End of days: Intel Macs - for whom the bell tolls.

What will be the last version of macOS to support Intel Macs?


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Colstan

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With the release of the Apple Silicon Mac Pro at WWDC 2023, the transition from x86 to Arm is complete, and the clock is now ticking on macOS support for Intel Macs. I decided to run a poll to see how long our members here at TechBoards expect Apple to continue to support Intel with macOS. Please vote for the version of macOS which you expect to be the last to receive new features. While Apple has never officially codified their support policy, generally speaking, roughly two years of partial security patches are expected for older versions of macOS, which is not what this poll is addressing.

Concerning Intel Mac compatibility, these are the remaining models supported with macOS Sonoma:

iMac 2019, 2020
iMac Pro 2017
MacBook Air 2018, 2019, 2020
MacBook Pro 2018, 2019, 2020
Mac mini 2018
Mac Pro 2019

Apple has dropped support for all Macs released prior to 2018, excluding the iMac Pro, having been released in December of 2017.

There are multiple factors that Apple could consider in deciding when to cancel Intel support.

1. Follow the current cadence. The next version of macOS (Sonoma + 1) would drop support for all 2018 models. Then Sonoma + 2 would drop 2019 models, excluding the Mac Pro, which was released in December of 2019, squeaking by like the iMac Pro has with Sonoma. Sonoma + 3 would be the last to support Intel Macs, only including support for the 2019 Mac Pro and the 2020 models of iMac, MacBook Air, and 13-inch MacBook Pro.

2. Follow cancellation dates. The 2020 iMac stopped shipping in April of 2021, replaced by the M1 iMac. Apple discontinued the 2018 Mac mini in January of 2023, when the Core i5 model was replaced with the M2 Pro Mac mini. Most recently, the 2019 Mac Pro was discontinued in June of 2023, being replaced by the M2 Ultra Mac Pro. This staggered replacement cycle could change the equation.

3. Market share. While we don't have access to Apple's internal sales and usage statistics, we do have hints from public data such as the Steam survey.

SteamShare.jpg


According to the data provided by Steam, usage of Apple Silicon Macs among gamers has increased by more than 1% per month. Around this time next year, roughly two-thirds of Mac users will be on Apple Silicon, assuming this trend holds. Within two years, more than 80% of Macs in use will be on Apple Silicon. This could accelerate or slow, depending upon replacement cycles, and new purchases. Apple has repeatedly stated that about 50% of customers who purchase a Mac are new users, as Apple continues to gain marketshare compared to its PC rivals.

On a side note, it has been speculated that the T2 chip could be a factor in Apple's decision to drop support, but that has not been the case, thus far. The only remaining supported Intel Mac which doesn't feature a T2 is the 2019 iMac. At WWDC 2020, Tim Cook said that "In fact, we have some new Intel-based Macs in the pipeline that we're really excited about." That pipeline consisted of the 2020 iMac with no further Intel Macs to follow.

Perhaps there are other factors that I have not considered, but I think those are the key points for Apple's decision to continue to support Intel Macs. This is an issue which is of personal interest, as someone who still uses a 2018 Intel Mac mini as my primary desktop, like a savage. So, I would appreciate any thoughts that you good folks may have on Apple's continued support for Intel with macOS.
 

Aaronage

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I’m fine with Apple making Sonoma the last release for all Intel Macs. Sonoma will get security patches/fixes for 2-3 years, so it’s not like those machines will immediately become untenable.

Apple’s tendency to deprecate fast can be painful, but it’s key to maintaining high standards.

Time to say bye bye to the Intel era. It was mostly great up until Broadwell, everything after was 🐶💩 (those endless Skylake refreshes were so grim, oof).
 

theorist9

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With the release of the Apple Silicon Mac Pro at WWDC 2023, the transition from x86 to Arm is complete, and the clock is now ticking on macOS support for Intel Macs. I decided to run a poll to see how long our members here at TechBoards expect Apple to continue to support Intel with macOS. Please vote for the version of macOS which you expect to be the last to receive new features. While Apple has never officially codified their support policy, generally speaking, roughly two years of partial security patches are expected for older versions of macOS, which is not what this poll is addressing.

Concerning Intel Mac compatibility, these are the remaining models supported with macOS Sonoma:

iMac 2019, 2020
iMac Pro 2017
MacBook Air 2018, 2019, 2020
MacBook Pro 2018, 2019, 2020
Mac mini 2018
Mac Pro 2019

Apple has dropped support for all Macs released prior to 2018, excluding the iMac Pro, having been released in December of 2017.

There are multiple factors that Apple could consider in deciding when to cancel Intel support.

1. Follow the current cadence. The next version of macOS (Sonoma + 1) would drop support for all 2018 models. Then Sonoma + 2 would drop 2019 models, excluding the Mac Pro, which was released in December of 2019, squeaking by like the iMac Pro has with Sonoma. Sonoma + 3 would be the last to support Intel Macs, only including support for the 2019 Mac Pro and the 2020 models of iMac, MacBook Air, and 13-inch MacBook Pro.

