The process of software optimization for the Apple M1 processor from the developers’ point of view

Before the end of 2020 and the beginning of the new decade, Apple unveiled a new architecture for Mac-friendly computers and this move is an important step in the future of Mac. Over the past four decades, Apple has uniquely taken a series of fundamental steps to transform the Mac hardware into a completely new and different chip architecture.

In fact, no other computing platform, even on a similar scale, has successfully performed such a complex operation even once; What about trying to make three major architectural changes that Apple has made to the Mac: from the Motorola 68000 to PowerPC in the 1990s, then to the Intel x86 architecture in the 2000s, and now to the ARM architecture and Apple’s own custom processors.

After fifteen years of using Intel processors, the tech giant Cupertino has abandoned the x86 architecture and for the first time incorporated ARM64 processors into the MacBook Air, the 13-inch MacBook Pro and the Mac Mini; A huge change that has been the main news of this industry for some time. In fact, the new processor can be considered a powerful yet highly efficient and low-power power plant for Mac computers that enhances their efficiency and processing power; But due to the architecture change from x86 to ARM64, a lot of software is not currently optimized for the new architecture.

Each migration involves extensive efforts to not only create new hardware, but also to develop extensive software operating systems and deploy new development tools to minimize problems in the transfer of users and developers; So the tech giant must try to accelerate the transition of developers to the new architecture. Otherwise, the development process of Apple’s ecosystem will be very slow, dissatisfied developers and users will be the main victims. To achieve this, Apple has considered a tool called Rosetta 2.

Apple Rosetta 2 logo

Rosetta 2 is actually Apple’s software auto-compilation tool used in Mac OS Big Head for real-time translation of x86 code; This tool is designed to transfer most Intel x86-based CPU applications to logo processors, and as long as developers optimize their software for the new processor and architecture, Rosetta fills 2 vacancies for users; But apart from its excellent performance compared to other emulators, Rosetta 2 is a temporary solution and limits the performance of programs compared to native performance. Apple, on the other hand, aims to persuade more and more developers to optimize their applications for the M1 architecture.

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Developer support is not limited to providing simulators; Other measures and even the hardware capabilities of the processor play an important role in accelerating this movement. For example, Apple has created a project called Mac Catalyst to speed up the transition of iOS apps and games to the Mac OS; Until now, however, understanding how useful these programs and projects have been to developers has remained obscure. To find out, Digitrends has interviewed some of the biggest designers and developers of Mac applications, and as it turns out, the developers are happy with the transition to the new architecture.

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Ken Case, CEO of Omni Group and publisher of programs such as OmniFocus and OmniGraffle, acknowledges that it has not been easier to build software for Mac computers with M1 processors; But there was no problem in the migration process. James ThompsonIn the past three decades, Apple has experienced all three of Apple’s previous migrations to the new architecture, with the transition to the logo architecture being the easiest. He points out that he spent less time supporting the Apple Silicon (M1) processor and compressing the Xcode version of a universal application. Case and Thomson both believe that the key to this simplicity is the similarity between Intel and Apple Silicon processors.

Ash Hysen, The CEO of Serif Software is responsible for programs that have won numerous awards at Apple Design Festivals. He explains that Serif has always avoided relying on the Intel processor and architecture in its applications, and has focused on developing software for the iPad that uses Apple processors; Therefore, it has transferred its programs to Mac computers without any problems and in the simplest possible way.

Apple has improved the design and development process of its processors by changing the architecture, and on the other hand, new Mac computers, thanks to the M1 processor, can run iOS and iPad OS natively. However, the main question is whether these programs will have less time to develop and optimize? According to the developers, the answer to this question is no; Because iOS apps are built and optimized for touch screens and require special features of Macs, such as mouse support, to bring a pleasurable Mac experience; Therefore, the development and optimization of the mentioned features in the programs will be time consuming. Instead, the main advantage is the power that these programs provide to the user using the beating heart of Mecca.

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Technical specifications of Apple M1 / ​​Apple M1 transistor, lithography and core

All the developers interviewed by Digital Trends are determined that the M1 chips will bring benefits to Mac ecosystem fans, especially in the form of powerful, professional-class applications. Simonas Bastis, The senior developer of the Pixelmator photo editing program, says the integrated memory architecture in the M1 chip, called UMA, allows internal components to share memory, thereby increasing data transfer speeds and dramatically improving performance. This was not easily possible on Intel-based Macs; Because the architecture of Intel processors is completely different, it includes data transfer between the CPU, GPU and random access memory (RAM), which will ultimately lead to faster data transfer than the integrated architecture.

Apple M1 chip integrated chip architecture

Apple’s M1 processor is a system-on-a-chip (SoC); That is, an integrated chip that incorporates most of the main components of the process, including the CPU, GPU, memory, and so on, as a whole; Therefore, the developer can have simpler and faster access to various CPU components. For example, Hessen notes that in some cases, Serif applications on the MacBook M1 are about 10 times faster than the 16-inch MacBook Pro, one of Apple’s most powerful consumer products.

In the continuation of the interview, Thomson and Bastis point out that the M1 hardware enhancements allow applications to do things that were not possible on older Mac computers, and now they have more power and features. The Cupertinos seem to have tried to ensure that developers take advantage of the new processor performance and, through it, apply more power and features to their applications. This will be an important development; Because personal computers based on Intel processors have not developed as fast as mobile devices before; But what is certain is that Mac computers with new processors are back for revenge.

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