On Apple’s Move To ARM
On Monday, Bloomberg reached into the depths of the Apple Rumor Abyss, dragging out a piece of speculation which has had a few turns in the rumor mill, but not much more. Apple has always strived to be a fiercely independent company, announcing partnerships only when partnerships canāt be avoided. For instance, before 2005, Apple used their own processors in their Macs, making their hardware a completely closed environment, more so than it is today. Then, they famously made the switch to Intel chips, opening up further development opportunities for app developers as well as removing one of the key reasons to not choose a Mac: They canāt run Windows.
While this was a smart move on their part, one that has helped propel the Mac, one canāt help but think Apple would rather go back to the good old days where they were making their own chips.
According to the Bloomberg piece, Apple could return to these days in the next few years, building out their own ARM chips to power their Macs.
Apple already uses the ARM architecture, of course. These chips, the A4, A5, A5x, A6 and now, A6X, power many iPads, iPhones and even the iPod Touch. These ARM chips are well-suited for mobile applications because they are able to deliver the right amount of speed with the right amount of power efficiency. After all, the benefits of a mobile device are severely lessened if the device canāt be away from a charger for less than 6 hours.
The Bloomberg piece also cites a Gartner analyst who suggests that a move away from Intel could start a chain reaction, crippling Intelās business.
āApple is a trendsetter, and once they did their own chip many others may pursue a similar path,ā posited Sergis Mushell.
āIf mobility is more important than functionality, then we will have a completely different environment than we are dealing with today.ā
This isnāt the first time this rumor has popped up, though itās never been taken too seriously. Itās even been dismissed a time or two.
Another analyst, Shaw Wu with Sterne Agee, wrote a note to investors saying he believes this move is āinevitable,ā though it will take some time to shift the Mac OS X platform over to a new architecture.
The shift from Intel to ARM is indeed possible and even plausible, considering the potential benefits: Better power management, a more unified experience between iOS and Mac OS X, and the cost benefits to Apple for designing their own chips.
However, just as Wu and others have suggested, this move, should it occur, is years away. Rumors from last year about this change suggested the same thing: The roadmaps of the 2 processors arenāt equally matched. Intel has more to offer in terms of speed while ARM has more to offer in terms of power efficiency. While it would be nice to use a MacBook Pro with 10 or more hours of real life battery life, such a computer would effectively nullify the reason to use a laptop as opposed to using an iPad. Without the added speed and functionality, a laptop becomes far less attractive.
Of course, either one of these chips could be made to take on the qualities of one other. Another analyst, Nathan Brookwood, spoke with All Things D and said: āThereās no reason that an Intel chip couldnāt arbitrarily be made to have the same power efficiency as an ARM chip. Thereās also no reason that an ARM chip couldnāt be faster with the right hardware resources brought to bear.ā
Itās all possible, says Brookwood, and it all depends on how these chips are implemented. Any iOS device is proof positive that the marriage of hardware and software can be optimized to get the best out of one another. Therefore, an ARM chip written for Mac OS X would no doubt outperform an ARM on any other laptop implementation. However, given where ARM, Apple and Intel currently stand, itās likely this sort of change, if it were to happen, is at least a few years away.
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