The pros and cons of Apple A-Series MacBooks

“The tremendous wealth that has been generated by the smartphone revolution, which Apple helped pioneer, has shifted the economic power away from the commodity processor makers. The computer systems integrators, starting with Apple, have realized that they don’t need the ‘Intels’ of this world, and that they’re better off going it alone,” Mark Hibben writes for Seeking Alpha. “What was first widely regarded as an aberration has become the norm, at least for mobile devices.”

“Apple wants, and has the resources, to control the design of all of the important semiconductors in its products,” Hibben writes. “Apple’s A11 Bionic, featured in the iPhone 8 and X, has become comparable in performance to the Intel processor in the 13” MacBook Pro, by the Geekbench benchmark… The A11 is almost certainly less expensive and lower power than the Core i5-7360U. Apple could offer a MacBook that was thinner, lighter and less expensive than the Intel version. This is the core of the case for an ARM MacBook.”

“But there are other arguments for an ARM MacBook as well. One of the best arguments is security,” Hibben writes. “Apple’s A series ARM processors are inherently more secure. They’ve been designed from the ground up to be much less vulnerable. Key to that is a specialized security processor embedded into the SOC, called Secure Enclave. Secure Enclave effectively prevents the kind of [EFI] exploits that Duo Labs describes.”

“The case against an ARM-based Mac is based mostly on business considerations, but there are some technical ones as well. It can be argued that Apple’s ARM processors still aren’t as capable as Intel, and that apps that rely on discrete GPU’s for acceleration or graphics performance would suffer in being ported to ARM,” Hibben writes. “Apple would run the risk of losing developer support if it enforced a wholesale conversion to ARM. If Apple allowed Intel and ARM Macs to coexist, the ARM Mac would be an ecosystem apart from the current Mac mainstream. Apple would be faced with maintaining two versions of macOS and its Mac devices. Consumers could be confused by the different platforms as well. And this is the crux of the case against the ARM Mac: that the situation just gets kind of messy.”

Much more in the full article – recommendedhere.

MacDailyNews Take: We agree with Hibben that when Apple’s A-Series processors mature enough to be able to replace Intel in all Macs, not just MacBooks – years away, but closer than most might think – is when we’d be most likely to see Apple pull the trigger.

I’ve always wanted to own and control the primary technology in everything we do.Steve Jobs, October 12, 2004

• In order to build the best products, you have to own the primary technologies. Steve felt that if Apple could do that — make great products and great tools for people — they in turn would do great things. He felt strongly that this would be his contribution to the world at large. We still very much believe that. That’s still the core of this company.Apple CEO Tim Cook, March 18, 2015

SEE ALSO:
Apple, a semiconductor superpower in the making, looks to build their own ARM-based processors for Macs – September 29, 2017
Apple accelerates mobile processor dominance with A11 Bionic; benchmarks faster than 13-inch MacBook Pro – September 15, 2017
Apple’s A11 Bionic chip in iPhone X and iPhone 8/Plus on par with 2017 MacBook Pro – September 14, 2017
Mossberg: There’s a good chance Apple will introduce ARM-based Macs – March 1, 2017

31 Comments

  1. A more likely short term strategy is to include an A series chip into Intel machines to allow users to seamlessly transition between Mac OS and iOS.
    There are all sorts of combinations which could be used including making smaller A chips minus the graphics cores that use the more powerful discrete GPUs from AMD until Apple catches up to desktop level graphics performances.
    They could also just add extra A cores to provide more desktop grunt in the larger space afforded by notebook and desktop chassis. If an iPhone-sized SOC can beat a 13” MBP imagine what one with double or triple the cores can do.

    1. Already done and it’s a flop. The mbp gimmick bar is powered by an A chip. It does nothing to make you more efficient. You still can’t run ios apps in another desktop space. Timid Tim thinks that he’s going to wean you off of your Mac by slowly making the MS ribbon grow bigger, not by making the A chip do something that Intel chips can’t do.

      By the way, what do Apple chips do that Intel chips can’t? If Apple wants to keep using Thunderbolt, then Apple is wedded to Intel for the long run. That’s not a bad thing. You can’t accuse Intel of being laggards, it’s Apple that is last in line to update its Macs, in some cases years after PC makers have the latest CPUs and GPUs.

      If you think Apple hates Intel, you would be wrong.

      1. I was clearly not referring to the TouchBar but a fully fledged A chip capable of running full iOS in tandem with MacOS.
        Many developers have already shown that they can build apps that move seamlessly between the 2 environments just as has Apple with its iWork suite.
        As for Thunderbolt, Apple codeveloped it with Intel. Far from needing Intel chips to support it, Apple already own or at least share the IP.
        Also remember that even if they didn’t, it was Apple engineers who were smart enough to develop an internal timing controller to run a 5K display on the iMac before anyone else could do it properly.

        1. apple was not the first with a working 5K display.. just the first to stuff it in a non-upgradable all in one boat anchor.

          they are rarely the first to do anything, but they do improve on others designs.. i will give them that.

