Will Apple really switch the Mac to Apple designed ARM-based processors?

“You have to wonder if Apple and Intel are in some kind of negotiation phase right now,” Arik Hesseldahl writes for AllThingsD. “That’s one cynical way to interpret the story from Bloomberg News saying that Apple is exploring ways to move its Macintosh line of computers away from Intel’s chips and toward using its own internally designed line of chips.”

“Such a change would no doubt hurt Intel, already fighting to maintain its spot as one of the tech industry’s agenda-setting companies as the PC market contracts, and its lack of participation in the mobile market becomes ever more glaring,” Hesseldahl writes. “The thinking goes that in time Apple will want to offer a more unified computing environment across all of its platforms — phones, tablets and PCs — and one key way to make that happen is to have a single chip architecture inside them all.”

Hesseldahl writes, “It isn’t crazy, and you just know that somewhere in some lab in Cupertino or Austin there is a hopped-up prototype Mac running some weird iteration of OS X on some hopped-up prototype A-Chip, just to see if it can be done. As the late Steve Jobs once said about the prospect of switching to Intel but before it happened: ‘We like to have options.'”

Read more in the full article here.

Related article:
Apple exploring switch from Intel processors for Macintosh, say sources – November 5, 2012
iPad 4 graphics upgrade a serious horsepower increase; Apple’s A6X is one massive processing machine – November 2, 2012
Benchmarks: Apple iPad 4′s A6X beats all comers in GPU performance – November 2, 2012
Apple’s powerful A6 a unique CPU design that’s never been seen before – October 8, 2012
Analysis of Apple A6 core reveals exquisite, optimized custom layout done by hand – September 26, 2012
Apple A6 die reveals 3-core GPU – September 21, 2012
iPhone 5′s A6 SoC SunSpider performance fastest ever recorded on a smartphone – September 19, 2012
Apple’s custom A6 processor the result of years of effort, including a $500 million chip development program – September 18, 2012
A6 is Apple’s first with custom-designed CPU cores; iPhone 5 memory size and speed revealed – September 16, 2012


      1. Nope, across the entire line. Maybe that’s why they’ve not done anything with the MacPro… The future doesn’t include a professional desktop.

        However, all the laptops and the consumer desktops, there’s no reason why it can’t be done.

  1. Of course its coming. We know what OS II is its clearly “Unified iOS” – a version if iOS that runs tablets, the desktop, and phones. If Apple could make “Rosetta” work for PPC to Intel – why not a version of Rosetta that runs Intel programs and let them run on a native Apple A10 chip? Have custom commands to make it really sizzle so speed is not an issue. Office is the only native Intel app that is a “requirement” but its influence is waning every year.

    Its coming my friends and I welcome its arrival with open arms.

  2. Apple is running into the same thing they did with Motorola (?) and IBM. They can’t get the chip speed they want quickly enough from Intel. They are also learning how to modify the chips to their specific devices in ways that other folks can’t buying off the shelf. It will be a win for us all and bad for everyone else who can’t switch.

  3. Do they not know that the iOS already runs on the Mac computers that create the iOS apps? This is not the issue everyone is talking about. The iOS is a stripped down version of OSX.

  4. we will probably get a cheapo MacBook in the $500 range with an ARM CPU. real Mac’s will still have Intel since ARM is still no where near as powerful.

    most people like me barely use 1/10 the power of their Mac

    cheapo Macbook for the masses and Intel Mac’s for the workstation crowd.

    the power of the CPU is not the issue since most people rarely use a fraction of the power of their CPUs. the issue is cost. ARM CPU plus the supporting chips are a lot cheaper than a motherboard, CPU, chipset, etc from Intel

    1. That would leave a big fragmentation gap. Apple would have to devote much the developer platform to handling the differences between Intel & ARM, and developers would still be ultimately responsible for making sure Mac apps work on both. They did this during the PPC to Intel transition, but it was costly, which is why they rush to drop PPC support.

      I think Apple will eventually switch Macs to ARM, but only they can switch the full line up of Macs. Which will not be anytime soon.

      If Apple were to fragment Macs between two chip sets, I think it would make more sense for it to be ARM & PPC. PowerPC chips (which are used in all current & next generation video game consoles) are more powerful than Intel chips – Apple switched to Intel mostly because it’s more energy efficient in portables. Apple could move consumer Macs to even more efficient ARM, and move professional desktops to more powerful PPC chips, to really differentiate themselves from PCs.

      1. not really

        there is a huge market by volume for cheap home computers. Using Intel/MS its not profitable. but apple can build it using ARM and make a nice profit.

        most of this market just needs a computer with something like iphoto and a large hard drive to hold photos. and do your basic internet and some games. $1200 for a 13″ laptop is too much for this market. mountain lion with gamecenter is a step in this.

        i think in a few years we will have 2 Mac lines. the cheapo ARM line for most people and a Pro line with Intel CPU’s for the workstation market and people who want to play “real” games

  5. Only reason to take the relatively low volume Intel CPUs to ARM is if it somehow made a BIG difference. It would consume lots and lots of resources in the smaller part of their product market.

