Apple Silicon + Big Sur + RStudio + R Field Report

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything R-related and, while this one will be brief, it may be of use to some R folks who have taken the leap into Big Sur and/or Apple Silicon. Stay to the end for an early Christmas 🎁!

Big Sur Report

As + #macOS Twitter-folks know (before my permanent read hiatus began), I’ve been on Big Sur since the very first developer betas were out. I’m even on the latest beta (11.1b1) as I type this post.

Apple picked away at many nits that they introduced with Big Sur, but it’s still more of a “Vista” release than Catalina was given all the clicks involved with installing new software. However, despite making Simon’s life a bit more difficult (re: notarization of R binaries) I’m happy to report that R 4.0.3 and the latest RStudio 1.4 daily releases work great on Big Sur. To be on the safe side, I highly recommend putting the R command-line binaries and RStudio and R-GUI .apps into both “Developer Tools” and “Full Disk Access” in the Security & Privacy preferences pane. While not completely necessary, it may save some debugging (or clicks of “OK”) down the road.

The Xcode command-line tools are finally in a stable state and can be used instead of the massive installation. This was problematic for a few months, but Apple has been pretty consistent keeping it version-stable with Xcode-proper.

Homebrew is pretty much feature complete on Big Sur (for Intel-architecture Macs) and I’ve run everything from the {tidyverse} to {sf}-verse, ODBC/JDBC and more. Zero issues have come up, and with the pending public release (in a few weeks) of 11.1, I can safely say you should be fine moving your R analyses and workflows to Big Sur.

Apple Silicon Report

Along with all the other madness, 2020 has resurrected the “Processor Wars” by making their own ARM 64-bit chips (the M1 series). The Mac mini flavor is fast, but I suspect some of the “feel” of that speed comes from the faster SSDs and beefed up I/O plane to get to those SSDs. These newly released Mac models require Big Sur, so if you’re not prepared to deal with that, you should hold off on a hardware upgrade.

Another big reason to hold off on a hardware upgrade is that the current M1 chips cannot handle more than 16GB of RAM. I do most of the workloads requiring memory heavy-lifting on a 128GB RAM, 8-core Ubuntu 20 server, so what would have been a deal breaker in the past is not much of one today. Still, R folks who have gotten used to 32GB+ of RAM on laptops/desktops will absolutely need to wait for the next-gen chips.

Most current macOS software — including R and RStudio — is going to run in the Rosetta 2 “translation environment”. I’ve not experienced the 20+ seconds of startup time that others have reported, but RStudio 1.4 did take noticeably (but not painfully) longer on the first run than it has on subsequent ones. Given how complex the RStudio app is (chromium engine, Qt, C++, Java, oh my!) I was concerned it might not work at all, but it does indeed work with absolutely no problems. Even the ODBC drivers (Athena, Drill, Postgres) I need to use in daily work all work great with R/RStudio.

This means things can only get even better (i.e. faster) as all these components are built with “Universal” processor support.

Homebrew can work, but it requires the use of the arch command to ensure everything is running the Rosetta 2 translation environment and nothing I’ve installed (from source) has required anything from Homebrew. Do not let that last sentence lull you into a false sense of excitement. So far, I’ve tested:

  • core {tidyverse}
  • {DBI}, {odbc}, {RJDBC}, and (hence) {dbplyr}
  • partially extended {ggplot2}-verse
  • {httr}, {rvest}, {xml2}
  • {V8}
  • a bunch of self-contained, C[++]-backed or just base R-backed stats packages

and they all work fine.

I have installed separate (non-Universal) binaries of fd, ripgrep, bat plus a few others, and almost have a working Rust toolchain up (both Rust and Go are very close to stable on Apple’s M1 architecture).

If there are specific packages/package ecosystems you’d like tested or benchmarked, drop a note in the comments. I’ll likely bee adding more field report updates over the coming weeks as I experiment with additional components.

Now, if you are a macOS R user, you already know — thanks to Tomas and Simon — that we are in wait mode for a working Fortran compiler before we will see a Universal build of R. The good news is that things are working fine under Rosetta 2 (so far).

RStudio Update

If there is any way you can use RStudio Desktop + Server Pro, I would heartily recommend that you do so. The remote R session in-app access capabilities are dreamy and addictive as all get-out.

I also (finally) made a (very stupid simple) PR into the dailies so that RStudio will be counted as a “Developer Tool” for Screen Time accounting.

RSwitch Update

🎁-time! As incentive to try Big Sur and/or Apple Silicon, I started work on version 2 of RSwitch which you can grab from — For those new to RSwitch, it is a modern alternative to the legacy RSwitch that enabled easy switching of R versions on macOS.

The new version requires Big Sur as its based on Apple’s new “SwiftUI” and takes advantage of some components that Apple has not seen fit to make backwards compatible. The current version has fewer features than the 1.x series, but I’m still working out what should and should not be included in the app. Drop notes in the comments with feature requests (source will be up after 🦃 Day).