          1. I said they were the first to do it properly, not first overall. For example Dell had a dodgy method of stitching together two separate channels that resulted in jerky, substandard visuals compared to the 5K iMac.

          2. No, DUDE!

            The reality is Apple are first rumoured to be developing a certain new technology. Then desperately, Samsung, or whoever, will come out with with a half assed version just so they can say did it it first. Followed by idiots like you who regurgitate shit like you have just thrown up.

      2. Rather than talk about REAL issues (if there are any), you instead resort to calling it a “gimmick” or a “MS Ribbon”. Then you blatantly lie and say, “..it does nothing to improve efficiency”. Anyone with one iota of sense can see its obvious utility and function. These smear tactics are a true sign that you have nothing of substance and are a troll of some sort paid for by a desperate competitor. Don’t you understand, by now, that you have absolutely no influence on what consumers buy?

  2. Apple has experience dealing with simultaneous support of completely different processor architectures (old Motorola versus PPC, PPC versus Intel) and operating systems (classic vs. OS X now Mac OS).

    So I don’t see the roadblock posited by Mark Hibben for Seeking Alpha. Unlike MDN, I do not believe that Apple will wait until it can update its entire Mac lineup in quick succession. Instead, I believe that Apple will pick one or two of the low-end models (Mac mini?? MacBook??) and release a pathfinder for ARM-based Macs. That pathfinder Mac or Macs could very well be based on the A11 (or the A11X, which I assume will be released for the next generation iPads).

    That is KingMel’s Take &!

    1. Another thought. iOS devices will continue to use A-series, ARM-based processors for the foreseeable future, and Apple has full control over the A-series design (in-house) and manufacturing (under contract to foundries). Apple has very little influence over Intel – not enough Mac volume.

      If iOS and Mac OS are going to converge, then they will converge on the A-series platform, not Intel. And the A11 is the first A-series SoC to be truly viable at the low end of Macs. It all fits together. I may be off but, if so, by only one A-series generation. If not the A11/A11X, then certainly the A12/A12X. I would bet on it.

  3. Endgame. If that happens, the Apple PC would be truly dead. Pcs give their owner the control, unless they open things up….

    Mandatory curation, mandatory IT, and PC cannot ccoexist. The PC was developed to kill those shackles.

    1. “the Apple PC would be truly dead”

      Apple continues selling truckloads of Macs to satisfied customers.

      applecynic’s head explodes, “But but curation but but IT but not a PC but but.”

      1. Here we go again, violating MDNs unenforced rules for civilized discussion. Exploding heads comment shows your immaturity and inability to win the argument on facts and logic.

        It has been posted in many places the changeover costs for Apple and for software developers to go back to RISC from CISC chips. It can be done but there is no economic reason to.

        What every iOS fanboy seems to be forgetting is that a mobile chipset optimized for thin client phones is exactly what you don’t want in a personal computer. A personal computer is not trying to be battery friendly and 7.5mm thick. It is supposed to give the computer owner infinite flexibility with a wide range of I/O and peripherals, industry standard compatibility for software and file types, offline performance, powerful CPU and GPU, etc. dumping 20 Apple RISC chips in a box doesn’t do that. Nobody is going to rewrite their software to make it as well as Intel native software runs today.

        While Apple continues to insult professional workstation customers with a thermally constrained non-upgradeable trashcan that was already outclassed the minute it was released in 2013, Intel has been making solid double digit % performance gains every year. The i9-7980XE chip has 18 cores, 44 PCIE 3.0 lanes, 4 channel DDR4-2666 memory, etc.
        It is a monster, like many other Intel chips. Apple is AWOL in power computing, gaming, workstations, and servers and mobile chips aren’t the ticket to reclaiming markets that Apple willingly abandoned.

        1. “It has been posted in many places”
          The RISC/CISC argument has REALLY only been posted here. Usually by only one person.
          https://www.quora.com/What-are-CISC-and-RISC-architecture-How-do-they-differ-from-each-other

          They are just two ways to get something done. And, if you have a compiler like Apple has that can generate Intel and ARM instructions from the same piece of code, you see why that’s not a serious concern for anyone. There are some other reasons why Apple may or may not go in this direction, but CISC/RISC isn’t one.

          “It is supposed to give the computer owner infinite flexibility with a wide range of I/O and peripherals”
          I understand that’s your view, but all most computer owners really want is a way to check facebook, send email and play games. Hardly infinite.

          “Apple is AWOL in power computing, gaming, workstations, and servers”
          That right there is the most POWERFUL argument you make. Apple is AWOL in these areas and I’d say that it’s intentional and planned. They don’t WANT to reclaim these markets. If they did, they’d likely be doing something about it. What they’re doing instead is focusing on their iOS strategy and tossing out a bone every year or so to those who feel they MUST use macOS.

