Report: Apple Looks to Ditch Intel Chips in Macs for ARM
November 6, 2012 12:33 PM
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Apple may co-design special new ARM chips for its laptop and desktop computers
Bob Mansfield, Apple, Inc.'s (
"Technologies" group senior vice president
, recently announced that his semiconductor teams have "ambitious plans for the future."
I. Change Ahead?
For Apple, who has been quietly been growing its chipmaking army with acquisitions like
, that could mean a switch from Intel Corp.'s (
) x86 chips on the Mac computer front to
in-house system-on-a-chip (SoC) designs
utilizing ARM Holdings plc.'s (
) proprietary architecture, which is currently found in Apple's iPhones, iPods, and iPads.
suggests Apple is exploring a possible exit from its dependence on Intel chips, over the next several years. The news agency writes:
While Apple is now committed to Intel in computers and is unlikely to switch in the next few years, some engineers say a shift to its own designs is inevitable as the features of mobile devices and PCs become more similar, two people said.
As handheld devices increasingly function like PCs, the engineers working on this project within Apple envision machines that use a common chip design. If Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook wants to offer the consumer of 2017 and beyond a seamless experience on laptops, phones, tablets and televisions, it will be easier to build if all the devices have a consistent underlying chip architecture, according to one of the people.
Apple is rumored to be contemplating switching its Macs to ARM chips.
[Image Source: Maximum PC]
None of the companies involved were willing to comment on the rumor. However, this has not been the first time that Apple has been rumored to be working on computer-side CPUs in-house.
ARM shares climbed 4.2 percent on the London Stock Exchange following this news, and news that ARM had paid MIPS Technologies, Inc. (
) a lump sum of $350M USD to license its portfolio of 580 hardware patents. The MIPS deal lays to rest concerns that the
rival reduced-instruction set computer (RISC) architecture designer
might be preparing to sue its more prolific peer (ARM).
II. Lesson From the PowerPC Era
Apple may be reticent to jump into a computer-side deployment of ARM too soon.
Only a decade ago Apple was supporting another non-x86 architecture -- PowerPC -- whose chips were co-designed by Motorola and International Business Machines, Inc. (
PowerPC Macs seemed to be faster
in some benchmarks than their higher-clocked Windows/x86 counterparts, Intel's flashy clock speeds during the height of the Megahertz wars hurt Apple from an image standpoint. And Motorola's decision to bail on PowerPC drove Apple to in 2005
finalize its long-standing plans to jump ship
to Intel's x86 chips.
ARM is hardly analogous to PowerPC at present, but it's easy to see why Apple might be uneager to move too fast, should market conditions change. Indeed, the next few years in the chip market are a time of great uncertainty.
Apple's decision to ditch PowerPC brought it closer in line with Windows OEMs, who also use Intel chips. [Image Source: Bryon Realey/Flickr]
On the one hand, Intel is pushing hard to leverage its process advantages to deliver fast, power-efficient mobile cores, cutting into ARM's core business. On the other hand, ARM is invading the personal computer market with
, and is expected to land in the server market
around 2014 with Window Server 2012 R2
. ARM has been boosted by x86 veteran Advanced Micro Devices, Inc.'s (
) decision to at least
partially transition its CPU line
to ARM chips.
's sources are accurate, Apple will likely be hard at work designing a possible ARM-based SoC replacement to drop into its MacBook Airs and MacBook Pros. But the decision to pull the trigger may ultimately rest on where ARM stands versus Intel/x86 come 2016-2017.
This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled
11/6/2012 6:34:06 PM
I doubt very much that Apple will be putting ARM chips in anything that looks like a Mac any time soon, although a few years down the line who knows. What new device categories Apple might be working on is anybody's guess. Clearly Apple are putting a lot of effort into making custom silicon and Bob Mansfield is going to be doing something very big for the next two years.
What is interesting is that Apple has ramped up it's capital expenditure in it's supply chain by an enormous amount in recent years and now outspends companies like Google, Microsoft and Amazon by several times over, Apple even out spends Intel comfortably.
The analyst Horace Dediu recently gave a lecture on Apple's capital spending and the transformation of the electronics Industry, a video of that lecture is here.
Horace's view is that what we are seeing in Apple is the re-ermegence of the fully integrated model that was overwhelmed by the birth of the PC with it's fragmented value chain, interesting and provocative stuff.
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