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Buying a new Mac is exciting, but it can also be very confusing. For most of the Macs it sells, Apple offers a number of different configuration options, including different RAM capacities, storage sizes and disk types, and processors. For many people, it’s the last of those that’s most important. It’s arguable that processors, or CPUs, are now so powerful that they can do everything most of us need to do at a speed that is more than good enough and so choice of CPU isn’t important. But that’s not quite true, as we’ll explain below.
What is a processor?
Put simply, a processor is the ‘brain’ in your Mac. Until relatively recently the CPU was responsible only for taking input, executing instructions and passing on the results. Now, CPUs incorporate short-term memory of their own and, sometimes, graphics processors, or GPUs. In fact, when it comes to choosing a processor for your Mac, deciding whether to opt for one that has an on-chip graphics processor is one of the key decisions you’ll have to make. Macs that have processors with on-board GPUs tend to be less expensive than those that have separate graphics processors, but also are less capable when it comes to things like rendering 3D graphics and 4K video. To further complicate matters, new macOS features like Metal make excellent use of the hardware in GPUs, meaning the choice of graphics processor is almost as important as the choice of CPU.
What processor does my Mac have inside?
Since 2006 all Macs have used Intel processors — unlike iPhones and iPads which have Apple processors. Apple labels the Intel CPUs it uses in the Mac as Core i5 and Core i7 and differentiates them by speed in GHz. The other difference is the number of cores in the CPU and the number of CPUs in the Mac. So, roughly speaking a quad-core processor should be able to process instructions at twice the rate of a dual-core CPU. That’s not the case in the real world, as executing instructions relies on more than just the speed at which the CPU’s ‘brain’ can perform calculations (for example, it’s dependent on how quickly those instructions can be passed to and from the CPU). However, in an application optimized for multiple cores, you should notice a significant difference between CPUs with different numbers of cores.
Intel gives each generation of its processor a code name. Recent Intel CPUs have had names like Sandy Bridge, Haswell, and Skylake. Apple doesn’t use those names, or even talk publicly about which processor is in each Mac, but it’s known that the current crop of iMacs and MacBook Pros have Kaby Lake processors, which were the most recent available at the time they were released in 2017. So, if you bought it in the last year or so, your MacBook Pro processor is Kaby Lake. The slimline MacBook processor is known as Core M, designed specifically for low power mobile use. The MacBook Air and Mac mini have Haswell processors, as they were released in 2013. The Mac Pro uses a completely different family of Intel processors, designed for high-end workstations and known as Xeon. The Mac Pro, last updated in 2013, uses the Romley variant of Xeon.
What are the important features of a processor?
We’ve already talked about processors that have on-board graphics, such as Intel Iris and Iris Pro. These offer benefits such as taking up less space than discrete CPU and GPU chips and Mac’s that use them tend to be less expensive than those with separate CPU and GPU. However, they also tend to be less powerful.
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The other key feature of a processor is the balance between speed and power consumption. CPUs that run faster use more energy and so generate more heat. This doesn’t just mean that fans have to run more often, it also uses more power — and if the Mac is a laptop, runs the batter down more quickly. Indeed, CPUs are often ‘throttled’ so that they don’t run at their theoretical maximum, in order to preserve battery life and reduce heat generation.
What about Turbo Boost?
Turbo Boost is a technology introduced by Intel and is designed to allow processors to run at speeds faster than those quoted on your Mac’s label in certain circumstances. Remember we said that CPUs are often throttled to prevent overheating? Turbo Boost monitors the power consumption and heat of the CPU and removes that throttle when it’s safe to do so. So, for example, a quad-core 2.8GHz Mac Pro could run as fast as 3.8GHz in the right circumstances.
Which processor should I choose?
It’s likely that if you’re buying a new Mac, you’re choice of processor will be made from the Core M, Core i5, and Core i7. Not all Mac models offer a choice of all three. The Core M, for example, is specifically designed to minimise power consumption in mobile devices and is used only in the MacBook. If you’re buying a MacBook Pro or iMac, you’ll have the choice of Core i5 or Core i7. Likewise, if you buy a MacBook Air or Mac mini, although those machines use older versions of Intel processors. And, as we said earlier, if you buy a Mac Pro, you’ll be able to choose from Xeon workstation processors with multiple cores.
There are two decisions you’re likely to have to make: i5 or i7 and dual-core or quad-core. Generally speaking, in terms of speed, a dual-core i5 is the slowest and a quad-core i7 the fastest. That, however, is not the whole story. In order to get the most from multiple cores, you’ll need to be performing tasks that really benefit from the ability to execute more instructions simultaneously. So, tasks like 3D rendering, video editing and working with large images in Photoshop will all improve noticeably with a quad-core vs a dual-core processor.
Core i7 processors have two main benefits over Core i5: larger cache and hyper-threading. The presence of a larger cache means the CPU can store more data locally and so spend less time transferring them back and forth to RAM. Hyper-threading allows the CPU to simulate additional cores. So, a quad-core i7 with hyperthreading behaves like and eight-core CPU.
