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ARM-based Macs seen as 'inevitable,' but Apple unlikely to switch anytime soon

post #1 of 95
Thread Starter 
It's "inevitable" that Apple will merge its Mac and iOS devices at some point, but such a change is not expected to happen for years, in the eyes of one industry watcher.

Shaw Wu with Sterne Agee said in a note to investors on Tuesday that he believes it will take Apple some time to optimize its Mac OS X operating system for the ARM processors currently found in the iPad and iPhone.

Intel processors are currently much more powerful for running intensive Mac applications, as well as for development. But he believes that ARM processors will eventually become powerful enough to replace Intel chips.

In his view, making Apple's entire product line based on custom-built ARM-based processors would simplify the architecture of its devices, and also help to create a more seamless experience for users.

Wu also noted that the Mac represents just 14 percent to 18 percent of Apple's total revenue. In comparison, the iPhone accounts for between 45 and 50 percent of the company's revenue, and the iPad is 20 to 25 percent.

Chipworks


Wu's take was issued in response to a report that surfaced on Monday from Bloomberg, which indicated that Apple's engineers are confident that the company's A-series custom chip designs will one day be powerful enough to run the company's desktop and laptop machines. ARM-based silicon in Apple devices is currently limited to iOS devices.

Monday's report also suggested a change to ARM processors is not likely to take place "in the next few years." But it also portrayed a shift to proprietary chip designs as an "inevitable" transition for the company in the future.

Apple is said to have a team dedicated to the project, with engineers working to design a lineup of machines that rely on a common chip design. Apple already employs this approach with its current lineup of iPhones, iPads and iPods.

A potential switch to ARM chips would pose a challenge to Intel, Wu said. He noted that Apples' 11-inch MacBook Air gets four to five hours of battery life under heavy use, compared to 10 hours of battery life with an ARM-based iPad.

Reports suggesting Apple could power future Macs with ARM processors are not new. One recent story issued in October also said Apple has "deliberated" moving its lineup of Mac computers away from Intel processors, though such a change was said to not be "imminent."

Apple has made headway in designing its own custom silicon for the iPhone and iPad. Earlier this year, rumors suggested Apple was looking to use its own ARM processors in upcoming iterations of the MacBook, especially in power-critical applications like the thin-and-light MacBook Air.
post #2 of 95
ARM based Macs will come but Intel based Macs will remain.

While hiring AMD veteran Jim Mergard adds more CPU design expertise at Apple, it does not necessary mean they will drop Intel. Hec, they may license the basic x86 design from Intel or AMD and make their own desktop CPUs.

Time will tell.
Edited by AppleSauce007 - 11/6/12 at 5:41am
post #3 of 95
This would make playing games on iMac more difficult than it already is. And for what?
Little Appstore games are fun for a few minutes, but real huge game productions would never make it to the Mac if it were like that.
Not going to happen.
post #4 of 95

Nothing a few years out in the CE or computer world is inevitable. For all we know in a few years time Intel may have chips for the iPhone that blow ARM away, use less power and Apple uses those in their mobile devices instead, and keeps using improved Intel chips in Macs. Nothing is guaranteed here.

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Citing unnamed sources with limited but direct knowledge of the rumoured device - Comedy Insider (Feb 2014)
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post #5 of 95
I think that: "portrayed a ship to proprietary" maybe should be: "portrayed a shift to proprietary".



All of that being said I see ARM as a great move for a good portion of the Mac Users out there. For many though giving up Intel is next to impossible. If Apple can get another 2X performance improvement next year without massive clock rate increases we will be well on our way to ARM based Macs.

Interesting timing here, the August 2012 issue (16) of EDN just came across my desk. Plastered across the front cover is this: "PROCESSOR ARCHITECTURES: ONE TO RULE THEM ALL". I haven't read the article in depth yet but they do put forward the idea that ARM has the potential to be that architecture. Funny thing was I skimmed the article and found no mention of Apple.
post #6 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ireland View Post

Nothing a few years out in the CE or computer world is inevitable. For all we know in a few years time Intel may have chips for the iPhone that blow ARM away, use less power and Apple uses those in their mobile devices instead, and keeps using improved Intel chips in Macs. Nothing is guaranteed here.

 

I'm not so sure. I'm not a processor expert but I believe there is something fundamental about ARM chips which makes them pretty hard to compete with when taking into consideration power consumption/speed.