          Perhaps at some point in the future, Apple will instead have a side by side speed test of video compression/compositing and photo editing pitting their own MBP against their own iOS “Pro” device using software written for both showing the A(x) chip handily trouncing Intel’s portable equivalent. Then, if you want the speed, you’ll get the iOS device. If you’re older and feel comfortable with the old style keyboard and trackpad, even though it does some things slower, the MBP will still be fast enough for checking on the grandkids 🙂

        2. Right on, Realist. I have to say I get a bit tired of some here calling each other unsavory names. Most here are way ahead of me on the tech issues, but I do know what I like, need and want. A good Mac pro and mini is a start.

  4. Maybe the MacBook and MacBook Pro will stay intel, but what if Apple were to introduce an iBook to start that was really an iPad with keyboard and a different GUI. If this were a success and Microsoft, adobe and co updated their main apps to work, later an iBook Pro, iDesktop etc.

    1. I don’t think they go the iBook route, they just keep improving the iOS form factor and let the (slow Intel) chips fall where they may. Even if Microsoft and Adobe don’t update their apps to work, it wouldn’t matter. Those who care about those apps will stay on the old (slow Intel) chips, but I’m sure Apple could work up a demo or two showing Pixelmator on iOS blasting Photoshop on an Intel powered MBP in a few more years. 🙂

  5. There is another reason. Probably because the profit are shifting into mobile, Intel is having problems keeping up with other foundries. Intel is at 14nm and don’t have 10nm working while the competition is already mass producing chips at 10 nm and sampling 7nm. TSMC just start building their plant for 3 to 5 nm. Furthermore, Intel announced they will no longer disclose their process width. This doesn’t look good for Intel and it certainly didn’t escape Apple.

    This mean ARM chips will get a lot faster than Intel in the upcoming years. The fact that Apple has now a phone CPU able to beat an I5 is amazing, it means that Apple, if they choose to do so, could today produce an A11X with a higher frequency for laptop that could smoke an Intel I7. This means that in 2 years, with a struggling Intel, the A13 of your iPhone will be in the I7 league or better. Would you buy a laptop that is less powerful than your iPhone? Me neither. Apple will probably be forced to switch to Ax chips on its laptops just to maintain sales.

    1. “Furthermore, Intel announced they will no longer disclose their process width.”
      WAITWUT? I have to find this. This does indeed sound like a “we’ve kinda given up here, because the only company that really wants high performing mobile chips is Apple anyway, other companies will use our low powered i3’s or shoehorn a desktop chip in a mobile form factor if they need to”

      No, doesn’t sound good for Intel. I can’t believe I missed that. Interesting other point you make and I came to a similar conclusion above. Maybe Apple NEVER puts an A chip in a MacBook, they just show how the A(x) series trounces it in the iOS form factor. Rather than having to support ALL the things that’s considered needed for a PC, users make their decisions based on, say, whether or not compressing video twice as fast is worth it for them to leave behind the entire PC form factor.

  6. Apple are increasing their expertise in chip design with every new release. They probably already have designed chips that could run Macs on OSX.
    However the timing is not right. There is still too much dependence on windows in business and Apple are gradually working their way into industry.
    The gating factor will be when web based interfaces can work for most applications. Still a few years off but when that becomes the norm then Apples reliance on Intel chips will dissipate.

    1. “There is still too much dependence on windows in business and Apple are gradually working their way into industry.”
      Not really, companies are deploying mobile solutions en masse and iOS (with the help of IBM) is leading the way there. So there may never have to be A(x) in a MacBook, you just let the old slow (because Intel continues to delay shipping speedy replacements) systems be the things that they are thus driving the Post PC transition.

  7. Unless the software ecosystem is on parity with x86 I’m not sure I’m interested in an ARM mac.

    If the plan is a walled garden OS X locked only to an appstore then I’m not a customer at all.

  8. Have you read up on the KNL? I am currently doing that. 78 cores, a 512 byte vector processor, and gobs of L2 speed memory.
    Performance-wise Apple chips are not even in the same ballpark as Intel. Oh that’s right Apple does not make power machines any more. They make fashion statements now. They have lost their way. When are they going to make the MacPro workstation that is desperately needed? The iShit-Pro ain’t cutting it. I am clinging on to my trashcan shaped Mac Pro at work until something useful comes along. If that dies before Apple gets it act together…off to Linux for me.

    BTW- This message written on a personal Mac Book Pro.

    1. “Performance-wise Apple chips are not even in the same ballpark as Intel.”
      Umm, I believe the benchmarks in question shows Apple beating Intel chips… so they’re definitely in the ballpark. Not in the club level seats, but most people don’t need club level.

      And most people don’t need a MacPro. They’ll throw you a bone soon then head back down that clear PostPC path they’ve been racing down for the past few years.

  9. Next year’s Mac Pro will run on ARM.

    A user selected number of nano blades forming the desktop, cluster super computer.

    Starting at $6K.

    Run Silent, Run Deep, Red October.

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