The biggest change is that the app is not just a menu but an popup window:

Each of those tappable download regions presents a cancellable download progress bar (all three can run at the same time), and any downloaded disk images will be auto-mounted. That third tappable download region is for downloading RStudio Pro dailies. You can get notifications for both (or neither) Community and Pro versions:

The R version switchers also provides more info about the installed versions:

(And, yes, the r79439 is what’s in Rversion.h of each of those installations. I kinda want to know why, now.)

The interface is very likely going to change dramatically, but the app is a Universal binary, so will work on M1 and Intel Big Sur Macs.

NOTE: it’s probably a good idea to put this into “Full Disk Access” in the Security & Privacy preferences pane, but you should likely wait until I post the source so you can either build it yourself or validate that it’s only doing what it says on the tin for yourself (the app is benign but you should be wary of any app you put on your Macs these days).

WARNING: For now it’s a Dark Mode only app so if you need it to be non-hideous in Light Mode, wait until next week as I add in support for both modes.


If you’re running into issues, the macOS R mailing list is probably a better place to post issues with R and BigSur/Apple Silicon, but feel free to drop a comment if you are having something you want me to test/take a stab at, and/or change/add to RSwitch.

(The RSwitch 2.0.0b release yesterday had a bug that I think has been remedied in the current downloadable version.)

Cover image from Data-Driven Security
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22 Comments Apple Silicon + Big Sur + RStudio + R Field Report

  1. Pingback: Apple Silicon + Big Sur + RStudio + R Field Report – Data Science Austria

    1. hrbrmstr

      Works great!

      I did a {microbenchmark} of a read of a small parquet file on the M1 Mini and an early 2020 maxed-out MacBook Pro (intel).

      This is pretty amazing:

      Unit: milliseconds
        expr      min       lq     mean   median       uq       max neval
       intel 7.490123 8.365873 9.134536 8.869290 9.251769 26.161230   100
          M1 3.711459 3.753229 3.946977 3.795167 3.841230  7.191084   100
  2. Pingback: Apple Silicon + Big Sur + RStudio + R Field Report — | Serdar Balcı

  3. Zach

    Any chance you could test out the {rethinking} package as well as {sf} on apple silicon?

    1. hrbrmstr

      Aye. I had to bit the Stan bullet at some point so this will be a good dive. I’ll see if I can get to it after work today.

      {sf} is a bit more of a challenge as the pre-built binary macOS packages make some very bad assumptions (for folks who are on Catalina or Big Sur) about default third-party library dependency locations, specifically /usr/lib/libpq.5.dylib (i.e. it doesn’t install out of the box on either, at least from my experiences). But, I cannot live without {sf} so it’s on the TODO, but it’ll likely require some dedicated hours. I’ll likely get to it this weekend.

    2. hrbrmstr

      {sf} incl {rgeos} is working and I’m going to try to rebuild all the 2019 30-day map challenge posts with this setup and report back.

  4. Matthew Roberts

    Does the M1 handle low mem situations any better? I’d love to hear your experiences in trying a larger job on an M1, as I’m considering replacing my 8yo MacPro w/ 32GB of RAM. I don’t run as many really large jobs as I used to, but 16GB still sounds constricting.

    1. hrbrmstr

      I’ve got more than a few Parquet files that should push the limits. I’ll crunch through some things and report back.

  5. Pingback: Apple Silicon + Big Sur + RStudio + R Field Report | Authors Digest Daily

  6. Pingback: Apple Silicon + Big Sur + RStudio + R Field Report | Best New Authors Magazine

  7. Mark Altosaar

    Thank you for the update on R for Big Sur and Apple Silicon.

    A small typo: “making their own AMD 64-bit chips” should be ARM

  8. adamhsparks

    Thanks for this, Bob. The new Apple silicon hardware interests me, my mid-2014 MacBook Pro hasn’t given up the ghost yet, quite the contrary, but I’m sorely tempted. I’m just waiting for the R situation to settle out before I make a move. Your insights and testing are quite useful as usual.

    1. hrbrmstr

      Glad to. There are new M1 MacBook Pro’s coming in Q1 (rumors) but I won’t be giving up a 32GB RAM Intel MBPro anytime soon until these Silicon Macs break the 16GB barrier.

      I will say the Mini has been a fantastic experience so far. And I’m very encouraged by how quickly virtually every critical FOSS tech I use is adding ARM64 compatibility.

  9. Bal0n

    Could you perhaps test the plyr, reshape2, ggplot2, data.table and caret package? It’s quite a bunch, I know, but would be of great help! :)

  10. Joe Wang

    I met problems when I use Rstudio these days. I am using Macbook Air, M1 16G version. When I using ggplot for some huge data, it works very slow. Though sometimes it can manage to do it, the whole app will stop working and you cannot edit or do anything. At this time, all you can do is to quit. I found every time this happens, activity monitor shows hat the qtwebengineprocess takes almost 100 percent cpu.

    1. hrbrmstr

      Do you run the dailies? If you’re on M1 you really need to run the dailies.

      I haven’t run non-Pro dailies for a few months but I’ll do so starting this weekend (have projects in-flight so can’t just switchover rn).

      Qt is def going to be the biggest hurdle for RStudio’s native M1 port.


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