As laptops are already running red hot, power consumption becomes more and more important, favouring ARM designs going forward.

 

Intel may one day come out with a quantum processor, but that technology is still a long way away. Till then, my money is on ARM (which it is literally as I own ARM stock).


Edited by monstrosity - 11/6/12 at 5:58am
post #7 of 95
"proprietary chip designs"

Intel chips are proprietaries too.
post #8 of 95
I don't agree that it is inevitable. Apple is researching sure, but the end result could be a resounding no.

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post #9 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by monstrosity View Post

 

I'm not so sure. I'm not a processor expert but I believe there is something fundamental about ARM chips which makes them pretty hard to compete with when taking into consideration power consumption/speed.

As laptops are already running red hot, power consumption becomes more and more important, favouring ARM designs going forward.

 

Yes, I am aware of this, but will this be the case in 3 years time? We don't know for sure. Intel could be secretly (or not secretly) working on something low power we are unaware of.

Citing unnamed sources with limited but direct knowledge of the rumoured device - Comedy Insider (Feb 2014)
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Citing unnamed sources with limited but direct knowledge of the rumoured device - Comedy Insider (Feb 2014)
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post #10 of 95
I guess I'll be switching back to pcs then. Cause I want a processor that's powerful and compatible with windows.
Stupid move IMO

I like ARM in phones Etc
Hopefully it's just be like a version of the MacBook Air and not all MacBooks
post #11 of 95
I guess I'll be switching back to pcs then. Cause I want a processor that's powerful and compatible with windows.
Stupid move IMO

I like ARM in phones Etc
Hopefully it's just be like a version of the MacBook Air and not all MacBooks
post #12 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by monstrosity View Post

 

I'm not so sure. I'm not a processor expert but I believe there is something fundamental about ARM chips which makes them pretty hard to compete with when taking into consideration power consumption/speed.

As laptops are already running red hot, power consumption becomes more and more important, favouring ARM designs going forward.

 

Intel may one day come out with a quantum processor, but that technology is still a long way away. Till then, my money is on ARM (which it is literally as I own ARM stock).

 

There is nothing fundamental about ARM chips which make them pretty hard to compete with when taking into consideration power consumption/speed.

post #13 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by igxqrrl View Post

 

There is nothing fundamental about ARM chips which make them pretty hard to compete with when taking into consideration power consumption/speed.

 

Don't they own some IP regarding RISC or something? Again, it's been a long time since I read upon this subject, so I forget the specifics. 

post #14 of 95

A.I. ?

 

You may want to fix this. It's fine on your homepage, but within this forum thread here's what I see on the toolbar, an incorrect AAPL stock price:

 

Citing unnamed sources with limited but direct knowledge of the rumoured device - Comedy Insider (Feb 2014)
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Citing unnamed sources with limited but direct knowledge of the rumoured device - Comedy Insider (Feb 2014)
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post #15 of 95
Apple's been down this road before... it would really surprise me if they went 100% into a non-intel design. How fast we forget history.
post #16 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ireland View Post

Nothing a few years out in the CE or computer world is inevitable. For all we know in a few years time Intel may have chips for the iPhone that blow ARM away, use less power and Apple uses those in their mobile devices instead, and keeps using improved Intel chips in Macs. Nothing is guaranteed here.


The tech world goes so fast, who knows what the future will bring. But it would mean a change in how developers work. Most of them don't want the additional hassle of having to port a program to a platform which gathers only a small percentage of users.

post #17 of 95

Hardware and chip type are all well and good but 'it's the software stupid', I mean I have twelve cores at my disposal and when rendering with hyperthreading I get twenty four virtual cores, but if I go model something I get one! worse still if I go int AE because Adobes Open CL implementation is crap mainly because they've gone with Nvidia s Cuda implementation I'm equally screwed, all I'm saying is that unless the code written leverages the chipsets full potential its somewhat arbitrary which architecture you have, when we were risc based in the Motorola days all we ever got were Windows ports for programs and when we went Intel based all we've had are Windows port of programs and if we go arm based all well get is Windows ports of programs, plus ça change.

post #18 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

It's "inevitable" that Apple will merge its Mac and iOS devices at some point, but such a change is not expected to happen for years, in the eyes of one industry watcher.

 

 

Nothing more than last years recycled nonsense rumor.

 

Top end ARM chips are totally outclassed, even by the PowerPC chips Apple transitioned away from in 2005.

