Dec. 2, 2020

#AskOIT: The Podcast - What Is Apple Silicon?

We know technology can be intimidating.

There’s always some new gadget or app. Even if you have your trusted set of tools, it feels like software gets updated every time you blink. And everything — everything! — is a series of acronyms.

That’s why we’re here: to offer solutions to the technology questions you’ve been too scared to ask, which brings us to our blog and podcast, #AskOIT.

Software, hardware, wearables, robots — each month, we’ll answer any question you’ve got about tech. You can send us your anonymous questions and OIT’s Yasmeen Yahya and Jesse Plaza will hound our in-house experts to get the details. Then, we’ll share our expertise with you on the first Monday of each month.

So, let’s get started.

Q: Our department has files in both Box and Google Drive, and looking for a file in both places can be very time-consuming. Also, both are "cloud" services, but there doesn't seem to be any way to transfer files from one to the other. How can I easily view files across multiple services?

A: Oh, the good ol’ digital landfill. When you’ve got unlimited storage, it really can be unlimited, which means you’ve got years, and years, and years of files in this one big vault. Add another one to the mix and it can be sometimes hard to find stuff if you don’t have a good way of keeping yourself organized. Or, if you’re working with multiple people that just might be impossible in the first place. So, as you know, all of our faculty, staff and students have unlimited storage in both Google Drive and Box. So, what do you do when you have unlimited files in multiple locations and you’re never able to find anything?

Well, this is something that really is up to how you stay organized, both as a person or as a department. There is indeed a lot of stuff in Google and there’s a lot of stuff in Box and for various reasons. It may not be so simple as to just take everything from one and put it into the other. Probably the easiest thing to do is to use the sync apps on your computer. Box Drive and Google Drive File Stream are both available from Box and Google and they mount to your Box and your Google folder as kind of a virtual hard drive so that you can search for files through your native file explorer or finder, depending on if you’re on a Mac or a PC. 

Q: I am graduating soon. When will I lose access to my account and stuff like my email and Google Drive?

A: This will be a two-part answer. First, congratulations! The world is wild and you are certainly graduating into interesting times but I hope your time here at St. Edward’s has been useful.

So, to answer your actual question, alumni retain access to their accounts for a certain amount of time. You’ll have your sign-in to myHilltop forever, or, you know, until we replace it with something else in the far-flung future when none of us will be around for it. There are some things you will always need access to, like tax forms and transcript requests. So, you will always be able to sign in. You may need to reset your password if you forget it years down the line but it will still be available, nonetheless.

Certain things within that account, however, will not always be accessible. In particular, your mail, calendar, Google Drive, Box... that’s going to expire a little bit after a year following your last class. So, all former students get a “grace period” that lasts a year. Shortly after that, your access will expire.

For example, let's say someone graduated back in 2012 and they remembered they had a service attached to their St. Edward’s account and they want to go get it back. Well, after that grace period there’s just not an email for us to grant access to again, even temporarily. So, what we advise is, before that grace period ends, transfer out anything you need. Move over accounts, definitely move over anything that’s charging you monthly and transfer out anything you want to keep after that year. The same goes for your Google Drive and your Box content.

For the Google stuff, in particular, there is something we can definitely recommend: it’s called Google Takeout. You just go to and sign in with your St. Edward’s account and as long as you still have access to it, you'll be able to migrate it to another Google account. Then all you will have to do is make sure that you don’t have any accounts tied to it because after it closes, it’s gone for good.

Q: I use a Mac and I keep hearing about “Apple Silicon”. What does it mean that Apple is making its own processors? Didn’t they already do that?

A: Basically, Apple is turning your Mac into a giant iPad.

That’s super reductive so let me clarify here. In most computers, there’s your CPU, the processor, or the brains that run all the other stuff. It runs in a certain architecture, which means it talks in a specific way. So, you have to write apps that speak the same language. You can make some changes if it’s a Mac or a PC because Windows and Mac OS read those “words” differently. Ultimately, though, the chip in your ten-year-old MacBook is the same as the one in your ten-year-old Windows laptop.

