At the end of 2020, Apple released several Macs that use the new Apple Silicon architecture. You may have heard that not all Mac software “natively” supports Apple Silicon yet. But what does that mean?
Native software works faster
Software that is “native”
Normally, a computer cannot run non-native software. But there are special software tools called emulators, virtual machines, and binary translators that can aid the process by translating code between architectures on the fly while you run the software. This allows non-native software to run as translated or emulated software, with little or no preparation for the software developer.
On the other hand, this translation process adds complexity and compute time, which means that non-native software is usually slower than native software. Also, non-native software may not take advantage of all the features and benefits of the new architecture.
RELATED: What does it mean for software to run natively?
Apple Silicon Macs have a new architecture
Essentially, Apple’s new Apple Silicon Macs use a different computer architecture (ARM) than Intel-based Macs (x86-64). This means that the CPUs in the two types of Macs operate in fundamentally different ways and the software running on Intel Macs must either be directly translated with special software or modified (rewritten or recompiled) by the developers to run natively. on Apple Silicon Macs.
The technology Apple uses to automatically translate Intel Mac software for use on Apple Silicon Macs is called Rosetta 2, and it’s pretty amazing. The first time you try to run an Intel app, Rosetta 2 will be installed and the app will work seamlessly thereafter. Rosetta 2 translates the underlying software code between architectures and then stores what it has learned to make the app run even faster next time.
RELATED: How the Mac will switch from Intel to Apple’s proprietary ARM chips
Rosetta 2 is great, but native apps are the best
While Rosetta 2 is great, there is still a performance link for running non-native software on a Mac, as the software was not specially optimized to run efficiently on the new architecture. If you were to compare the same app on Rosetta 2 with native on Apple Silicon, the native version of the app should theoretically run faster and more efficiently.
So running native software – apps written specifically for Apple Silicon machines – is almost always better when you have the choice. That’s not always easy when there’s a brand new platform (like the Apple Silicon Macs) that doesn’t have a lot of native software out there yet, but there are ways to check if the apps you run on your Mac are native or not.
Also keep an eye on the websites and social media accounts of your favorite software developers. The isapplesiliconready.com website also includes a handy list showing which popular apps natively support Apple Silicon.
As time goes on and more people buy M1 Macs, it’s almost guaranteed that any Mac developer with an active product will release a native Apple Silicon version of their app sooner or later, so stay tuned.
RELATED: How to Check Which Apps Are Optimized for M1 Macs