The benefits of larger cache and hyperthreading are seen in scientific applications, where large calculations are performed and their results stored, as well as the 3D animation and 4K video editing.
Integrated vs discrete graphics
As we discussed earlier, some Intel processors have GPUs onboard. In some Mac ranges, such as the MacBook Pro and iMac, you’ll have the choice of a model with integrated graphics or one with a separate, or discrete, GPU. If you’re going to use your Mac primarily for playing power-hungry games, manipulating large images, or editing video or animation, you should choose a Mac with a separate GPU. On the other hand, if you’re mostly going to use it for writing, email, social media and editing your own photos, a CPU with integrated graphics, like Iris, is fine.
Can I upgrade the processor in my Mac?
That’s a flat no, sadly. There have in the past been Macs that had processors that could be upgraded, but now they’re soldered firmly in place and so your Apple CPU can’t be removed. That makes the choice you make when you buy your Mac even more important. The good news is that for most users every processor that ships with a currently available Mac, even those that haven’t been updated in several years, is absolutely fine and will run as fast as you need it to.
If I can’t upgrade the processor, how else can I speed up my Mac?
Two of the most effective ways to make your Mac go faster are to install more RAM and swap your hard drive for an SSD. Those both cost quite a bit of money, however. A much less expensive and much easier way is to get rid of the ‘junk’ files that can clog up your Mac. These are installed by applications, or by the system, or downloaded to your machine by websites. Deleting them one by one is a long and difficult process, but CleanMyMac X makes it very easy. CleanMyMac identifies files on your Mac that either serve no purpose, that you’re unlikely to need, or that are large and haven’t been opened for a while.
You can scan your Mac with one click and CleanMyMac will report back to you with the files it thinks you can delete and how much space it will save you — it can be tens of gigabytes. You can then review them and choose which to get rid of or press Delete and get rid of them all. CleanMyMac also makes it easy to uninstall apps you no longer use and removes all their associated files. You can download it free here.
Choosing a processor for your Mac can seem confusing and difficult but it’s not really. Once you’ve chosen the Mac you want, there are likely only to be a few options. And with the help of our guide, you should now know which one is right for you.
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macOS is the operating system that powers every Mac. It lets you do things you simply can’t with other computers. That’s because it’s designed specifically for the hardware it runs on — and vice versa. macOS comes with an entire suite of beautifully designed apps. It works hand in hand with iCloud to keep photos, documents, and other stuff up to date on all your devices. It makes your Mac work like magic with your iPhone and other Apple devices. And it’s been built from the ground up with privacy and security in mind.
Featuring all-new, dedicated apps for music, TV, and podcasts. Smart new features in the apps you use every day. And Sidecar, which lets you use iPad as a second Mac display.
Easy to Use When it’s simple to
everything, you can do anything.
On a Mac, everything is designed to work just the way you expect it to — from operating it with simple, intuitive gestures to asking Siri to find a file to having your apps automatically update themselves. Whatever you set out to do on a Mac, there’s much less to learn and that much more to accomplish.
The Finder lets you easily browse and organize the files on your Mac — and those stored in iCloud Drive. View files by icons, in a list, or with Gallery View, which helps you quickly locate a file by how it looks. Drag and drop files into folders in the sidebar. And use the Preview pane to see all of your files’ metadata, quickly create .zip files, and share using the handy Share menu.
Dark Mode adds a dramatic look to your desktop and apps that puts the focus on your content. Dynamic Desktop makes your Mac even more beautiful with time-shifting desktop pictures that match the time of day wherever you are. And Stacks keeps your desktop free of clutter by automatically organizing your files, images, documents, PDFs, and more into tidy groups.
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Spotlight helps you quickly and effortlessly find what you want, like documents on your Mac, movie showtimes, and flight departure and arrival times. Just type a few keystrokes in the Spotlight search field and autocomplete immediately shows you relevant results.1
A simple two-finger swipe from the right edge of your trackpad brings up Notification Center — the same one you use on iPhone — where you can see all the alerts that have come in recently. It’s also where you’ll find your Today view, which you can customize with helpful widgets or handy information pinned from Siri searches.
Siri helps you get things done just by using your voice. It also helps you get more things done at the same time. So you can finish your document while asking Siri to tell your coworker that it’s on the way. Looking for the presentation you worked on last week? Just ask Siri.2 And with Apple Music, Siri can be your personal DJ and recommend music based on your tastes, and tell you more about songs, albums, and artists.3
Continuity All your devices.
One seamless experience.
Your Mac works with your other Apple devices in ways no other computer can. If you get a call on your iPhone, you can take it on your Mac. And when friends text you — regardless of the phone they have — you can respond from your Mac, iPad, or iPhone, whichever is closest. When you copy text or an image from one device, you can paste it into another with standard copy and paste commands. And with Sidecar, you can extend your workspace by using your iPad as a second Mac display. You can even unlock your Mac with your Apple Watch. No password typing required.