 

ARM may be getting faster, but it doesn't come close to catching Intel in the foreseeable future.

post #19 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by cpenzone View Post

Apple's been down this road before... it would really surprise me if they went 100% into a non-intel design. How fast we forget history.

 

The problem back then was that Apple didn't call the shots. IBM and Motorola did, and they both left Apple in the lurch. These days the story is very much different as Apple is financially and technically very much in control. 

post #20 of 95

Forget CPU power for a minute, how about the GPU? If we need 4 cores just to power an iPad are we going to need 64 to match the 650M in the Mac?

 

Come on...

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post #21 of 95
Apple has lot's of experience running software compiled for one platform on another. OS-X is designed with the idea that applications can be compiled for different architectures and appropriate bridge software is automatically used for non-native applications.

The glue software is architecture specific. It needs to be re-written (or discontinued) before Apple moves to a new architecture.

The original Mac was 68K based. When Apple switched to PPC they included software to seamlessly run 68K code on PPC. Apple discontinued this software before switching to Intel.

When Apple switched to Intel, they included "Rosetta". This was their name for the bridge software that allowed PPC code to seamlessly run on Intel architecture.

It is doubtful that Apple wants to invest the resources to allow PPC software to run on ARM. Therefore Apple would likely discontinue support for Rosetta before switching to ARM. For marketing purposes Apple would want to claim that anything that runs on the Intel Mac will also run on the ARM Mac. They would want to discontinue Rosetta about a year or two prior to switching to ARM. In this way the public would not associate the loss of Rosetta with the ARM switch.

Apple discontinued Rosetta with Lion. This was a big step in the move to ARM.

OS-X is already up and running on millions of ARM processor. Apple calls the ARM version "iOS".

Apple has in-house chip designers working on ARM chip designs. Apple loves having complete control over their hardware. Using custom designed chips fits in with Apple's business strategy.

Lots of people will argue that ARM is inappropriate for the Mac, and that Intel is a better choice. These arguments are irrelevant. Apple is targeting the consumer market, not the high end professional. ARM chips are more then sufficient for this market.

Apple sells far more ARM based iOS devices than Macs. Apple's main business is the iPhone and iPad. That's where they make their money. The Mac will switch to ARM as this allows it leverage off Apples iPhone/iPad development. I suspect it also drastically reduces their cost per CPU chip which translates into higher profits.

The Mac will certainly switch to ARM processors.
post #22 of 95

Of course Windows is supporting ARM now, so there's no reason that by the time the switch happens that Windows wouldn't run on it.  It will not be the entire lineup, and probably be something in the Air category first.

post #23 of 95

OK  This is going to another one of those subjects where nobody on here thinks it will happen, then, what-do-you-know...it does! 

 

I think what some of you fail to see, is that as soon ARM processors are fast enough to become 'adequate' (by that I mean good enough for ordinary people to watch films and browse etc), the line between tablet and laptop will blur and Intel will just fade away as a niche processor for high end users. 

My guess is that the first 'laptops' with ARM will be IOS based machines targeting low end users.

 

Well that's my prediction, feel free to re visit this post in 3 years.


Edited by monstrosity - 11/6/12 at 6:56am
post #24 of 95

No way. A full x86 compatibility is a must. Besides power. Intel power. No toy-like ARM power.

post #25 of 95
Originally Posted by mfryd View Post
Apple discontinued Rosetta with Lion. This was a big step in the move to ARM.

 

Moving entirely to x86 was a… big step in moving to ARM?

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post #26 of 95
The world of computing should be very different in a few years. As we have seen in the last 15 years, things change tremendously.
post #27 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by zunx View Post

No way. A full x86 compatibility is a must. Besides power. Intel power. No toy-like ARM power.

 

It's always difficult to foresee the future, especially because it's not the same as what you can see now.

Lots of engineers in the know didn't see the transistor as a replacement of the vacuum tube back in the 50's.

How could such an unreliable low power device replace the far superior vacuum tube, that's impossible.

I must admit, the future of ARM is a lot easier to predict.

 

J.

post #28 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by cpenzone View Post

Apple's been down this road before... it would really surprise me if they went 100% into a non-intel design. How fast we forget history.

Yes, how fast.  11 years ago, die hard Apple users would have said "It would really amaze me if they went 100% into a non-PPC design.'

 

This OS has been ported and sold to run on at least 4 platforms  68K SPARC, HP-RISC, PPC, X86 and ARM.  

