Apple's 2021 Mac CPU roadmap reportedly includes 32-core chips

You could also find 16-core chips inside MacBook Pros and iMacs.

Chris Velazco/Engadget

Apple’s in-house silicon could scale well beyond the eight-core (or rather four-plus-four-core) M1 you find in entry-level Macs. Bloomberg sources claim Apple’s 2021 roadmap is considerably more aggressive, to the point where the company is reportedly testing chips for higher-end desktops (including a “half-sized” Mac Pro) with as many as 32 high-performance cores. That’s not as many as in AMD’s 64-core Threadripper, but it would eclipse the 28-core Xeon available in the Mac Pro and might deliver significant gains for heavily multithreaded tasks.

Faster desktops could arrive by later 2021, although the tipsters said the Mac Pro is only slated to arrive “by 2022.”

You might see leaps forward in mid-tier systems, too. Apple is said to be designing chips for higher-end MacBook Pros and iMacs with as many as 16 high-performance cores and four high-efficiency cores. There’s a chance that Apple might stick with eight or 12 cores depending on chip production capabilities, but you’d see these chips as early as the spring and continuing through the fall.

And yes, Apple is apparently keen to improve graphics performance as well. The company is believed to be testing 16- and 32-core GPUs for iMacs and higher-end MacBook Pros. Its highest-end desktops, meanwhile, might get 64- and 128-core GPUs that could be “several times” quicker than the AMD graphics in current Intel-based models. You’d have to wait until late 2021 or 2022 to see those most advanced visuals, however.

There are many unanswered questions. How well does Apple’s ARM-based architecture translate to high-performance computers? Will there be dedicated GPUs, significantly higher RAM capacities and (on the Mac Pro) PCIe slots? Apple’s M1 is often faster than comparable Intel chips and sometimes outperforms AMD’s, but there’s no guarantee future CPUs will outrun their x86 equivalents.

Apple might claim an edge in the laptop space. At present, AMD and Intel laptop processors top out at eight cores. That’s bound to change, but Apple could shake up the industry if it delivers 12- or 16-core chips before its rivals. They could be faster for multithreaded apps and otherwise offer performance you might not expect in current portables. It’s safe to say Apple has high hopes, if these leaks are accurate — it wants to beat the competition in some respects, not just keep pace.