Intel-powered Macs: The end is nigh

“When Apple announced its 64-bit A7 processor, I dismissed the speculation that this could lead to a switch away from Intel chips for the Macintosh line for a homegrown “desktop-class” chip. I might have been wrong,” Jean-Louis Gassée writes for Monday Note.

“A friend set me straight. In the first place, Apple’s drive to own ‘all layers of the stack’ continues unabated years after Steve’s passing. As a recent example, Apple created its own Swift programming language that complements its Xcode IDE and Clang/LLVM compiler infrastructure,” Gassée writes. “Secondly, the Mac line is suspended, literally, by the late delivery of Intel’s Broadwell x86 processors.”

“Furthermore, it looks like I misspoke when I said an An chip couldn’t power a high-end Mac,” Gassée writes. “True, the A7 is optimized for mobile devices: Battery-optimization, small memory footprint, smaller screen graphics than an iMac or a MacBook Pro with a Retina display. But having shown its muscle in designing a processor for the tight constraints of mobile devices, why would we think that the team that created the most advanced smartphone/tablet processor couldn’t now design a 3GHz A10 machine optimized for ‘desktop-class’ (a term used by Apple’s Phil Schiller when introducing the A7) applications?”

Gassée writes, “By moving to ARM, Apple could continue to increase its PC market share and scoop much of the profits – it currently rakes in about half of the money made by PC makers. And it could do this while catering to its customers in the Affordable Luxury segment who like owning both an iPad and a Mac. While this is entirely speculative, I wonder what Intel’s leadership thinks when contemplating a future where their most profitable PC maker goes native.”

Much more in the full article here.

Related articles:
Intel’s Broadwell chips further delayed; not shipping for most Macs until early-mid 2015 – July 9, 2014
Apple will inevitably drop Intel for their own A-series processors in the Mac – June 26, 2014
How long before Apple dumps Intel from MacBook Air? – June 26, 2013


  1. Intel has always tied it’s fortunes to Microsoft, Apple is a distant second tier consideration. That’s all well and good until there’s a reversal of fortunes. Those who live by Redmond will also die by it, eventually.

    1. Intel may have been tied to Microsoft in the past and I’m sure they still make the bulk of their profits from Windows machines. However Intel has made it clear that they very much value their partnership with Apple because Apple is willing to push new tech. Apple doesn’t cling to old legacy tech, just to please corporate IT. It’s hard for Intel to innovate when stuck with such an intractable partner as Microsoft.

  2. But what would that mean for the ability to run Windows natively? The only reason I can use a Mac for work is because of Bootcamp. Parallels just doesn’t cut it performance-wise.

    1. Unless you’re using the ARM version of Windows, there would be no bootcamp. However, I doubt this change would come soon. I would imagine it would be 5 or more years before they make a switch like this.

    2. Apple would continue selling Intel MacBooks for those that needed them. They have often sold two levels of product for years when making transitions, like they do with MacBook/MacBook Retina, now.

      As Apple’s enterprise growth takes off with IBMS help, they may want to keep the option of Intel Macs around for the foreseeable future.

    3. That is an important point, jooop (liking your handle). Apple’s adoption of intel processors spurred a groundswell of Mac/OS X switchers. This effect was probably most important for business users, since many of them have a few legacy Windows applications that they cannot do without and have not converted into a platform-agnostic form. I would hate for Apple to cut off the intel/Windows path too soon and strand a lot of corporate Mac users on a dead-end path.

    4. I gave up on all that crap a year ago. I bought a $300 Windows laptop, put it on my network, and I open it up in Remote Desktop window anytime I need to access the real speed and actual software of Windows. That whole VM is ridiculous, and BootCamp is fine but only if I want to actually totally quit being productive long enough to run one Win App.

  3. Yeah, the need to run Windows is still important for Macs. It’s all too common for someone to have this one thing that they can’t run on the Mac. Or worse, you wouldn’t believe how many Government websites still require Internet Explorer ONLY. Then there’s crap like QuickBooks. Accountants just won’t use the Mac version. Lots of little crap like this that moving to ARM would kill and I’d wind up moving Macs out over time and putting back Windows computers.

