Apple A9-powered MacBook Air?

“The two areas the MacBook Air could make great gains is adding a high-resolution retina display, and a more powerful processor and graphics,” Mark Reschke writes for TGAAP. “Updating these two areas on the MacBook Air would not only squeeze Apple’s margins, but also put a dent in MacBook Pro w/retina sales, making a nearly identical specification laptop, but thinner and less expensive.”

“The solution would seem obvious that Apple needs to update their MacBook Pro w/retina display accordingly, but how?” Reschke writes. “Apple is so dependent on Intel CPUs with their integrated graphics, there is not really anywhere to go in differentiating the two laptops. However, there is different direction Apple could take the MacBook Air, revolutionizing the product yet again.”

Reschke writes, “Apple is very likely to be on the brink of delivering an A9 processor. This would not be designed for the iPad Air 2 or 3, rather, it would be a desktop class, 64-bit quad-core processor with integrated Imagination Technology graphics, eliminating Intel from the MacBook Air lineup.”

Read more in the full article here.

59 Comments

  1. An A-class processor running alongside an Intel processor would be a technical marvel and would give Macs an edge over traditional computers. Imagine a MacBook Air with a detachable screen… when detached, it’s an iOS device with access to all of your files… when attached, it’s an OS X device with access to all of your files.

    1. Apple wants all your files to be in iCloud, not on your Mac/iOS device. And where are you storing these files? On the iPad detachable part? On the Mac keyboard part? So basically you’re just adding a detachable keyboard with a power-hungry processor to an iPad?

      Don’t see it happening.

    2. You are confusing the ARM/Intel instruction sets with iOS/Mac OS.

      iOS is for tablets. Mac OS is for laptops/desktops. Apple could run either OS on either Intel or ARM chips. They are not going to mix up their OS’s.

  2. Most comments here sound like they haven’t been around the Mac universe for all that long. Less than ten years ago, Apple moved the entire Macintosh universe from RISC-based PowerPC processor architecture to Intel’s common one. There were no consequences for Apple’s market share; no loyal Mac users switched to Windows because of the move, and most people eventually migrated their tools over.

    Apple has done this kind of move (radical architecture change) several times: from 68k to PPC (apps had to be re-written); from System 9 to OS X (apps had to be re-written); from PPC to Intel (Apps had to be re-written), from 32-bit to 64-bit (you know the refrain…). At every one of these changes, they provided a stop-gap solution that would allow support for old apps on the new architecture without a significant performance hit (classic environment in OS X, Rosetta on Intel machines, etc). The solution lasted for a few years, just enough for vast majority of users to catch up with their application update cycles.

    We don’t know and can’t tell if Apple is considering a move from Intel to the A-series RISC architecture for their Macintosh line(s). One thing is certain, we shouldn’t be surprised if they do this, and we shouldn’t be scared either; based on their track record, they know how to go through such a change — they’d done it plenty of times already.

    1. Well, the transitions weren’t smooth for everyone. The Mac market share — a realistic assessment of the relative health of a platform whether one wants to admit it or not — suffered at those times. Just when Apple seemed to turn the corner, the user community had to deal with another curve ball.

      Many Mac users either stopped upgrading for a few years or actually left Macs because of the awkward transition to OSX, and many more who left during the Intel transition. If you rely on your hardware & software to do the job and a company pulls support for it, you are basically screwed. In many instances, the transition to Windows was actually less painful for Mac users.

      Those of you who didn’t encounter serious bugs and data loss in the transition to OS X 10.0, “Cheetah”, consider yourselves lucky. It was not ready for prime time. By 10.2 Apple finally got it spot on. Then after a short time, Apple forced another massive change that, if a user jumped in right away, often bricked formerly perfectly functional accessories and software.

      Intel by that time was clearly the superior chipmaker, but users had to assess the transition cost, and sometimes there simply was no Mac-only solution. We had to buy Wintel boxes to bridge the gap. Just as bad, the data migration effort required in going from the PowerPC to the Intel versions was not as smooth as Apple envisioned. With Windows XP dominating computer sales, the smart software makers just went to where the money was. To this day, many OS X titles are only watered-down versions of their Windows counterparts. Almost all developers who write software for the Mac also code identical or more capable versions of their software for Windows. Apple so publilcly mismanaged its relationship with Adobe that Adobe essentially axed any further development for many Apple-centric programs. Apple itself axed many programs in each transition, not always for the better.