 

Moving the Mac fork to ARM is purely a capability curve decision.  we've had this discussion before... ARM is improving faster within it's own space, but in the overall performance/power/price curve Intel has the edge.  If there is a change, Apple will adjust.  And given that Apple enjoys tweaking the chip to match it's performance requirements, moving away from stock Intel (say a custom chip built by, say, AMD) would be 100% within their design parameters.

 

The real game changer is the move away from 'WinTel compatibility' as a must have for a set of customers.  Not too long ago, Boot Camp was a key marketing bullet.  You don't see it now.   If that continues, I think the key issue is Apple 'controlling' its key components that tightly integrate with their OS and app compiler platforms... that leads to 'inhousing' CPU design, which at that point if the ARM price performance power curve is right, they'll move.   If not, it wouldn't surprise me for Apple to buy a controlling share of AMD, or strike a deal with Intel for a x86 design fork unique only to Apple. 

post #29 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by zunx View Post

No way. A full x86 compatibility is a must. Besides power. Intel power. No toy-like ARM power.

for you maybe, but not for the typical (read: most) Apple Macbook (Air) users.

 

Intel never had the best pure performance, just the best pricing model given the WinTel duopoly, and the ability to deliver in quantity.

post #30 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by mfryd View Post

Lots of people will argue that ARM is inappropriate for the Mac, and that Intel is a better choice. These arguments are irrelevant. Apple is targeting the consumer market, not the high end professional. ARM chips are more then sufficient for this market.

 

I don't agree with this. Even consumers are doing video editing / processing, photo editing, audio conversion, running multi-apps, number processing, etc. 

 

If Apple transitions to ARM, I don't believe it will be 100%. I believe their low-end machines will, but the rest will be Intel. ARM isn't going to catch up to Intel. Intel has so much speed in their back pocket right now, they could literally jump another 1-2ghz overnight if they wanted to. They are simply waiting for AMD to catch up.  

 

Assuming Apple transitions to ARM 100%, their computers are going to continue to be inferior to PC/Intel computers. That also assumes that Apple doesn't care about the developers that got them to where they are at today. We (developers) pine for performance. No one likes to build 50 times a day on slow hardware. Also, consumers aren't dumb, they still take numbers into account when purchasing items. A huge portion of Apple's consumer base will drop off if this happens, as their software isn't so much better than the competition that consumers will completely ignore performance on the other side. 

 

 

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post #31 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by monstrosity View Post

 

I'm not so sure. I'm not a processor expert but I believe there is something fundamental about ARM chips which makes them pretty hard to compete with when taking into consideration power consumption/speed.

As laptops are already running red hot, power consumption becomes more and more important, favouring ARM designs going forward.

 

Intel may one day come out with a quantum processor, but that technology is still a long way away. Till then, my money is on ARM (which it is literally as I own ARM stock).

 

This is fairly spot on if you ask me.  

 

I am also far short of being a chip expert, but even the tiniest amount of searching will show that the intel x86 designs are really not that good.  They get good performance expressly because they don't care about things like heat dissipation and efficiency.  It's all about raw power.  They are neither efficient nor particularly well designed because they operate under almost none of the constraints that ARM chips have.

 

Anything can happen, but intel is on top right now because of the special "Wintel" relationship and because of history.  

They certainly aren't on top because they are the best designed chips around.  

post #32 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by monstrosity View Post

I'm not so sure. I'm not a processor expert but I believe there is something fundamental about ARM chips which makes them pretty hard to compete with when taking into consideration power consumption/speed.
As laptops are already running red hot, power consumption becomes more and more important, favouring ARM designs going forward.

Intel may one day come out with a quantum processor, but that technology is still a long way away. Till then, my money is on ARM (which it is literally as I own ARM stock).

It's my understanding that ARM is great at the low end but can't be scaled to 3 and 4GHz like Intel chips to get the same performance per watt.

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post #33 of 95
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post
It's my understanding that ARM is great at the low end but can't be scaled to 3 and 4GHz like Intel chips to get the same performance per watt.

 

That would partially explain the heat and terrible battery life of even the 1.5GHz Snapdragon processors.

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post #34 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleSauce007 View Post

ARM based Macs will come but Intel based Macs will remain.
While hiring AMD veteran Jim Mergard adds more CPU design expertise at Apple, it does not necessary mean they will drop Intel. Hec, they may license the basic x86 design from Intel or AMD and make their own desktop CPUs.
Time will tell.