    Gone would be bootcamp, as well as the virtualization solutions.

    In addition, the situation is not the same as when Apple moved to Intel from PowerPC. They’d gained market share. Moving to ARM would cause a loss of market share.

    1. You’re utterly shortsighted.

      You can choose not to run Windows on Mac, it won’t affect your purchase choice, Apple gets your money anyway.

      For those who want or HAVE to run Windows (or other x86-based OSes) in virtual environments at near-native speeds, it means Macs would no longer be an option and Apple won’t get our money anymore.

      x86 compatibility was a big reason why I and our company’s other developers were able to get top-of-the-line Macbook Pros this year.

      1. An Ax Mac would probably not pass purchasing… I choose to buy Mac, because I can. And Intel makes the argument easier. Buy one computer, get two. (With VM, even more) (Win/Mac) However with Ax, you get one OS – Not even Linux or any past version of Mac OS X. Loose access to software then there’s no need for that hardware anymore.

        iPads and iPhones work for Enterprise, because there wasn’t a decent solution. There was no software eco system to loose or stick to for anyone. If Steve stuck to his gun and not allow native apps on iOS, then you wouldn’t see the numbers Apple, we have today. It would be better for the rest of the iPad copiers. However Mac’s inroad to Enterprise is through Intel and Windows. You loose that, you may loose everything. I would bet, Apples adoption of Ax for the desktop is better for Microsoft, than it is for Apple.

        It doesn’t matter what people think, IT does make purchasing decisions and they will drop Apple with out Intel. You can’t get an executive to force IT to buy Mac, because IT will not guarantee the results and guarantees are what executives want to hear.

        Leadership of any organization want someone to blame for failures. IT sticks their neck out on Windows because that’s what they know.

        If Apple were to change, then they should wait until they have desktop dominance. But they don’t and Linux doesn’t either. That’s the only time to change, when you can bring everyone along and say, not only do you have all the tools on our platform, you can use them on our next platform as well. If you can’t do that, then you aren’t going to win.

        Switching away from Intel, is like cutting off your face out of spite.

        I bet the notion that Apple is switching is to scare off IT from migrating… Provide some uncertainty in order to slow or stop Apple’s enterprise adoption.

        1. “Loose access to software then there’s no need for that hardware anymore.”
          As long as it runs the OS that comes with it, that’s all the majority of users care about. Oh, and if they can upgrade. Yes, I have beta and release OS’s plus Bootcamp running but am under no false assumptions that I’m anywhere near what could be considered an average user.

          “iPads and iPhones work for Enterprise”
          This point is the most important one. Take note that The Apple/IBM deal does NOT include Macs and this direction becomes more clear. We’re already in the PostPC era and I don’t think that Apple intends to stay in the POST PC world while still making PC’s, at least not PC’s as we recognize them today. In the future, multi OS folks will have to find their solution from clone makers.

      2. “it means Macs would no longer be an option and Apple won’t get our money anymore.”
        And that’s ok. As long as Apple can sell the same computers to someone else such that there’s a net break even or better yet gain, they’ll be fine.

        1. So you’re okay with money being handed over *to Apple’s competitors* instead. Right. Gotcha.

          Normal users do not drop $3200 plus $350 Applecare for a high-end 15″ Macbook Pro with upgraded CPU and storage. So tell me, after many dedicated pro-Mac developers are forced away from Mac, what large group of professionals do you see picking up the slack, whose decision to switch *to* Mac depends on Apple changing CPUs *away* from Intel?

          (It’s possible Apple will maintain both A(x) and Intel lines of Macs, but the premise of this article is that the entire platform switches CPUs).

      3. Not shortsighted, but wise. I ‘choose’ not to infect my Mac with that virus called Winblows, because my Mac does everything much better. You can always just get a crap laptop for 299 to run winblows and keep your Mac pure. But, that is your choice, hell you would save on not having to have VMware or parallels. Your choice again.