      I’m not saying that Apple is not overall the better platform for many users. But we have to be honest with ourselves — Apple has royally screwed up a lot of users with its dramatic transitions. Whole industries got the cold shoulder from Apple, and small businesses were ignored. My estimate is that the Mac platform finally hit its stride in the mid-2000’s as Microsoft shat out that horrible Vista. But instead of making the Mac better, everything since 2010 has been intended to dumb down the Mac or make it look like iOS, which is by fundamental design a walled garden for mobile media consumption and subscription-based computing first, and a productivity tool only as a last resort. The Mac has become more bloated, buggier, and no more capable. iOS has gotten more bloated, more capable, but fundamentally unable to do but a small fraction of what a proper Mac can do. If Apple ever updated its underlying file system and made the fundamental improvements that power users have been recommending for years, then nobody would be so mislead into thinking that any ARM chip could do what an Intel-chipped Mac can do, the differences would be glaringly obvious. But Apple is scared that the MS Surface might steal some sales, so it’s spent the last few years dumbing down the Mac so that uneducated consumers actually think that a mobile iOS device could replace it. Out of my cold dead hands, Cook…

      As for ARM chips — not in my lifetime will they fully replace a full desktop-class chip. ARM chips are designed for battery-power mobile devices, where battery drain is a constant concern. Desktop machines have no such limitations, and therefore performance can be optimized to get things done. NEVER should those two diametrically opposed goals be merged into a single machine.

      1. You nailed it!

        And by the time Apple gets an ARM device that competes in performance to the Intel processors, Intel will have an x86 processor that matches the power efficiency of the ARM device rendering the whole ARM-on-Mac effort counterproductive.

        1. Why would a MacBook Air have to compete with high end Intel processors?

          Apple would not initially put ARM in MacBook Pro’s or Mac Pro’s. But companies are now creating servers with ARM chips so why do you think Apple can’t create desktop chips?

          All they have to do is add cores and crank up the clock speed.

        2. The reason Apple moved from PPC to Intel wasn’t because RISC architecture was inherently inferior to CISC (X86), because it wasn’t. During IBM’s and Motorola’s active development of the PPC chipset (G3 / G4 / G5), Apple’s devices were effortlessly outperforming Intel-based computers at any given time, for any given processor clock speed. The move took place because IBM essentially gave up further development of the G5 processor (there was never a G6 chip), as did Motorola. Apple was painted into a corner by these two. Jobs saw this coming years in advance, why he had that undercover project ‘Marklar’. When PPC came to its end, Jobs simply switched architecture.

          I am still sure that the RISC architecture has no inherent disadvantages, and may actually offer some advantages in heavy desktop computing environment over Intel’s x86 platform. The only issue today is chipset design and manufacturing.

          As for the migration, PPC to Intel wasn’t anywhere near as disastrous for Apple and the Mac platform as Mike makes it sound. All major developers ported their flagship applications (Adobe, Avid, DigiDesign, Quark, Microsoft…), so the only ones Apple lost were the ones that were annoyed by the Apple move (second in ten years, after the move from System 9 to OS X) and stubbornly decided to “stick it to Apple” and migrate to — what? Vista??

    2. Exactly. I could see this happening for the lowest end MBA. It would cut costs and extend battery life. These users would mostly run Safari / Mail / iWork / Message / FaceTime which would be native code. For Word and other third party software there would be something like Rosetta. These users are not expected to run Parallels or perform any heavy duty calculations.

      More than with other OSes, Maoc OS X programs spend a lot of time executing calls in the OS. Therefore, the hit for interpreting x86 code is not that great.

      Not saying this is going to happen, just that it doesn’t seem impossible.

      1. Something like Rosetta wouldn’t be needed. Apple just says,”We just released a new version of Xcode that will create code for either ARM or Intel. Please recompile your code with the new flags and update the application on the Mac App Store in order to continue to be listed on the store.” And in a few short months, lots of compatible apps.

      2. Companies are creating ARM chips for servers. Why would Apple not be able to create a desktop ARM processor?

        ARM is just an instruction set, it doesn’t have some strange limitation on the number of cores or increased clock speeds.

    3. I buy Apple hardware specifically because it is the best x86 hardware on the market period.

      I love OS X but I expect to run various Linux, BSD, Windows and sometimes x86 Android on any laptop I’m carrying.

