How Apple dethroned Intel as the world’s most innovative chipmaker

“Back in 2013, Apple introduced the A7 system on a chip (SoC) as part of its then-flagship smartphone, the iPhone 5s. The A7 was impressive for several reasons,” Ashraf Eassa writes for The Motley Fool. “Firstly, it was the very first 64-bit ARM processor to ever hit the market, which gave Apple some performance and efficiency advantages over its fellow mobile competitors (who, rather comically, tried to downplay the need for 64-bit chips as they furiously worked on their own).”

“What caught my attention at the time, though, was that the A7 delivered CPU performance at a frequency of 1.3 gigahertz that was very similar to chip giant Intel’s (NASDAQ:INTC) very best processor, known as Haswell, at the same frequency,” Eassa writes. “Now, Intel’s chips, at the time, ran at much higher frequencies (in excess of 3 gigahertz), but what the strong per-gigahertz performance of the A7 chip signaled to me was that Apple had built a very impressive base from which to build up in future smartphone chips.”

“Fast forward to today, and Apple’s best iPhone and iPad processors deliver performance for CPU tasks — Intel’s specialty — that’s competitive with Intel’s best notebook computer processors but in sleeker, lower-power devices than what Intel’s chips can fit into,” Eassa writes. “I believe that when Apple introduces its next iPhone in about four months, it will deliver equal or better CPU performance to Intel’s best notebook processors designed to consume 15 watts but at a fraction of the power consumption. ”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: As Intel stumbles along, its future becomes decidedly dimmer.

There is no reason why Apple could not offer both A-series-powered Macs and Intel-based Macs. The two are not mutually exclusive. — MacDailyNews, January 14, 2015

iOS devices and Macs inevitably are going to grow closer over time, not just in hardware, but in software, as well:

Think code convergence (more so than today) with UI modifications per device. A unified underlying codebase for Intel, Apple A-series, and, in Apple’s labs, likely other chips, too (just in case). This would allow for a single App Store for Mac, iPhone, and iPad users that features a mix of apps: Some that are touch-only, some that are Mac-only, and some that are universal (can run on both traditional notebooks and desktops as well as on multi-touch computers like iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and – pretty please, Apple – Apple TV). Don’t be surprised to see Apple A-series-powered Macs, either.MacDailyNews Take, January 9, 2014

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  1. most worrisome to Intel is the new A12 is supoosely made at 7nm, while Intel’s Kaby Lake and Coffee Lake are 14nm and Cannon Lake is 10nm. (this is sort of stated in the article but not directly).

    don’t tell Gordon Moore, he’ll have a cow

    1. Per Wikipedia, Moore’s Law is the “…observation that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles about every two years.” It does not address process size, which factors into the chip size for a given complexity.

      1. Moore, Noyce, and Grove built Intel into the worlds most prominent microprocessor manufacturer. A key piece why that happened over a very long period of time is the continual reduction in die size. For Apple to design and build* microprocessors in large quantities with a smaller die size then Intel is a big blow in my opinion. The founder’s legacy is in jeopardy.

        I wasn’t explicitly referring to Moore’s law.

        *obviously Apple has these processors made by a contract firm.

  2. With Microsoft’s future de-emphasis of Windows as a home platform and Apple possibly transitioning to ARM chips on their Macs it’s hard to make a long term decision on their more pricey workstations. You spend 8-$10,000 and you don’t want bad support news 2-3 years later. Worthy 14 core or higher ARM chips though seem a ways off.

  3. Intel missed the boat when they whiffed on the Atom series- hanging on to x86 instead of designing to the needs of the market. Like the old saying
    “You can have any color you want as long as it’s black” Intel thought keeping x86 was the key to the market as everyone else was jumping on some variant of ARM.

    1. Spot on there. I am no expert but I predicted in the wake of the Atom launch and after they had failed to sell its virtues to Apple, whith early versions not impressing testers, that it would be far easier to upscale a well designed Arm based architecture than to try to downscale Intel’s architecture. After all IBM had had similar problems with Power PC even within mainline computing. All these years later it has proved even more true than I anticipated. Intel was too arrogant in all reality, over confident and certain afraid to move away from what they knew and the compatibility they thought it offered them to defend against others. Like so many before them a fundamental decision, understandable in its own right at the time but shortsighted may well lead to their eventual irrelavence or on their present track at best a specialist role. If Arm’s once planned move into high end Server chips ever does break cover they are truly going to be fighting from both ends or more accurately stuck in the middle of a pincer movement. Maybe it will be 20 years late but RISC computing may well take over the world after all.

  4. I remember reading an article in which another tech manufacturer characterized Apple’s introduction of 64-bit chips in the iPhone as ‘a kick in the nuts’.

    After having lived through the era in which seemingly every monthly non-Mac tech publication used Apple as its whipping boy (they really did flog the crap out of them), and wrote articles in which they always used the descriptor of ‘beleagured’, it gave me a bit of a chuckle.

    Steve really was amazing. His second stint at Apple, even more so.

    1. Shows how fragile the line between success (at least that based on genius) and abject failure can be. Microsoft barring fears of being called a monopolist could have snuffed the company out. Thank God It didn’t and surely even its critics should at least have the decency to admit that, or the world would be lucky to have progressed to XP by now and the Blackberry would still be King in the world of bland copycats of mediocrity.

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