I think you're mostly on the right track. I do not, however, see Macs running ARM any time soon. Instead, I see an iPad Pro (perhaps even with a keyboard and MBA configuration) which would be one step above an iPad, but still far below a Mac. And they could make something that looks like an iMac (albeit probably with a much smaller screen due to GPU limitations) that could use faster processors since battery life wouldn't be an issue.

But I just don't see any chance of Macs switching. Why is it that all of these ARM proponents keep talking about ARM performance improving but assume that x86 performance will not?
Quote:
Originally Posted by mfryd View Post

Apple discontinued Rosetta with Lion. This was a big step in the move to ARM.

That doesn't make any sense.

If they do switch to ARM, they're going to need some kind of compatibility layer for apps that have not yet been ported. So they'd need to resurrect Rosetta. So how does canceling Rosetta help them down the path toward a future which would require Rosetta?
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post #35 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by Seankill View Post

I guess I'll be switching back to pcs then. Cause I want a processor that's powerful and compatible with windows.
Stupid move IMO
I like ARM in phones Etc
Hopefully it's just be like a version of the MacBook Air and not all MacBooks

 

The change will not be any time soon, as stated. 

 

And by the time it *does* happen, whatever Apple chooses WILL be powerful enough. Apple isn't stupid, LOL. They understand the market better than anyone. 

 

As for running Windows. Who cares?  

post #36 of 95

Well, change is inevitable. 

 

*shrugs*

post #37 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post


It's my understanding that ARM is great at the low end but can't be scaled to 3 and 4GHz like Intel chips to get the same performance per watt.

This is correct. In fact at those speeds (currently) Intel trounces ARM. Inherently x86 and ARM were designed to do very different things. As technology progresses the line blurs, but at it's core many things remain the same with each respective design, which is why such a move seems odd.  Intel probably could catch up to ARM in PPW before ARM could catch Intel on performance. Dark Horse: Intel still has a license for ARM, though they maintain they have no intention of using it. 

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post #38 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gazoobee View Post

 

This is fairly spot on if you ask me.  

 

I am also far short of being a chip expert, but even the tiniest amount of searching will show that the intel x86 designs are really not that good.  They get good performance expressly because they don't care about things like heat dissipation and efficiency.  It's all about raw power.  They are neither efficient nor particularly well designed because they operate under almost none of the constraints that ARM chips have.

 

Anything can happen, but intel is on top right now because of the special "Wintel" relationship and because of history.  

They certainly aren't on top because they are the best designed chips around.  

 

This is what the danger of "a little knowledge" looks like. There is a small theoretical advantage to ARM simpler instruction set.

 

But this is swamped by execution.  The real reason ARM was historically so much better at mobile, is because that is what they have been building for, for years, while Intel OTOH concentrated on high performance.

 

In case you haven't noticed, Intel is waking up. Check out the Motorola Razr i, with an Intel Atom inside. It was the only phone to regularly beat the new A6 iPhone on benchmarks, and it is still gets good battery life.

 

Next year, Intel is releasing a brand new Atom Architecture (first in 5 years) it will be arriving on Intels mature 22nm process and coming in varieties ranging from 1 core to 4 core.

 

After that Intel is planning to start doing Tic-Toc iterations in mobile, like they do on desktops (where the obliterated AMD).

 

In three years most new Android phones could be running Intel Atoms and making iPhones looks slow in comparison and all the talk will be about how Apple is going to switch iOS to Intel and ditch non competetive ARM.

 

The truth is we don't know, but anyone writing off Intel in Mobile or saying an Apple switch of OSX to ARM is inevitable, is clueless.

post #39 of 95
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ireland View Post

Nothing a few years out in the CE or computer world is inevitable. For all we know in a few years time Intel may have chips for the iPhone that blow ARM away, use less power and Apple uses those in their mobile devices instead, and keeps using improved Intel chips in Macs. Nothing is guaranteed here.

 

I agree.  I think the article's point is that Apple is preparing to move the Arm into the Macs, which they will do if and only if it makes sense.  And as you say, they might surprise us the other way and move Intel into the iOS world, if and only if that makes sense.  But I think the take-home point is there are may different ways the technology may go in the next few years, and Apple does a pretty good job staying light on its feet unlike some of its competitors.

post #40 of 95

Using the app store this would not be an issue.

 

1) Compile creates a FAT version of the binary.

2) Downloading to ARM machines would strip the intel code and vice versa.

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