Apple could adopt ARM for laptops, but why would they?

“The Apple/ARM rumor du jour is that Apple will transition its entire portable Mac line to ARM-based CPUs, dropping Intel altogether. Sources speaking to Semi Accurate claim this is a “done deal,” and the move should happen by 2013, when a 64-bit ARM A15 core becomes available,” Chris Foresman writes for Ars Technica. “While a future generation of Apple’s A5 processor could make some sense for something akin to the MacBook Air, the claim that Apple will ditch Intel wholesale for ARM just doesn’t add up.”

“From an OS point of view, it wouldn’t be that difficult—iOS and Mac OS X are both based on more or less the same code base, and iOS already runs on ARM,” Foresman writes. “Here’s what’s wrong with the prediction. A processor using four 64-bit A15 ARM cores running at 2.5GHz in 2013 is expected to have performance on par with a 2GHz Core2 Duo available today. Apple has already moved its MacBook Pro line to Sandy Bridge chips, and should be moving the MacBook Air to Sandy Bridge later this summer. Those chips already outperform Core2 Duo chips by a quantum leap at similar clock speeds.”

Foresman writes, “In the next year or so, Intel will release an update to Sandy Bridge called Ivy Bridge. This new generation of processors will utilize Intel’s new 3D transistor technology on a 22nm process, bringing either significant power savings in low voltage designs, speed improvements at higher voltages, or some combination of the two… With no clear performance or efficiency benefit derived from moving to ARM, it doesn’t seem likely Apple will be ditching Intel wholesale for its notebooks, even two years from now. However unlikely, though, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Apple won’t use ARM processors for future Mac-like computers… There are factors that combined could push Apple in the direction of ARM, especially at the low end, but those factors rely on a lot of big ifs.”

Read more in the full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Fred Mertz” for the heads up.]

Related article:
RUMOR: Apple to dump Intel for Apple ARM-based chips within 24-36 months – May 6, 2011


  1. High-end laptops (aka MacBook Pros) are already the new “Desktop” PC, so I truly doubt that pro-users will stand for a MacBook Pro that is crimped on speed compared to a top-of-the-line Intel mobile processor.

    Apple will match Dell & HP & Lenovo on processors.

  2. This would be a mixed integration within a same machine. Apple is able to build a OS capable of taking advantage of different types of chips. Clearly to have the best of both (or more) worlds.

    1. That actually sounds pretty accurate. With the work they did on LLVM, etc, they could have a multi-platform machine in the works. It would run ARM in low-power mode and x86 when needed, like the GPU does now. Why not throw a PPC in there while you’re at it? The big and little-endian camps will have to get along for this to work-out…

  3. Apple’s main goal is to make products that are better than the competition. The Mac today is far more versastile using intel chips that allow it to run windows if needed. Loosing that versatility makes it less valuable product, not more. It would also once again allow Microsoft to dictate whether ot not Windows ran on Mac (future versions are supposed to run on ARM). Apple would be crazy to allow Microsoft any control over it’s products.

    1. @scottm4321
      Exactly. And also, it would send Apple back to PowerPC era, when Macbooks’ performance was always being compared unfavorably against Intel machines. ARM is doing well in iOS devices. That is the road map, the future. PCs will inexorably fade away. But in a short time of some years like this I think is kind of precipitate.

    1. It’s not going to accelerate Moore’s Law, if that’s what you are asking. The 3D chip design allow more transistors to fit in less space, with lower impedance, which helps Intel keep up with the rapid pace of Moore’s Law. Innovations like this are what keeps Moore’s Law going.

  4. The MacBook Pros currently make use of both integrated and dedicated GPUs and switches seamlessly between the two. I think that’s a gateway technology for Apple developing a dual CPU strategy with both an ARM and Intel CPU in their MacBook line. Then switching seamlessly between the two CPUs depending on application usage and context. Combined with a touchscreen, it could also allow for full native iOS support on a Mac.

  5. I dont expect to see ARM chips in a MacBook Pro any day soon. However, a MacBook Air is a completely different proposition and it would not surprose me at all to see that running on ARM.

  6. A combined IOS/OSX version of the MacBookAir would have a lot of appeal, IMHO. My iPad already has a Zagmate keyboard that gets used for note taking. A MBA with OSX and IOS capability would cover a lot of my traveling needs in one box. I could leave the MBP home a lot more.

  7. I agree with most that the pros would not be well served with an ARM chip. The Air on the other hand is not for power users and could get away with it. I love my Air and wonder what battery life would be like using an ARM processor.

  8. Maybe Apple has some new ARM advancements on the horizon that will blow Intel’s processors out of the water. If that’s the case, Apple understandably wouldn’t want their Pro laptops to be out classed by their iOS devises.

    Also, with Apple successfully moving developers to their modern Cocoa API, applications should be able to work on any platform where Apple implements the Cocoa, without extra work for the developers. Hell, if Apple built a Cocoa adapter for Windows, then apps built for Mac could theoretically work on Windows without any code modifications.

  9. Apple has to get away from Intel in future, Apple doesn’t want to do the R&D for the PC industry forever, remember the original Air, Apple has Intel redesign the CPU to fit into a smaller space and Intel turns around sells it the rest of the industry, Apple with 66 billion dollars cash in hand and growing, have to move away from Intel in the future. In other words go were the other companies can’t go.

    1. Only problem with this theory is that Intel has everyone beat when it comes to fab and manufacturing.

      In this arena Intel is the “apple inc” of the industry.

      With Intel’s latest advanvements i expect they ate grearing up to do damage to ARM in the market.

  10. I say… If Apple and ARM can give me better processing power and less heat – GO FOR IT.

    I already e-mailed Steve Jobs about this MONTHS ago. I don’t use Windows – I don’t give a hoot about Windows. For me, as long as the same code base can be compiled with Xcode for ARM I don’t care.

    I think Apple should do it. Start with the mobile line of Macs and then do the desktops.

    Speaking about desktops… I wish Apple would release a headless Mac (call it “Mac”) in between the Mac Pro and the iMac. I would buy it in an instant, because the Mac Pro is too huge for me. There is a rumor of a redesigned Mac Pro case to be smaller, etc. I hope this is true.

  11. How about a MacBook ARM powered laptop that would run both OS X and iOS Apps but wouldn’t really be good enough for a desktop replacement. That’s where MacBooks Pro with Intel chips come in.

    An ARM powered MacBook could be ‘The Next Big Thing’.

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