        1. You’re not shortsighted for not running Windows, that’s a perfectly valid.

          You *are* shortsighted because you think *your* choice should be imposed by an Apple hardware change, to the detriment of others, and Apple itself (“The bright side: No more Winblows on Mac! […] Hopefully” isn’t expressing your personal choice, since you obviously aren’t running it now).

          No one wants to lug around and run a second machine just to run tests on Windows, even if the machine is free from work. That’s just plain shortsighted again. Just stop.

          And we pay nothing, nada, $0.00, to run Windows test environments on our Macs. Yes, legally:

          VirtualBox: free, from Oracle
          Windows virtual machines with 90-day renewable license keys: free, from Microsoft

  4. Sadly, some of us are still chained to MicroSloth technologies. Without the ability to virtualize an instance in Windoze, I can’t do all aspects of my job (yet, hopefully that will change).

  5. Also from a tech point of view, that ability to run OS X, x flavors of LINUX, as well as ongoing releases of Windows makes the Mac a super powerful computer for computer science types as well as us consultant types. I don’t want to go back to lugging two computers around. I love whipping out the MacBook Air and being able to boot into OS X or Ubuntu or Windows.

    Ironically, I’d start looking at (for me anyway) a way to Hackintosh a strong laptop, and run Windows, and run LINUX.

    This ability to run just about everything is a big reason why the Mac is the preferred computer at companies like Google, for instance.

    1. All of these assumptions are based on the idea that Windows and Windows apps continue to be viable. At some point Windows will break those apps that keep people chained to Windows. At some point the overwhelming adoption of Macs by the people who actually spend money on apps means that companies like Intuit have to write a credible app for Mac. The puck is on the move, not stationary.

      1. I have people running DBASE applications that I fear will never die. If Windows breaks the apps, they ‘ll just keep running the old version of Windows. Lots of Legal software in this realm. Dental Office management systems. Crap like that. For these types and government types, the puck is a 5 ton brick.

        1. That’s the industry of my day job, too. Stuck in Windows, whether we like it or not. Some of our software is literally just a Windows candy coating on a DOS program.

      2. And your assumption is based on the idea that non-Mac apps are automatically Windows.

        Our client runs apps and services on Linux servers, our dev environment needs to match that, and while there might be Linux releases for non-x86 CPUs, it doesn’t mean those apps/services will run on them.

  6. I run WinXP on Parallels simply to be able to VPN into my company’s network and do remote desktop into my office PC.
    The VPN software is PC only and without it I cannot get into the system.
    Being able to run Win on a Mac makes it possible to have my Mac be the only computer I need. It helps me justify buying a new laptop every 3 years.
    The surge in Mac growth since the Intel Macs were released has occurred because of the compatibility. Take that away and Apple will lose part of their customer base.
    If Apple do start to sell ARM Macs then Intel versions will be around for a long while until it is not needed. Apple could sell 2 versions of the key models and offer cheaper models with ARM only. The only downside is that Apple’s demand for Intel chips will be lower and therefore cost more per unit. The savings made in ARM units may not offset the higher price paid for Intel CPU and chipsets.
    The other question is whether ARM has all the instruction sets for run OSX. Probably but remember a Mac has more I/O to deal with and also multi-tasking at a much higher level.
    I know there will be a ton of users who never need Win compatibility. But

    1. And a WinRT solution was so good for Microsoft.

      I see your point, however if a Ax desktop does come about, the only thing that will make it work is if it also ran every bit of iOS software out there. (iPhone and iPad).

    2. “The surge in Mac growth since the Intel Macs were released has occurred because of the compatibility.”
      No, there were a lot of people that MAY have had that as a reason, but in the real average consumer world, the vast majority will ask if it can “Run” Facebook and if it can check emails. That’s all they need.

      1. That “vast majority” in the “real average consumer world” you describe, has zero need to buy a Mac. They’d just get an iPad and maybe a keyboard to go with it.

        What you’ve just done is advocate that Apple drop Macs entirely.

      1. DogGoneToo already addressed this: “The VPN software is PC only and without it I cannot get into the system.”

        There are different VPN options for companies to choose from. Some are obviously and unfortunately Windows-only.

