AMD failed to provide 'Llano' chip for Apple's MacBook Air because of faulty parts

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited January 2014


Former AMD employees revealed that Apple gave its "Llano" chip a "close look" for a new MacBook Air model last year, but ultimately decided not to go with the processor because too many of its parts were faulty, according to a new report.



AMD has been through several reinventions in recent years in a quest to find a niche to call its own. The company was an early competitor to chip giant Intel, but it has struggled to keep up pace with its rival as of late.



Brian Caulfield reports for Forbes that new "fusion" processors from AMD had a shot at upstaging Intel by making their way into Apple's popular MacBook Air notebook for last year's refresh. People familiar with the matter indicated that Apple had given the "Llano" processor, which combined the CPU and GPU into one part, serious consideration for use in its thin-and-light portable.



However, a former employee indicated that AMD was unable to get early working samples of the chip to Apple on time, though tipsters disagreed on exactly how close the company was to delivering the chip, with one claiming that AMD "had it." According to the report, too many of the parts ended up being faulty and AMD lost the deal.



Sources also said AMD had proposed a low-power processor named "Brazos" for a revamp of the Apple TV box, but Apple declined to go with the option. "Brazos" went on to make inroads in the netbook industry and reportedly kept the company afloat.



"If Brazos had been killed, AMD wouldn’t be in business," one former employee said.



A separate report from late last year also claimed that Apple had considered the AMD "Llano" option "plan A" for its MacBook Air, but AMD was said to have "dropped the ball" at the last minute.











Apple released the Thunderbolt MacBook Air last July with Intel's Sandy Bridge processors powering the notebooks. The machines became an instant success and reportedly jumped to 28 percent of the company's notebook shipments just months after they were released.



[ View article on AppleInsider ]

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Comments

  • ghostface147ghostface147 Posts: 1,629member
    Gotta get that manufacturing process down AMD.
  • originalmacratoriginalmacrat Posts: 297member
    I doubt AMD would even be able to ramp up to build enough chips for Apple.
  • ltcommander.dataltcommander.data Posts: 327member
    Probably for the best. Even with OpenCL, with I/O taken care of with SSDs, the biggest contributor to user performance experience for most tasks is CPU speed and Llano can't compare to Sandy Bridge on the CPU side. And the HD 3000 is doing surprising well with even the latest AAA Mac games supporting it including RAGE, Batman Arkham Asylum, and Bioshock 2 so some GPU performance is left on the table compared to Llano, but game/driver compatibility problems seem to have been solved. Llano couldn't match LV Sandy Bridge's 17W TDP either. For a "Plan B", the Sandy Bridge MacBook Air turned out surprisingly well.
  • sockrolidsockrolid Posts: 2,431member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by OriginalMacRat View Post


    I doubt AMD would even be able to ramp up to build enough chips for Apple.



    Apple is twice burned, thrice shy with CPU manufacturers. First Motorola, then IBM failed to ramp up PowerPC clock speeds and also failed to fix hardware bugs in their chips. AMD probably would have made all kinds of excuses for low yields, poor reliability, etc. Apple doesn't need to hear that all over again.
  • macky the mackymacky the macky Posts: 4,572member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by SockRolid View Post


    Apple is twice burned, thrice shy with CPU manufacturers. First Motorola, then IBM failed to ramp up PowerPC clock speeds and also failed to fix hardware bugs in their chips. AMD probably would have made all kinds of excuses for low yields, poor reliability, etc. Apple doesn't need to hear that all over again.



    While Apple will gamble on entering new markets or using the latest technology, they won't gamble on other company's promises to do it right once we get your contract. Too bad, but 99.9% of the needed parts still means zero final product out the door.
  • hmurchisonhmurchison Posts: 11,865member, moderator
    On these very boards many of us where chatting up AMD last year about the time Llano was heading into production.



    I guess the rumors then were true that at least AMD was being given a shot and they failed. Too bad because Llano is a solid chip and would have made a nice MBA processor/GPU platform.
  • solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by hmurchison View Post


    On these very boards many of us where chatting up AMD last year about the time Llano was heading into production.



    I guess the rumors then were true that at least AMD was being given a shot and they failed. Too bad because Llano is a solid chip and would have made a nice MBA processor/GPU platform.



    I think it was wizard69 that was particularly keen on Llano.



    I do wonder how serious Apple was. I mean, we know Jobs pitted two teams against each other for the development of the iPhone OS. One using the iPod Linux and the other using Mac OS X as starting points. And we've heard from Verizon that Apple came to them first. To me it sounds like Apple is just doing its due diligence in testing the waters and increasing competition more than anything else. Meaning, I don't think iPod linux or Verizon or AMD were ever the top contender for these projects.
  • cash907cash907 Posts: 893member
    Well, that's what AMD gets for spinning off their Fab arm a few years back just to save a buck. This is what, the third chip in a row they've had these sorts of issues with? Easier to keep quality control in check when your product is manufactured under your own roof.
  • karmadavekarmadave Posts: 207member
    This is where having an Operations guy, like Tim Cook, at the helm makes a huge difference. Better component features are of little use if you don't have a reliable supply. Intel's CPU manufacturing capabilities are un-matched in the industry. AMD may have some good (and in some cases better) designs, but if they can't reliably produce them, in volume, companies will stick with Intel...
  • suddenly newtonsuddenly newton Posts: 12,933member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post


    I do wonder how serious Apple was. I mean, we know Jobs pitted two teams against each other for the development of the iPhone OS.