2. Follow cancellation dates. The 2020 iMac stopped shipping in April of 2021, replaced by the M1 iMac. Apple discontinued the 2018 Mac mini in January of 2023, when the Core i5 model was replaced with the M2 Pro Mac mini. Most recently, the 2019 Mac Pro was discontinued in June of 2023, being replaced by the M2 Ultra Mac Pro. This staggered replacement cycle could change the equation.

3. Market share. While we don't have access to Apple's internal sales and usage statistics, we do have hints from public data such as the Steam survey.

View attachment 24279

According to the data provided by Steam, usage of Apple Silicon Macs among gamers has increased by more than 1% per month. Around this time next year, roughly two-thirds of Mac users will be on Apple Silicon, assuming this trend holds. Within two years, more than 80% of Macs in use will be on Apple Silicon. This could accelerate or slow, depending upon replacement cycles, and new purchases. Apple has repeatedly stated that about 50% of customers who purchase a Mac are new users, as Apple continues to gain marketshare compared to its PC rivals.

On a side note, it has been speculated that the T2 chip could be a factor in Apple's decision to drop support, but that has not been the case, thus far. The only remaining supported Intel Mac which doesn't feature a T2 is the 2019 iMac. At WWDC 2020, Tim Cook said that "In fact, we have some new Intel-based Macs in the pipeline that we're really excited about." That pipeline consisted of the 2020 iMac with no further Intel Macs to follow.

Perhaps there are other factors that I have not considered, but I think those are the key points for Apple's decision to continue to support Intel Macs. This is an issue which is of personal interest, as someone who still uses a 2018 Intel Mac mini as my primary desktop, like a savage. So, I would appreciate any thoughts that you good folks may have on Apple's continued support for Intel with macOS.
So what's your vote? ;)
 

Colstan

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Apple isn’t shy about dropping support. If Sonoma isn’t it, I wouldn’t count on more than 1 more.
At this point, the only thing that's keeping me from upgrading to Apple Silicon is hardware ray tracing support. I'm hoping that it comes with the M3 generation and I don't see how Apple could not eventually support it.
 

MEJHarrison

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I picked up my Intel Mac in February of 2020 thinking I'd replace the old one I always took to work. I had it for about a month before I stopped working in an office. Now it sits on my desk next to my Studio. It's the one Apple purchase I regret since I have no real use for it. On the other hand, I now have something I can safely install Sonoma on and play around with SwiftData. I'm very excited to dig into it. So for a short time, my laptop has a purpose again. Regardless, unless I switch jobs, the laptop serves very little purpose. And I've been at the same job for over 20 years, so that's not too likely.

My point is I'd be fine if Sonoma is it. And next month, I'm eligible again for $500 towards a laptop from work. Though again, I have no real need for a laptop at this point.
 

Cmaier

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Sonoma + 1.

I think there will be one more Intel version. After that, Apple will smother x86 in its sleep, hastily shove it in an unmarked grave, cover the cadaver with quicklime, bury its corpse six feet under, hope that nobody notices, and pretend that the Intel era never happened.
If they do support it in Sonoma plus 1, it will be with zero new features, I reckon.
 

mr_roboto

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Sonoma + 1.

I think there will be one more Intel version. After that, Apple will smother x86 in its sleep, hastily shove it in an unmarked grave, cover the cadaver with quicklime, bury its corpse six feet under, hope that nobody notices, and pretend that the Intel era never happened.
To be honest, I think a lot will depend on how rapidly customers replace Intel Macs with Apple Silicon Macs. I suspect this process will go slower than it did with the Intel transition, simply because of the general economic conditions we're in. Also, Mac marketshare was so low back then - there weren't nearly as many customers with the old hardware to worry about.

Also, if they don't want to be a jerk to Mac Pro customers, they'll keep at least that specific model going longer. Imagine buying a brand new $10K (or more - the 2019 MP could be a lot more) workstation and having it go out of support less than 3 years later. You would not feel happy about buying an Apple computer ever again.
 

Colstan

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Also, if they don't want to be a jerk to Mac Pro customers, they'll keep at least that specific model going longer. Imagine buying a brand new $10K (or more - the 2019 MP could be a lot more) workstation and having it go out of support less than 3 years later. You would not feel happy about buying an Apple computer ever again.
I don't think Apple would keep x86 macOS around longer just for their 2019 Mac Pro customers. Spending a lot of money shouldn't buy special treatment. Everyone has seen the writing on the wall for some time now, being on year three of the two year transition. I do think that there's a good chance that the last Intel models to exit the sales queue will perhaps stay supported the longest: the 2020 iMac, the 2018 Mac mini (thanks to the six-core model) and the 2019 Mac Pro. Perhaps Apple isn't even sure how long they will continue support, which could depend upon numerous factors.
 

Yoused

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They weren’t kind to G5 quad customers either 😅
Indeed. The last of the G5s had a tenure of ~10 months before being EoLed for the first Xeon Mac Pro. 13 months after the end of PPC production, Leopard was released, which, AFAICT, had full feature parity between PPC and x86. Three years after PPC was officially retired, Snow Leopard abandoned the old achitecture.