  7. Does no one here remember the painful transition from PowerPC to Intel? EVERY single app you currently have running on your Mac would need to be recompiled for ARM (any emulator would probably be dog slow). And I’m pretty sure it won’t be free. It’s a nightmare.

    And, yes, I too (sadly) need to use Windoze for programming. I would be extremely surprised if Parallels ran at even half the efficiency on ARM as it does now on native Intel chips. As much as I would really like Apple to have complete control of both the hardware chips and the software, I just can’t see this happening…

    1. Remember those folks that never upgraded their old OS9 compatible system and never bought another Macintosh? A lot of developer professionals will likely find this in their future……. UNLESS developer professionals become 90+% of Apple’s target market. 🙂

  8. I’ll be gone. I switched to a mac precisely because it was the best x86 machine out there.

    I can run darn near anything on my mbp and that is a major selling point for me to be a customer!

  9. The situation is different from the transition from PowerPC to Intel. When PowerPC stopped progressing it hurt Apple because Windows became faster. But when Intel hits delays, it slows down Apple and Windows equally. While this may slow new computer purchases in general, it isn’t Apple specific.

  10. Look what happened when IBM couldn’t give Steve Jobs a 3GHz Power PC processor for the PowerBook.
    The fact is that intel has no real competition from AMD, so is in no hurry to churn out new chips if it can keep milking its current product line.

    1. And don’t you think Apple milks a little too? It’s a business process, develop milk milk, develop milk milk. Easy to follow and nothing wrong with it. We have no where to go so why the hurry, it’s not like there’s a pending Alien invasion.

    1. Fair enough! However anyone who thinks any Intel mobile processor can, from a power/performance perspective can beat the A7 are on similar (potentially mind altering) substances.

      1. Literally no one here is advocating Apple switch iOS devices to Intel CPUs.

        Apple kept the UIs of iOS and Mac separate, and continue to do so after 7 years even if elements of both are taking hints from the other, because what makes sense in one environment doesn’t for another. Same thing applies to desktops/laptops vs mobile devices.

  11. Apple and Google along with MSFT will always be a threat to Intel. All 3 can go hard on silicon as no one owns the engineering geniuses who create the chips.

    1. No, emulation is not the same as virtual.

      Virtualization means you run native instructions at native speeds (with small speed penalty due to overhead).

      In emulation though… Instructions in the emulated environment must be translated to instructions that the physical system’s real CPU understands. This is a HUGE performance penalty; back in the PowerPC days an emulated Windows would run at less than half the speed of a real PC, at best (source:

      It’d be even worse if an A(x) CPU tries to emulate an Intel. PowerPC was at least also a desktop-class CPU from the start, and didn’t care much how much power it used to get its performance. The A(x) on the other hand is all about max performance with lowest power consumption possible, a concession to the mobile devices it was first designed for.

  12. With Apple being co-inventor of ARM ( pre Jobs return) and its problem with Motorola’s 68000 CPUs then IBMs PowerPC CPUs and finally some years ago with Intel’s poor GPUs that it stayed with year old designed CPU and now Intel not selling many WinTel CPUs to fund future development of the CPU there is inertial on Intel’s part to provide exclusively to Apple top CPU performance. It becomes just a supplier to Apple.
    Déjà Vu
    What Apple has done since A6 is gain time to develop powerful CPUs for its top of the range Mac.
    With a commercial partnership, proposed by IBM I may add, already in place it’s just “ a step to the right….” To go with IBM’s IP in CPU design – A dead end for today’s new IBM!
    I can see Apple using all IBM’s patents under licence!!


    Gassée writes, “By moving to ARM, Apple could continue to increase its PC market share and scoop much of the profits blahblahblah

    It’s sad to watch Gassée decay into senility. Sorry former genius. Not gonna happen. For folks who disagree, don’t rant at me. Go read about CISC vs RISC chips until you comprehend.

    Feel good that poor old Gassée didn’t understand the difference either.

  14. I am surprised that they did not come out with a MacBook Air with this A7 chip. After all you can say it is a mobil device and optimized OS X for this chip to see if this chip class the desktop class performance like the say it has.

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