming later this year. Apple is expected to introduce new 14-inch and 16-inch models with Mini-LED display and more.

Mac mini

Mac mini is the cheapest Mac currently available since it’s basically a desktop without a built-in display or other peripherals. The current generation was introduced in November last year with the M1 chip and a starting price of $699 in the US.

It features one Ethernet port, two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports, HDMI 2.0, two USB-A ports, and a headphone jack. Thanks to the HDMI 2.0 port, Mac mini is the only M1 Mac that supports multiple external displays. It’s also the only M1 Mac with regular USB-A ports.

M1 Mac mini.

The M1 version is offered with 8GB or 16GB RAM, but Apple still offers an Intel version that can be configured with up to 64GB RAM. The M1 Mac mini is only available in silver, while the Intel model is only available in space gray. There are no rumors about a new generation Mac mini coming soon.

iMac

iMac is Apple’s most popular desktop computer with an all-in-one construction. It features a 4K display in its 21.5-inch version and a 5K display in the 27-inch version. At the same time, Apple still sells an entry-level iMac with a regular 1080p display.

All three versions of the iMac currently sold come with Intel processors and configurations vary for each model. Only the 27-inch version was updated in 2020 with 10th generation Intel processors, while the 21-inch models use older 8th and 7th generation processors. The iMac can be configured with up to 128GB RAM depending on the model, and except for the entry-level version, all iMacs feature a dedicated GPU.

2020 iMac.

Apple ships the iMac with Magic Mouse and Magic Keyboard, plus a Lightning cable for recharging accessories. Prices in the US start at $1099 for the model with a 1080p display and $1299 for the Retina display version. Recent rumors suggest that the iMac will be completely redesigned in all its versions later this year.

Mac Pro

Mac Pro is a computer built for professional users who depend on extremely powerful hardware. Available in tower and rack versions, it has a completely modular design. That means users can replace RAM, SSD, GPU, and other internal components.

By default, it features four USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports, two USB-A ports, and two 10Gb Ethernet ports. However, the ports can be expanded using the PCI Express slots. Apple also ships the computer with a Magic Mouse and Magic Keyboard, but it does not come with an external monitor included.

All models feature Intel Xeon W processors, which are the most powerful processors offered by Intel. Consumers can configure Mac Pro with up to 28-core processor, 1.5TB RAM, and 8TB of SSD storage. In addition to supporting multiple dedicated GPUs, Apple also offers the Afterburner card — which accelerates the decoding of ProRes videos.

2019 Mac Pro.

Mac Pro prices start at $5999 in the US. We expect that the Mac Pro will be the last Mac to be updated with an Apple Silicon chip.

Rumors about upcoming Macs

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