The PPC->Intel transition tools six month from the introduction of the first to last x86 models. The Xeon Mac Pro has remained unmodified for four years, which is a lot longer than 10 months. this looks very different from 17 years ago. The next version of macOS will nominally support x86, but it will have nothing like feature parity with AS.

The key issue to consider that makes a big difference is Hackintosh. It was not at all practical to build your own PPC machine back in the late aughts. As long as Apple supports x86, they are supporting Hackintosh. That is mostly a loophole they will want to close.
 

Cmaier

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Indeed. The last of the G5s had a tenure of ~10 months before being EoLed for the first Xeon Mac Pro. 13 months after the end of PPC production, Leopard was released, which, AFAICT, had full feature parity between PPC and x86. Three years after PPC was officially retired, Snow Leopard abandoned the old achitecture.

The PPC->Intel transition tools six month from the introduction of the first to last x86 models. The Xeon Mac Pro has remained unmodified for four years, which is a lot longer than 10 months. this looks very different from 17 years ago. The next version of macOS will nominally support x86, but it will have nothing like feature parity with AS.

The key issue to consider that makes a big difference is Hackintosh. It was not at all practical to build your own PPC machine back in the late aughts. As long as Apple supports x86, they are supporting Hackintosh. That is mostly a loophole they will want to close.
Wholeheartedly agree, except for the last paragraph. The little birds that fly over my house on their way home from Cupertino whisper that folks at Apple don’t really care about hackIntosh. (That is, it doesn’t motivate their decision-making).
 

dada_dave

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A related question is how long Rosetta 2 will be around for … given that PC-land will remain firmly entrenched in x86 for the foreseeable future and that Apple has released the Game Porting Toolkit of which Rosetta will play a substantial part and, as has been mentioned previously, Apple doesn’t have to pay licensing for Rosetta 2 (unlike for 1) I think it’ll be around for the long haul - maybe eventually only/mainly as a developer tool, but still around nonetheless.
 

Cmaier

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A related question is how long Rosetta 2 will be around for … given that PC-land will remain firmly entrenched in x86 for the foreseeable future and that Apple has released the Game Porting Toolkit of which Rosetta will play a substantial part and, as has been mentioned previously, Apple doesn’t have to pay licensing for Rosetta 2 (unlike for 1) I think it’ll be around for the long haul - maybe eventually only/mainly as a developer tool, but still around nonetheless.
Yeah, I don’t think they’re in any rush to get rid of Rosetta 2. At some point they may tighten up their security model or make some other fundamental change to MacOS and at that point they may decide that maintaining Rosetta 2 isn’t worth the hassle. But I expect it will be around for another 4 years, at least.
 

Nycturne

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With the 64-bit deprecation, I have heard that Apple was waiting for a handful of important apps to stop being 32-bit only to minimize the impact.

So it is either the above, or waiting for usage to drop below some threshold where it's no longer worth spending the engineering hours on.
 

Colstan

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Ars Technica did a full analysis of when it's likely that Apple will drop support for Intel Macs.


Reading the comments on the article, this one from someone who claims to be a former Apple employee is illuminating:

"It isnt that simple. Dropping machines is really just recognition that Apple doesn’t have the engineering bandwidth to support therm. Apple still runs incredibly (too) lean on engineering and supporting these things would mean that other bugs and security issues don’t get fixed. The other problem with supporting old machines is that you need a supply of old machines to test the software on. If they have been out of production a while you can’t exactly just buy them new from Amazon, or get them in bulk from eBay. Apple doesn’t make them. When I worked for Apple, there were a few times when I had time to back ship a fancy new code to soon to be retired hardware that really could have used the performance boost, but I didn’t because I had no way to test it. There were no vintage machines available. Even if I could borrow one, if there wasn’t also one sitting in the automated test cluster, the only way that code would be tested is if I took the time every so often to retest it on new releases to make sure compiler changes didn’t break it. (Before you get on me about the likelihood of that, I’ll just say that it was SIMD code which should tell you why this was necessary.) Without testing, it would have been nearly certain that I’d just end up breaking the older, which doesn’t do anyone any good. So even on cases where I did write the code for the older machines it still might not have gone out if the testing resources weren’t there. This happened more than once."
 

throAU

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My bet is apple will drop support when intel drop support, so probably the last release of macOS that supports intel will be the one where the 9900 series is EOL in the following year.

That said, if you're running (at that point), say 10 year old hardware the most recent OS is probably going to run like shit anyway...
 

throAU

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Wholeheartedly agree, except for the last paragraph. The little birds that fly over my house on their way home from Cupertino whisper that folks at Apple don’t really care about hackIntosh. (That is, it doesn’t motivate their decision-making).

Yeah, the number of Hackintosh users out there is pretty small and there is enough pain running one that I'd say running one is as much an entry drug (this would be great if it everything actually worked!) as it is an exit path for the very small number who can't pay for or want a different spec of Mac hardware.
 
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