    I believe the article said Llano was "plan A".

    That's how serious Apple was. AMD had their shot.
  • solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Suddenly Newton View Post


    I believe the article said Llano was "plan A".

    That's how serious Apple was. AMD had their shot.



    But does that really mean anything? Unless we get official word from a top Apple exec I can't help but consider that if AMD was Plan A that Intel could have subsequently been called Plan 1.
  • wizard69wizard69 Posts: 11,320member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post


    I think it was wizard69 that was particularly keen on Llano.



    AMD did finally stabilize Llano but if you look at the arrival dates of Llano based hardware it is pretty obvious that it wasn't ready for Apples schedule. Now though Llano is seen as a respectable and low power competitor to Intels hardware.

    Quote:

    I do wonder how serious Apple was. I mean, we know Jobs pitted two teams against each other for the development of the iPhone OS.



    I believe they where very serious. Llano simply is a better platform to support the development direction of Mac OS. It is no accident that Mac OS 10.8 will struggle on Intel integrated GPU and that is if it is allowed to run there at all. Apple is rapidly expanding the use of the GPU in future version of the OS.

    Quote:

    One using the iPod Linux and the other using Mac OS X as starting points. And we've heard from Verizon that Apple came to them first. To me it sounds like Apple is just doing its due diligence in testing the waters and increasing competition more than anything else.



    I don't see it like that. Rather I see AMDs approach as an almost ideal fit for the direction Mac OS is going. Right now it is impossible to offer up Intel based systems with Intel integrated graphics as a wise purchase decision. Frankly I believe that Llano would hold up better on future Mac OS revs than any Intel solution to date.



    The reason is pretty clear, the far better GPU isn't going to crap out on OpenCL, 3D and other features the way Intel GPUs will. While support isn't written in stone yet one can see that today's Intel hardware isnt going to effectively support The expanded support for 3D and AgPU compute that is coming.

    Quote:

    Meaning, I don't think iPod linux or Verizon or AMD were ever the top contender for these projects.



    I don't buy that either. I don't really believe that Apple is happy that they are literally pulling Intel into the future kicking and screaming. Apple has pretty much demanded OpenCL and better all around GPU support from Intel. For good reason too as NVidias 9400m really provided a benchmark for what a low cost system could do.



    Of course we won't likely know for some time what actually happened nor Apples mindset with Intel. What is obvious though is that Intels future and Apples just don't seem to be aligned.
  • solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by wizard69 View Post


    Apple has pretty much demanded OpenCL and better all around GPU support from Intel. For good reason too as NVidias 9400m really provided a benchmark for what a low cost system could do. d.



    Could Imagination Tech GPUs be used for their low-power Mac line?
  • wizard69wizard69 Posts: 11,320member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by ltcommander.data View Post


    Probably for the best. Even with OpenCL, with I/O taken care of with SSDs, the biggest contributor to user performance experience for most tasks is CPU speed and Llano can't compare to Sandy Bridge on the CPU side.



    Compare raw CPU wise with top of the line Intel hardware no! AIR isn't top of the line Intel hardware by any measure so the arguement doesn't hold up. What people are finding though is that Llano is holding up very well in notebooks and is effectively a better choice for most users. Llano can maintain very good performance against the various Intel offering while using less power. It might not beat Intel in raw CPU performance but it will often last longer on battery executing the same workloads.



    I'm not saying Llano is perfect by any measure just that it is a huge mistake to look at CPU performance as the overriding consideration in something like the AIR.

    Quote:

    And the HD 3000 is doing surprising well



    Well that isn't true!

    Quote:

    with even the latest AAA Mac games supporting it including RAGE, Batman Arkham Asylum, and Bioshock 2 so some GPU performance is left on the table compared to Llano, but game/driver compatibility problems seem to have been solved. Llano couldn't match LV Sandy Bridge's 17W TDP either. For a "Plan B", the Sandy Bridge MacBook Air turned out surprisingly well.



    Intel and AMD don't spec power demands in the same way. It is really hard to say if the AMD chiP would have worked well in AIR. If you look to the more objective web sites on the net you will find that Llano is often doing very well in laptops power usage wise. Especially and activities involving the GPU. When you look at system performance in a balanced way Llano is proving to be a very good laptop chip.
  • wizard69wizard69 Posts: 11,320member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post


    Could Imagination Tech GPUs be used for their low-power Mac line?