      I can’t be the only person who will straight walk away the day Apple stops making x86 machines.

  3. if you follow Apples guidelines, and use Xcode, Swift, Metal and the rest of Apples development software you will be in a position to switch to Arm from Intel at your leisure.

  4. Apple has GREAT CPU designers – as evidenced by the CPU in their iOS devices. Why don’t they just take out a license for X86 (like AMD does), and design their own X86 CPU? Seems that would be the best way to “get away from Intel”, yet maintain compatibility.

    1. Problem is, why go to the great expense to license the chipset when you have no foundry to make them? Apple doesn’t even make their ARM chips today, they rely primarily on Samsung, which of course we all know has allowed Samsung to reverse engineer its way into Apple’s most capable mobile device competitor.

      Moreover, any licensing agreements that Intel would offer would certainly prevent Apple or anyone else from customizing the chipset in any way to offer “better” performance than Intel already offers.

      Apple’s best strategy on the Mac is to enrich more developers, sell more Macs, and therefore become Intel’s #1 volume buyer. When that happens, Apple would have enough clout to get better pricing, priority new product distribution, and perhaps an opportunity to partner with Intel for unique chip designs.

      Until that day, Apple remains just another Intel customer, with near zero ability to drive Intel to dance to Apple’s tune. …… Except one thing — that cash pile. If Cook got off his slow ass and waved some money in front of Intel’s nose, he could have some exclusive deals and accelerate chip development. The longer Apple fiddles, the more HP and Dell and Asus and others are able to wedge Apple out.

      On another topic — Apple used to do its own motherboards, and they were user friendly. Now Apple solders on overpriced RAM, deletes PCI slots, and ignores user requests for post-sale customization ability. Do you really want THAT company designing your chipset? Today’s Apple is simply not the user-friendly company you grew up with, my friend.

  5. It’s called an iPad Pro – the Apple Surface Competitor.

    Features:

    – 12 inch retina screen
    – Attachable keyboard with sensory trackpad (no moving parts)
    – Huge battery in keyboard providing over 24 hours of power.
    – Smart pencil (Apple’s been racking up patents in this area)

    Designed with IBM in mind.

  6. Apple A-Series chips in Macs?
    –> NO.
    We’ve been over this a dozen times already. Go back in the archives and read why this will NEVER happen. I’m tired of attempting to cure people’s ignorance about CISC vs RISC CPUs.

  7. Go back in the archives and read why this will NEVER happen. I’m tired of attempting to cure people’s ignorance about CISC vs RISC CPUs….
    So, you have nothing usefull to say, just go back to archives.
    Time could be BETTER spent actually saying somethin !!!.
    You never miss a chance to say, you don’t have anything to say.
    Let me talk about what I’m not going to talk about.

    1. But you haven’t said anything here.

      Companies are creating ARM for servers. Their is no barrier for the ARM instruction set to run on higher performance, less power limited chip configurations.

      I designed an ALU for a RISC processor. CISC doesn’t have any advantage. Intel has an advantage, which is often being a generation ahead in their fabs, but that is only one factor in performance.

    2. I’ve done extensive searching on this and have only found information that supports the fact that it’s really hard to do. Not that it can’t be done. Because of that, I’m of the opinion that when Apple has an A series processor that has the power/performance envelope they’re looking for, they are going to go this route.

      I’d have to guess at when they’d reach that target, but seeing as how the current chips are really close in benchmarks to i5 processors that Intel is selling as new, they could have an answer within the next 4 years or so.

  8. For some bizarre reason people keep hoping Apple will pull a Microsoft and make their own alienated step child OS that has almost no software support.

    Unless the macbook air is becoming an iPad with a keyboard what is the proposition of the Macbook Air RT?

  9. Remember Surface and Surface RT? The two had the same UI and similar form factor so users expected each to be able to run the same software. But that was not the case. The RT was an even bigger fail then the surface because of the two could not run the same software.

    A MacBook Air (which looks similar to the MacBook Pro) using an A9 will not happen unless the on the fly conversion layer is so efficient that you wouldn’t know you are running software written for Intel CPU on an Apple A9 processor. Without the conversion layer then you have the Surface vs Surface RT scenario.

        1. You require applications to be recompiled to run on ARM. Apple controls the development tools and the distribution route, things that were not in place when Rosetta was the best solution.

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