Apple’s ‘ambitious processor plans’ to involve ditching Intel in future Macs?

Ashleigh Allsopp
7 November, 2012
View more articles fromthe author

Apple is investigating ways to ditch Intel chips in future Macs and replace them with its own ARM chips like the ones in the iPhone and iPad, according to Bloomberg.

The report cites ‘people familiar with the company’s research’ who say that Apple engineers are confident that the chip designs Apple uses in its iOS devices will become powerful enough to run iMacs and MacBooks in the future.

The sources say that Apple is unlikely to switch from Intel within “the next few years,” but engineers have reportedly said that it is “inevitable” that Apple will begin implementing its own processor designs into its devices as mobile devices and PCs become more alike.

If Apple does decide to move away from Intel, it could spell trouble for the processor maker, which is already suffering from the stagnating market for Windows computers and a lack of presence in the mobile industry.

Apple’s move could also lead other companies to ditch Intel too and begin working with their own chips. “Apple is a trendsetter, and once they did their own chip many others may pursue a familiar path,” Gartner analyst Sergis Mushell said. “If mobility is more important than functionality, then we will have a completely different environment than we are dealing with today.”

Bob Mansfield is in charge of the ‘Technologies’ team at Apple, which is dedicated to researching the company’s chip designs. At the end of October, Apple announced a shake-up to its executive team, and said that Mansfield’s new group will include the semiconductor group “who have ambitious plans for the future,” according to Apple, another indication that the company could be considering switching away from Intel.

Some analysts and experts are not convinced that Apple will be able to pull off the move away from Intel initially. “This is a geek technical issue, but the ultimate question is could Apple keep up with what Intel is doing in terms of speed and graphics?” said Creative Strategies analyst Tim Bajarin. “At this moment, I’m not sure.”

Seeking Alpha analyst Ashraf Eassa said: “It’s important to understand that there is a world of difference between designing a high performance micro-processor and designing a strictly low power, low performance one.”

“Intel has years of investing brand new, power efficient techniques for high end micro-processors on its side and needs only to bring it into lower thermal envelopes,” Eassa wrote. “ARM – and its licensees – need to fundamentally device brand new techniques to achieve high performance while keeping power in check.”

Eassa believes that it is unlikely that Apple could offer tangible performance and advantages over Intel’s offerings in order to justify the movement away from the chip maker.

Apple switched to Intel from IBM’s PowerPC chips in its Mac products back in 2006.

This is not the first speculation we’ve heard about a possible processor shift within Apple. In October, Bloomberg reported that Apple has “deliberated over moving away from Intel chips in the Macintosh,” and the site’s further reports seem to reiterate its belief about Apple’s processor plans.

One Comment

One person was compelled to have their say. We encourage you to do the same..

  1. Pablo says:

    I have been reading about this on and off since the rumours first began. I do not support this. For a start, Apple transitioned from its long-standing use of PPCs only six years ago. To transition again in a little over 10 years seems foolhardy. The whole reason Apple transitioned to Intel/x86/64 was to improve performance lacking in the PPC architecture, and it has achieved this. Macs now also have greater recognition because Intel is a known and trusted brand across the globe. Yes, you can point to the squillions of iPhones, iPads, iPad minis and iPods sold and I acknowledge this fact but the ARM processes are made for power efficiency, not performance. Sure, the silicon can be engineered for performance but ARM are a long way off the mark from Intel. Macs need to run apps like iWork, iLife, Apple’s Pro apps, MS Office, Adobe, QuarkXPress, Autodesk, FileMaker and so many other ‘big’ apps that I cannot see an ARM processor taking on. Again, yes, physics, speed, performance, Moore’s law, I know, but I reiterate, Intels are built for performance. And, at the same time, Intel is working hard to achieve efficiency in its lineup. Of course, none of this is taking account of the whole new transition required, vis the switch from PPC to Intel. Apple may have quickly transitioned its CPUs but recall how long it took Adobe to bring CS over and MS Office was hobbled in 2008 achieve intel compatibility. These things take time. Yes Apple has a track record for these transitions and yes it is a far more successful company now than in dark ages before Steve’s return but now it should focus on maintaining the momentum it has rather than taking another gamble it does not need. If Apple want to switch processors, it should look to AMD for its offerings, otherwise it is potentially jeopardising the phenomenal success it has had growing Mac sales since 2006 and importantly alienating third party developers who have already been through two transitions (68k-to-PPC; PPC-to-Intel) in the history of the Mac.

Leave a Comment

Please keep your comments friendly on the topic.

Contact us