    You do know that Atom is now using Imagination tech in the latest ATOM release. I haven't seen real benchmarks that stress the new ATOMs GPU so I really can't say how well it is performing in these chips. However Intel is clocking the GPU core at a very high clock rate for Imagination logic. Much faster in fact than current Apple usage. This is actually interesting in that it may indicate how Apple will address the retina display via the A5X. If that chip is real we might see a doubling of the GPUs clock rate.



    Of course I suspect you are talking about a line of Macs that would be significantly faster than what the ATOM can manage. In that regard your question is much harder to answer. I believe that Imagination could give AMD a run for its money at the low end. Until competitive hardware is out though I would tend to side with AMD as they have done wonders with low power GPUs (that maintain performance) in the last couple of years.



    Interestingly it looks like AMD has an ARM initiative going. That is a SoC built around ARM CPU cores and AMD GPUs and support logic. If real and if it makes it to market that will be a very interesting development in the ARM world. It would be also a good way to see how AMD stacks up against Imagination GPU wise.
  • pedromartinspedromartins Posts: 1,333member
    wizard69,



    i have an i7 macbook air.

    if it came with an AMD chip, what would be the differences, especially cpu vs cpu, GPU vs GPU? what about battery?



    would it also be possible that in order for apple to better differentiate the airs, we could've seen a 8gb ram air?



    regards.
  • nicolbolasnicolbolas Posts: 254member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by wizard69 View Post


    Intel and AMD don't spec power demands in the same way. It is really hard to say if the AMD chiP would have worked well in AIR. If you look to the more objective web sites on the net you will find that Llano is often doing very well in laptops power usage wise. Especially and activities involving the GPU. When you look at system performance in a balanced way Llano is proving to be a very good laptop chip.



    Looking at anandtech's review of the original llano high end APU, it power consumption In mins per whr, it beats most sandy bridge laptops at a Less mature 32-nm process.



    Now, with apple doing better drivers for battery than windows etc, etc it would probably get best for its tpd.



    What is really impressive is how fast the 18-watt APU counting its low power consumption... Beat 32nm mature tech on 40nm node.



    I imagine you would get drastically better battery life; already is 20-80ish% better than ulv i7 and i3 with optimus. For slightly reduced CPU power, which can be countered by graphics acceleration makes up for it(?).



    Now if trinity is what AMD says it will. Be--A8-3500 or greater performance at 17 watts (still quad core) that would great (if in MBA, sadly AMD timetable probably not with apples D



    I did this all from iPhone, between 0230 and 0315, so I hope I go everything typed right etc.
  • tipootipoo Posts: 577member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by pedromartins View Post




    i have an i7 macbook air.

    if it came with an AMD chip, what would be the differences, especially cpu vs cpu, GPU vs GPU? what about battery?



    would it also be possible that in order for apple to better differentiate the airs, we could've seen a 8gb ram air?



    regards.







    AMD's A8 series APU's generally are performance competitive with Core 2 Quads and Core i3s. The integrated GPU would be higher performance than the Intel HD3000 by a fair shot, but the bigger Macbook Pros also have discreet GPU's for high performance tasks. So with 17 watt parts coming out it might be competitive with your low voltage i7.















    If Piledriver is good, maybe the Macbook Air will get it as it has no room for a dGPU, but the bigger macs will be staying with Intel in my guess. They will have the same thermal envelope (17W) with the advantage of a far more capable GPU.
  • pedromartinspedromartins Posts: 1,333member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by tipoo View Post


    AMD's A8 series APU's generally are performance competitive with Core 2 Quads and Core i3s. The integrated GPU would be higher performance than the Intel HD3000 by a fair shot, but the bigger Macbook Pros also have discreet GPU's for high performance tasks. So with 17 watt parts coming out it might be competitive with your low voltage i7.















    If Piledriver is good, maybe the Macbook Air will get it as it has no room for a dGPU, but the bigger macs will be staying with Intel in my guess. They will have the same thermal envelope (17W) with the advantage of a far more capable GPU.



    well.. is it me or it sounds as a nice choice (and vs intel)?

    battery life would also be much higher right?



    what are the disadvantages/problems?
  • tipootipoo Posts: 577member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by pedromartins View Post


    well.. is it me or it sounds as a nice choice (and vs intel)?

    battery life would also be much higher right?



    what are the disadvantages/problems?





    Basically, how many working chips per day AMD can poop out. Intel has its own fabrication plants which are THE most advanced consumers can get right now, AMD is stuck with GlobalFoundaries for 32nm and yields aren't going well. Intel will be transitioning to 22nm soon too with Ivy Bridge, so they are at least a year ahead in process/die shrinks.



    If GloFo gets its junk together they could have a fighting chance in the Air imo. Or if AMD switches to another manufacturer like TMSC, but switching is complicated. I'd love an Air with graphics as good as that graph shows with similar CPU performance as before, and it won't be the first time Apple goes sideways on CPU performance in favour of great graphics.
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