Privacy and Security We believe your data belongs to you. Period.
Everything you do with your Mac is protected by strong privacy and security features. That’s because we build data security into everything we make, right from the start.
Privacy. You trust our products with your most personal information, and we believe that you should be in complete control of it. We respect your privacy by enacting strict policies that govern how all data is handled. And when you browse the web, Safari helps prevent data companies from tracking the sites you visit.
Security. We design Mac hardware and software with advanced technologies that work together to help you run apps safely, protect your data, and keep you safe on the web. The new Find My app helps you locate a missing Mac that’s lost or stolen — even if it’s offline or sleeping. And Gatekeeper makes it safer to download and install apps from the Mac App Store and the internet.
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Built in Apps Apps as powerful and elegant as your Mac. Because they’re designed for it.
With every Mac, you get a collection of powerful apps. They’re the same apps you use on your iPhone or iPad, so they’ll feel instantly familiar. They all work with iCloud, so your schedule, contacts, and notes are always up to date everywhere. And because they’re native apps — not web apps in a browser — they take full advantage of the power of your Mac to deliver the fastest possible performance and more robust features.
Media. Experience music, TV, and podcasts in three all-new Mac apps. Get all the news that matters from sources you trust, all in one place.4 Track the market and customize your watchlist. Peruse the best book titles from your desktop. And find the latest apps and extensions for your Mac, right on your Mac.
Creativity. Enjoy your best photos and videos, showcased in an immersive, dynamic new look. Transform home videos into unforgettable movies or quickly share clips with your favorite people. Create music like the pros with a huge collection of sounds, instruments, amps, and a lineup of virtual session drummers and percussionists perfectly suited to play along with your song.
Productivity. Create beautiful documents with stunning simplicity. Visualize your data precisely and persuasively in spreadsheets with images, text, and shapes. Make stage-worthy presentations using powerful graphics tools and dazzling cinematic effects to bring your ideas to life. And collaborate with friends and coworkers in real time — whether they’re across town or across the globe.
Communication. Easily manage all of your email accounts in one simple, powerful app that works with email services like iCloud, Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, and Microsoft Exchange. Send unlimited messages to anyone on any Apple device, using the same Messages app on your Mac as you do on your iPhone. Make unlimited high-quality video and audio calls right from your Mac with FaceTime. And securely locate a missing Mac using the new Find My app on Mac, iPhone, and iPad.
Organization. A new gallery view and more powerful search help you find your notes more quickly than ever. Easily create, organize, and add attachments to reminders. Manage your iCloud, Google, and Exchange calendars in one place, create separate calendars for home, work, and school, and view them all or just the ones you want. Instantly capture personal reminders, class lectures, even interviews or song ideas with Voice Memos. Keep all your contact info up to date on all your devices, and easily import numbers, addresses, and photos from Google and Microsoft Exchange. And control all your HomeKit-enabled accessories from the comfort of your desktop.
Internet. Surf the web seamlessly with an updated start page that helps you quickly access your favorite and frequently visited sites. Use Apple Pay to make purchases on the web in Safari with Touch ID on MacBook Pro and MacBook Air. Map out new destinations from your desktop, with gorgeous 3D city views like Flyover, point-to-point directions, and comprehensive transit directions. And instantly search your entire Mac or get results from the internet in just a few keystrokes.
iCloud All your stuff on your Mac.
And everywhere else you want it.
Every Apple app uses iCloud — it’s the magic behind the seamless experience you have with all your Apple devices. So you always have your photos, videos, documents, email, notes, contacts, calendars, and more on whatever device you’re using. And any file you store in iCloud Drive can be shared with friends, family, and colleagues just by sending them a link. iCloud Drive also lets you access files from your Mac on your iPhone or iPad. It’s all done automatically. Just like that.5
Accessibility We make sure that everyone is able to use a Mac.
macOS comes standard with a wide range of assistive technologies that help people with disabilities experience what the Mac has to offer, providing many features you won’t find in other operating systems. Voice Control lets users control their Mac, iPad, and iPhone entirely with their voice. And features such as VoiceOver, Accessibility Keyboard, FaceTime,6 and Text to Speech help everyone get more out of Mac.
Technology Advanced to the core.
macOS features powerful core technologies engineered for the most important functions of your Mac. Thanks to Mac Catalyst, you can now enjoy your favorite iPad apps on your Mac. With SwiftUI, developers have a simple way to build better apps across all Apple platforms with less code. Create ML gives developers a faster and easier way to build machine learning into apps. And support for virtual and augmented reality lets developers create immersive worlds for you to step into.
Compatibility Need to work with Windows?
Mac does that, too.
With macOS, it’s easy to transfer your files, photos, and other data from a Windows PC to your Mac. Work with popular file types such as JPEG, MP3, and PDF, as well as Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents. And, of course, you can run Microsoft Office natively on a Mac. If you want, you can even run Windows on your Mac.7
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