    I don’t see how that occurs right now, since Apple needs to crank up production on iOS devices just to meet demand.

  6. The ability to seamlessly run Windows software is not a small selling point for the Macintosh. I’ve worked with several organizations that were quickly convinced to go Macintosh once they realized that the one or two Windows only packages that they occasionally needed to run would still work for them.

    I still constantly run into government websites that literally require Internet Explorer, even financial institutions still do this.

    I don’t want to go back to a time where people who would otherwise use Macs don’t simply because they can’t run a legal e-discovery package or log into some stupid website.

    We’ve seen what Apple is like running on a different architecture. People didn’t not use the Mac because it was on PowerPC, People did not use the Mac because it didn’t run this or that piece of Windows software. As soon as Apple moved to Intel, it was like these invisible flood gates opened. I could say, “Yes, you can still run your Windows version of Quickbooks, I know the Mac version sucks.”

    People who had tried VirtualPC (remember that?) hated it. It was excruciatingly slow. Yes an Intel software emulator could once again be written, but any software running in that sort of environment would be demonstrably slower.

    The fact that Apple shifted to Intel is what gave rise to Parallels, VMware and other hypervisor based virtualization on the Mac. I would love to hear what the folks at Parallels think about Apple moving to yet another architecture.

    Then there’s the whole emulation world that Mac users would have to suffer under again. I was so glad to see PPC emulation go on the Mac. We’ve been through that twice.

    Personally, I’d rather see Apple finally come out with OS X for PCs. Licensing OS X to PC makers would spread OS X at an even faster clip than its spreading now. After that went on for a few years, then a shift to a new architecture might be warranted. Shifting to a new chip, no matter how advanced and spectacular will see the Mac become “ghettoized” again.

    1. A valid point, but running Windows is not nearly as important as it used to be. iPhones & iPads have become immensely successful computers, despite lacking any ability to run Windows programs natively. More people are willing than ever to find & develop new apps to do their work on Apple platforms.

      I don’t agree at all about OS X for PCs. Managing driver support, dealing with poor hardware choices from third parties, and not being able to directly integrate hardware & software would lead to a worse OS X experience. It would also mean radically changing Apple’s business model: selling hardware, and only making software to enhance the desirability of their hardware. This is a proven successful strategy, that’s not nearly as vulnerable to piracy as selling software only.

      1. There’s a big difference between apps for iPhones and iPads and large, mission-critical PC applications. You simply cannot have the same features or depth in a mobile app as you can in a desktop application, and many companies only have a Windows version of a critical software to run their business.

        1. Why can’t you have mission-critical apps on iOS or OS X?

          Many mission-critical apps are on Apple platforms. Heck, many mission-critical apps are totally web based, working just as well on mobile as on desktop.

          There’s nothing special about Windows APIs that can’t be done just as well or better on Apple devices. Windows is actually missing a lot of critical things built in to Apple’s platforms, like effective malware protection, AES encryption, and multiple virtual host servers.

    1. No, you’re missing the point. Apple would be switching to ARM chips based off of Apple’s custom designs, which would allow OS X to be specifically tailored to take advantage of the A-chip for speed, power consumption, etc. AMD doesn’t have anything to offer in that arena.

    2. AMD only makes Intel compatible chips, so it wouldn’t make much of any difference.

      The only thing that would change is money that was going to Intel would go to AMD instead.

  7. They will once they pass up intel on performance they will use like a A9X processor in a Mac. Apple is has some serious stuff in the A6X, if they could make a 3Ghz version it would kill the i7’s

      1. Well actually it would be easy considering that a desktop version would use a larger die than an iPad but if apple wanted to they could, the only limitation I can see is manufacturing facilities

      2. They’re already spanking Intel and everyone else in Mobile, and this is only their FIRST custom chip!!

        Intel COULD be more efficient, but they’re closely tied to being backwards compatible with older x86 architecture. Remove all the junk to maintain that backwards compatibility and you get a fast and cool chip.

  8. What is everyone fixated on an either/or situation with Intel and ARM chips?
    Apple has chip design capabilities. They have chosen to focus those on modifying ARM type processors so far as public releases. That doesn’t mean that’s all they’ve been doing all this time. Perhaps the plan is to take their low-power chip design expertise and apply it to the Intel architecture, allowing for a single family that not only delivers superior mobile performance for iPhones and iPads but is also compatible with the Intel world.

    It may be win-win-win for Intel, Apple and ARM if aspects of all 3 chip platforms would be utilised across all products through various cross-licensing deals and would deliver Apple a unique engine that no one else could replicate, much less capitalise on…
    I’m sure there are many other permutations that are possible too, beyond the Intel/ARM dichotomy.

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