Apple may shun Intel for custom A-series chips in new Macs within 1-2 years

Posted:
in iPhone edited January 2015
Mac buyers in 2016 and beyond could have the option of purchasing a machine powered by Apple's A-series processors, which currently sit at the heart of the iPhone and iPad, according to KGI Securities' Ming-Chi Kuo.

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In a new report released Wednesday, a copy of which was obtained by AppleInsider, well-connected analyst Kuo suggests that Apple's in-house chips will reach a level of performance somewhere between Intel's Atom and Core i3 lines within the next 1-2 years. Removing Intel from the equation would allow Apple to better control the launch timing of the Mac line, he believes.
Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo believes Apple could ditch Intel and release Macs with custom A-series chips within the next one to two years.
Additionally, Kuo believes the company is laying groundwork to diversify the fabrication of its custom-designed processing units, including the iPhone and iPad's A-series and the Apple Watch's S-series.

Samsung is expected to split orders for the iPhone's next-generation A9 with Global Foundries, while TSMC would handle the A10 in 2016. The A9X --?which would power both the iPad and a new low-end Mac --?would be fabbed on TSMC's 16nm line, with the A10X moving to Samsung's 10nm plant.

TSMC is also expected to take over S-series production from Samsung, beginning with the S2 in the second-generation Apple Watch.




Perhaps the greatest strides forward for Apple's custom silicon were made in 2012 with the debut of the A7 chip, the first ever mass-produced 64-bit chip for mobile devices. Tests found that the A7 was a desktop-class CPU well beyond what traditional mobile chips had been capable of up until that point.

Apple followed up in 2013 not only with the launch of the more powerful A8 processor, but also with a beefed-up A8X CPU that powers the iPad Air 2. The processor's three-core architecture features approximately a billion more transistors than the A8 that powers the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.

Rumors of future Macs with custom ARM-based, Apple-designed chips have been around for years, well before the A-series processors became desktop-caliber CPUs. But Apple's Mac chip supplier Intel has made strides in power consumption with its own silicon in recent years, allowing for MacBook models with battery life beyond 15 hours of maximum uptime, more than enough for the average user's workday.



Still, Apple is reliant on Intel and its chip release schedule for major Mac upgrades, as evidenced by the lack of significant improvements to the Mac lineup in 2013. Faced with delays for Intel's next-generation Broadwell processors, Apple instead opted for minor speed bumps accompanied by price cuts for its MacBook Air and MacBook Pro series.

Of course, a switch from Intel processors to custom ARM chips would be a major transition for Apple, not only in terms of hardware, but also software for its OS X platform. One rumor from earlier this year claimed that Apple had built a "completely equivalent" OS X operating system in ARM, with several prototype machines already said to have been developed.

Specifically, it was said that Apple has developed an iMac desktop with four or eight 64-bit quad-core CPUs, while a Mac mini is said to have been made with four such cores. In addition, it was claimed that Apple has developed a 13-inch MacBook sporting up to eight 64-bit quad-core ARM chips.

Apple already made a switch along these lines once, in a massive transition from IBM's PowerPC chips to Intel's line of processors. That switch proved beneficial to Apple, allowing its machines to run Windows and also tapping into Intel's speedier chips, and as a result Mac sales went to new highs.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 183
    pmzpmz Posts: 3,433member

    I'm sure for Apple it has always been about How long Intel can continue to do better & faster than what we could do ourselves....and the time is coming where Apple could out pace them by developing for their own needs.

     

    This last year was a prime example of Apple's innovations being held back by reliance on Intel.

     

    Without any doubt, Apple is now in a position to make the processors they need for the machines they want to build, on their own timetable. 

     

    I'm excited about the potential performance of those chips. Apple building for themselves is way better than Apple using off the shelf components built for the entire PC industry.

     

    Just like how iOS devices are able to be near perfect without the need for anyone caring about whats inside....its time for Macs to become that as well.

  • Reply 2 of 183
    rogifanrogifan Posts: 10,669member
    Can someone explain why this is considered "breaking" news? To me the only thing that would warrant the "breaking" title would be a press release from Apple. Speculation from a supply chain analyst isn't breaking news.
  • Reply 3 of 183

    Anything that comes out of the mouth of Ming-Chi Kuo (Analyst) is considered breaking news by AppleInsider, and in fairness, he is correct quite often.

  • Reply 4 of 183
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Rogifan View Post



    Can someone explain why this is considered "breaking" news? To me the only thing that would warrant the "breaking" title would be a press release from Apple. Speculation from a supply chain analyst isn't breaking news.



    The research note was sent out this morning, we immediately began working on a story on it, and it's a big story, hence the "breaking" tag.

  • Reply 5 of 183
    rogifanrogifan Posts: 10,669member
    ombra2105 wrote: »
    Anything that comes out of the mouth of Ming-Chi Kuo (Analyst) is considered breaking news by AppleInsider, and in fairness, he is correct quite often.

    He is correct quite often? What's your source for that? How often is he correct on non-obvious things?
  • Reply 6 of 183
    ombra2105 wrote: »
    Anything that comes out of the mouth of Ming-Chi Kuo (Analyst) is considered breaking news by AppleInsider, and in fairness, he is correct quite often.

    Not really. It's not hard to predict we get new iPhones and iPads every year. He's wrong all the time.
  • Reply 7 of 183
    pmzpmz Posts: 3,433member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Rogifan View Post



    Can someone explain why this is considered "breaking" news? To me the only thing that would warrant the "breaking" title would be a press release from Apple. Speculation from a supply chain analyst isn't breaking news.



    Definitely not breaking news.

