Apple dumping Intel for ARM? Pros, cons and a lot of questions

Apple dumping Intel for ARM? Pros, cons and a lot of questions

Summary: The rumor of the day is that Apple is dumping Intel and its x86 architecture for ARM---at least on laptops. The big question is how much credence do we give to these reports. Here are the key questions.

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The rumor of the day is that Apple is dumping Intel and its x86 architecture for ARM---at least on laptops.

Semi-Accurate---a wonderful name for a site with an Apple ARM rumor---notes:

  • Apple's move to ARM with its laptop line is a done deal.
  • Mid-2013 is the timeline.
  • 64-bit cores are the big hurdle for ARM.
  • That's why Apple is looking for fab capacity.

Now the idea that Apple would move to ARM isn't exactly new. Jason Perlow argued that case a while ago. The big question is how much credence do we give to these SemiAccurate reports. Here are the key questions:

Does Apple and ARM make sense? Yes. Apple would be able to unify its platform and simplify into one ecosystem. It's likely that iOS and Mac OS merge at some point. We all know iOS rules the roost and that system happens to run on ARM. In addition, Apple's laptops are likely to be more of the MacBook Air variety. Think tablet/laptop hybrids. That fact favors ARM too. The problem with all of this is you have to wonder how ARM will play on high-performance Mac laptops and desktops.

When would all of Apple be ARM? That move would take some time. If laptops went in 2013, all of Macs would probably follow a few years later. Why? Raw power.

Would Mac need to be x86? Not at all. ARM chips are likely to be good enough. Meanwhile, hulking Mac towers may not even exist in 2016.

Could Apple go the custom chip route again? Sure it could and already does. The pros would be better margins. The cons is that Apple would have to keep up with Intel's tick tock cadence. Good luck with that. Jason O'Grady notes:

Apple acquired ARM chip maker P.A. Semi in April 2008 for around $300 million in cash which Steve Jobs then explained as a way to acquire expertise and technology to help run increasingly sophisticated software on iPhones and iPods. Shortly thereafter Apple acquired ARM core experts Intrinsity for a reported $121 million. Then in 2009 Apple hired two former CTOs from Advanced Micro Devices (AMD).

In April 2010 all the talk was about how Apple could/would/should acquire ARM.

Is good enough processors really good enough? Here's the thing with processing power. You always have more than you need---until some killer apps comes along and you need more performance. Performance doesn't matter until it does.

What card can Intel play? VentureBeat made the argument that Intel's Tri-Gate transistor announcement this week makes the Apple -ARM talk pure folly. The problem with the argument is that Tri-Gate is manufacturing process not an architecture. Intel execs avoided all talk of an architecture Holy War with ARM and x86. Reading between those comments leaves the door open that Intel could use Tri-Gate for ARM architecture. Also:

Is the ARM talk overblown? Yes. Let's say Intel does ARM---a move that would make sense since the chip giant needs the tablet and smartphone market. Apple would stay on board. With the timelines SemiAccurate is posing, Intel will be onto 14nm. Remember Intel's manufacturing process is second to none. If it comes down to moving chips, Intel isn't going to sweat architecture religion.

Add it up and it's quite possible that Apple goes ARM. But don't be surprised if Intel tags along somehow.

Topics: Intel, Apple, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility, Processors

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131 comments
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  • Not a chance.

    It would be an instant drop in laptop sales.
    Bruizer
    • Agree; it is just nonsence

      @Bruizer: <a href="http://www.zdnet.com/tb/1-96829-1866032" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://www.zdnet.com/tb/1-96829-1866032</a><br><br><b>Attention to Larry</b>: I was trying to post the following as a comment to your "Blog portolio.." post, but the system went glitchy, so there is nothing shows-up as comment there. Thus I am trying to post my comment here:<br><br>Thanks for the update; please fine-tune site's engine:<br>1) it loads even articles/blog posts not every time ("ZDNet Error/Oops... Blog Not Found/We're sorry, the blog you requested could not be found./Broken Link/You might have used an out-dated bookmark or typed in that URL incorrectly. " -- like with <a href="http://www.zdnet.com/blog/hardware/microsoft-do-the-math-before-you-buy-a-mac/12661" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://www.zdnet.com/blog/hardware/microsoft-do-the-math-before-you-buy-a-mac/12661</a> few minutes ago);<br><br>2) it loads comments not every time (showing comments section as empty);<br><br>3) comments still work awkwardly/glitchy:<br>3.1) legitimate edits get "reported as spam" error, which kills user's editions;<br>3.2) the "subject" field gets empty during editing (even though it was initially filled);<br>3.4) "Subject" field is cut during editing once text goes to inverted commas symbol;<br>3.5) separative space-lines in text get replaced with "<" "br" ">" signs;
      3.6) after comment's level (in branch) reaches third "row", there is no more branching -- and it is possibly correct decision. However, the "reply" button is not already available so if user wants to reply to a third-level comment, he/she has to go up there to find a second level comment, there push "reply" button, and then manually edit autofilled "@..." reply-to information;
      3.7) new comment initially shows not the last in the line of one-level branch comments, but as first one (only after reload it gets to it's place).
      DDERSSS
      • Also, Apple gets &quot;exclusively first&quot; treat from Intel in terms of their ...

        @denisrs: ... chips like CPUs, chipsets, special controllers like Thurnderbolt, and quite possibly slightly better prices than even much bigger customers like HP and Dell -- this all was condition of Apple's transition to Intel, and not to AMD back in 2005.