More or less, there are two big manufacturers, Intel and AMD, of this architecture, which is called x86. Well, Apple, for about ten years now, has been making their own chips. They call it their Apple A-series and those don't use x86. They use a different architecture called ARM.

If you’re a long-time Austinite, you may know that ARM and a lot of its development happens here in town, or at least it used to. All you need to know about ARM is that it’s a different instruction set that is used on pretty much every single mobile chip. So, any smartphone will use various labors of the ARM instruction set.

It’s meant to do more with more “cores”, which are the little thinking parts of the CPU. While your desktop computer may have four or six big powerful cores, a smaller phone may have eight smaller cores. It’s all about how those instructions from your application can be broken up so that your computer can multitask and do it all at the same time. The ARM architecture does that really, really well so you want to use a lot of cores but make them small so your phone can multitask on a bunch of things, like running Instagram, Facebook, Pokemon Go, all at once while taking a phone call or sending a message.

Now, Apple has decided to ramp up these chips for desktops. They’re making what’s called the Apple M1 chip, which is a big, fat ARM processor scaled up to use power and complexity typical of a real desktop computer instead of just being a phone that has a battery and runs off a tiny charger. This would be something with a battery that’s the size of a phone itself.

So, what does any of that have anything to do with your apps and how you use your computer? Doesn’t everything just still work? Well, actually it doesn’t.

You see, this architecture means that apps written for the x86 that are on older computers won’t run on newer computers. At least, not natively. It would be like trying to tell a guy who only speaks English your favorite quesadilla order but you only speak Spanish. You’re not going to get very far.

So, this means that all of these apps that you use are going to have to be rewritten. They’re going to have to be reprogrammed to talk in that ARM architecture. Apple has been highlighting this in a bunch of their ads, you may have seen it. It’s super-fast, it’s super-efficient and in a lot of cases, it is. I’m seeing folks with the new Apple M1 MacBook Pro get 20 hours of battery life! However, all those apps having to be rewritten means if they don’t get rewritten, they’re going to be operating in something called “emulation.” If you’re a fan of classic video games, you may have used an emulator before, which takes that classic video game and translates it to work on your computer, your smartphone, or wherever you’re running it on. It’s basically a translator — telling that guy what quesadilla you want, even though he’s a nerd who only speaks English.

The same thing is available on the new Macs; it’s called Rosetta, like the Rosetta Stone. It’s going to translate those x86 apps into ARM so that they can work on your computer. Though, just as speaking through a translator can be a bit awkward, so too, is there kind of a pause, or a waiting period with this Rosetta 2 thing.

Take Adobe Photoshop, for example. I love it. It runs super well. If I want it to work on a new Mac that doesn’t support it natively, it’s going to have to work every single brushstroke, every single effect, every single layer, through that emulation layer. That’s going to slow things down a little. 

In short, Apple is rewriting a completely new series of apps. Everything is going to have to be reprogrammed for this new kind of processor, which they’ve switched to because they think they can get more power, performance and battery life out of the same amount of energy. This is all so that your computer uses less battery power and less electricity.

The desire for thinner, faster computers is only going to continue and these older x86 processors can only go so far. Compared to ARM, they are not nearly as power efficient. You can expect to see more Apple Silicon, which is really just a marketing term, computers to come out over the next two years or so as apps for the Mac are rewritten to use it.

Our advice? Wait, like, a year if you want to buy a new Mac. Just don’t do it yet. It’s brand-new and, while it works really well, there are still a lot of apps that don’t support it.

We hope this was helpful to you and if you think of a question that maybe doesn’t warrant a support ticket, you’re having a tech issue that’s driving you crazy, or maybe you’re just curious, feel free to send over your questions.

You can find our #AskOIT submission form on our blog and linked on our social media accounts, @SEU_OIT, on Twitter and Instagram. There, you’ll get the latest updates from OIT, which can be critical as our reliance on technology is greater than ever before. Though, you’ll get fun stuff too, like information about events we are putting on and nice-to-know tech tips. 

This is our last #AskOIT of 2020, so happy holidays and we will meet you back here next year for another round of questions.