        So I am not sure how it is possible to beat that kind of relations unless Apple secretly designs some uniquely super strong high-end processor line that would able to replace Intel's architecture (what is highly unlikely).
        DDERSSS
      • RE: Apple dumping Intel for ARM? Pros, cons and a lot of questions

        @denisrs What are you talking about with exclusively first? i7's were on HP's long before they were even announced on a MBP refresh. I'll often find other companies coming out with newer processors before Apple does on their mobile chips. Hell, they are only finally getting ATI 6XXX series GPUs, which I have seen on laptops for a few months.

        Apple's are often a few months behind in hardware terms to the bleeding edge of other OEM's. Nothing wrong with that, they just tend to do a tad more product testing.
        vel0city
      • Apple's first-to-get excluse only works when Apple needs it

        @vel0city: Apple wanted to have i7 along with Thunderbolt, so obviously it skipped the introduction of i7. But every other time when they are interested, they get chips first.

        For example, new iMac Intel's chipset is the first industry example. No HPs or Dells in that. And earlier Apple received new CPUs and chipsets before others (and, of course, Thunderbolt, which Intel and Apple co-developed).
        DDERSSS
      • RE: Apple dumping Intel for ARM? Pros, cons and a lot of questions

        @ vel0city

        Apple was first with Second Gen i7 and i5s... not talking about first gen.

        Apples new iMacs also have a brand new yet to be released Intel Chipset in them.
        doh123
      • RE: Apple dumping Intel for ARM? Pros, cons and a lot of questions

        @denisrs You can't stop lying can you! Apple does not get Chips before anyone else... Crud, Worldwide they're not even in the top 5 of PC sales but Intel will favor them more? Right!
        slickjim
      • @Peter Perry - Yes, they do get CPUs and chipsets ahead of everyone...

        [i]"You can't stop lying can you! Apple does not get Chips before anyone else..."[/i]

        @Peter Perry - Yes, they do get CPUs and chipsets ahead of everyone. Apple was the first on the market with Xeon 5500 in the Mac Pro, and maintained a monopoly on Xeon 5500s for 3 months.

        Apple now has exclusivity with the Thunderbolt port on the MacBook Pro, and with the 2011 iMacs, Apple is the first company with the new Intel Z68 chipset.
        olePigeon
      • RE: Apple dumping Intel for ARM? Pros, cons and a lot of questions

        @olePigeon

        Really? So somebody should Tell Lenovo that they can't use that XEON 5500!

        http://www.thinkmate.com/Computer_Systems/Rackmount_Servers/Thinkmate_Servers/Platform/Intel/Xeon_5500?utm_source=google&utm_medium=intel_cpc&utm_content=xeon_5500_keywords&utm_campaign=xeon_5500_keywords

        As for the Thunderbolt, some are considering Wireless USB as opposed to Thunderbolt so they haven't backed the technology...

        Now Apple my have implemented Thunderbolt first but that doesn't mean they were the only ones offered the technology and there's no reason to believe they have that Exclusivity either! Now if you can show some contracts between Intel and Apple then maybe your claim would be valid.
        slickjim
      • RE: Apple dumping Intel for ARM? Pros, cons and a lot of questions

        @olePigeon One more thing!

        I guess these Z68 Mainboards aren't real either huh?

        http://news.softpedia.com/news/ASRock-Intros-Three-Intel-Z68-Based-LGA-1155-Motherboards-197435.shtml

        But yeah, you're right, exclusives!
        slickjim
      • RE: Apple dumping Intel for ARM? Pros, cons and a lot of questions

        @Peter Perry

        how is an announced, not yet available... future product, the same as a currently shipping product?

        no one said Apple will always be the only ones that get something, but often they do get them first and have them sold for weeks or months before anyone else actually gets a product to market. Sure others may announce a product, but when it takes them 2 or 3 months to actually have that product, its not the same thing.
        doh123
      • @Peter Perry - You need to slow down a bit...

        @Peter Perry - You need to slow down a bit and actually read what I typed.

        [i]"Really? So somebody should Tell Lenovo that they can't use that XEON 5500!"[/i]

        I said Apple had a 3 month exclusive with Xeon 5500s. That was in 2009. It's now 2011. Why would Lenovo not be allowed to use the Xeon 5500 two years later?

        [i]"I guess these Z68 Mainboards aren't real either huh?"[/i]

        None of those products have been released yet. Apple is still the only company currently shipping a Z68 based product.
        olePigeon
    • On the contrary, Apple could keep the same margins, and undercut the

      competition on price at the same time. Imagine, high quality stylish Apple laptops cheaper than generic Windows laptops. Combine that with less heat, longer battery life.
      DonnieBoy
      • RE: Apple dumping Intel for ARM? Pros, cons and a lot of questions

        @DonnieBoy

        Nice pipe dream.
        NoAxToGrind
      • And PS/CS Whatever would run like a dog.

        @DonnieBoy

        Nope.
        Bruizer
      • Guys, it is no dream. Quad-core Arm is here today, and offers a lot more

        performance than needed. Arm will mean cheaper, lighter, longer battery life, cooler running. That would allow Apple to undercut competition on price, and, at the same time offer a much better experience than the competition.
        DonnieBoy
      • RE: Apple dumping Intel for ARM? Pros, cons and a lot of questions

        @DonnieBoy They couldn't dream of it without taking a loss as the others are much higher volume!
        slickjim
      • Peter Perry: I think Apple Arm based laptops could be extremely high volume

        as they would be cheaper, longer battery life, lighter, cooler than current Apple models. They could take a lot of share from Windows, and the same time having great margins.
        DonnieBoy
      • RE: Apple dumping Intel for ARM? Pros, cons and a lot of questions

        @DonnieBoy I dunno, I'm serious! The way AMD is going with their APUs they could be just as energy efficient and still have the performance edge by 2013.
        slickjim
      • Peter Perry: And, Arm will not stand still between now and 2013 either.

        Arm chips could be more powerful by then, using 4x less power.
        DonnieBoy