     

    Nevertheless, i'm still very excited for the future potential of Macs built with Apple-designed chips.

  • Reply 8 of 183
    misamisa Posts: 827member
    Not happening.

    Every time I see a story like this, all you need to do is look at the use-case, and it falls flat on it's face.
    1) Existing A-series and ARM based parts are still Pentium 3-era speeds on comparable workloads
    2) Intel's Atom parts are barely faster than Pentium 3-era parts
    3) Intel's onboard video has always been a joke, but mobile isn't much better.

    I could see Apple eventually producing a CPU/GPU that is more capable than Intel's weak mobile offerings, but Apple is unlikely to create an environment where they have to produce two versions of software for any extended period of time (see Motorola vs PPC, and PPC vs Intel.) Also look at how Microsoft fell on it's face with the Surface. Even if Apple produced a full version of OS X for an ARM based iMac or MacBook, the lack of being unable to just run every previous version of software will be felt and it will fail. Apple had an advantage earlier on when it switched from PPC to Intel because it was switching from a platform that only it was really using for desktops, so it could effectively push everyone off it. Not true with switching from x86 (look again at Microsoft, who also produced ARM, MIPS and ALPHA versions of Windows NT or CE at previous points in time.)

    It's extremely unlikely that Apple would produce a part that is anywhere performance parity of the Xeon series in the Mac Pro.

    There's also been some grumbling lately that OS X is getting too dumbed down that even people who normally like Apple are considering alternatives. Apple might be at a point in it's life where it might be more arrogant than Microsoft in making unnecessary changes to the operating system.
  • Reply 9 of 183
    rogifanrogifan Posts: 10,669member
    nhughes wrote: »

    The research note was sent out this morning, we immediately began working on a story on it, and it's a big story, hence the "breaking" tag.

    It's a research note. How is that a big story? A big story would be a press release from Apple announcing an ARM Mac. An analyst speculating on what Apple might do in the future isn't breaking news.
  • Reply 10 of 183
    chadbagchadbag Posts: 1,100member

    I think it would be quite cool to have a zillion ARM cores in a desktop or laptop.  Potentially a lot more power than a single quad core intel chip.

     

    However, having made prototypes means nothing about future plans.   NeXT supposedly had a many-core PPC version running for a long time in the labs before there was any speculation at all of any tie-up with Apple.   And Apple supposedly had classic MacOS running in the lab on intel for years but never did anything commercial with it.  Companies go down various paths to provide alternative routes if things don't go the way they expect with their main plans, or to try stuff out, or otherwise get experience with alternatives and/or contingency plans.

  • Reply 11 of 183
    The story didn't mention it, but switching off of Intel will cut the CPH cost into one-tenth the cost or less.

    With MS Office already running on iOS, there isn't much left to spoil the switch-over since enterprise loves iOS phones and tablets already (and IBM's influence is only now kicking in and is focused on iOS as well)

    Since a MBA running on an A-series chip is not even an announced dream, it could be known to IBM and was part of cementing the partnership.

    On another note: Children today are using the words, "google, or googling" as a generic word to mean "search for" even if they are not using the Google web site to do it. If this is the case, Google could lose the exclusive use of their own name like Frigidaire did many years ago.
  • Reply 12 of 183
    rob53rob53 Posts: 2,086member

    "Apple has developed an iMac desktop with four or eight 64-bit quad-core CPUs..." Can Grand Central (that's still the name of Apple's multi-processor management software isn't it?) actually allow applications to use this many cores without adjustments made to the application software? If so, this would be interesting and would make sense since all supercomputers make use of thousands of cores. After seeing how small the CPUs are in iPhones and iPads, adding several more wouldn't take up that much room. Of course iStat would need to figure out a different way to display their CPU stats since having 32 cores displayed would take up half the status bar. :-)

     

    Isn't the biggest problem with Apple changing to ARM the lack of GPUs (even though they do have some for the Retina displays) and Intel-specific coding used by vendors? Adobe is a lost cause getting them to convert to anything so they would really lag behind causing problems for those professional users.

  • Reply 13 of 183
    This story is B.S.

    An i3 is a crap Intel processor. For Apple to come out with a slower processor is B.S. particularly with the heavy demands that OS X places on the Mac hardware.

    It is easy to deflate this. Intel will allow licensed and custom-designed x64 Intel Processors from Apple just like ARM licenses its designs.

    Desktop CPUs have already reached the limits of physics to faster and faster processors. The primary growth is in GPU design. It would not give Apple more flexibility to create its own ARM designs that work at current desktop speeds because that would also run into the same problems Intel has, and the delays Intel has.
  • Reply 14 of 183

    I can understand that these chips are going to become more powerful. I can't see Apple adding an option for you to choose which line of CPU to include in your Mac. That really isn't a decision that would occur during a typical computer purchase. I think most people are comfortable selecting based on speed and price but add even a few other factors and this gets complicated quickly. If you're standing in the store or looking at the customization page at apple.com you're really not going to have the tools to assess whether to include an A-series or Intel chip.

  • Reply 15 of 183
    pmzpmz Posts: 3,433member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Misa View Post



    Not happening.





    There's also been some grumbling lately that OS X is getting too dumbed down that even people who normally like Apple are considering alternatives. 

     

    Right. Apple's unmatched success with custom designing chips for its most successful products ever, is not going to make its way to the Mac line. 

     

    If Apple could have done it already, they would have. It is only a matter of time.

     

    There are no such grumblings, by anyone other than you. I have used OS X since the day it was released. I was using OS 9 before that. No one with any degree of sincerity believes OS X is being "dumbed down". Certain mundane tasks and features that get improved by being simplified over time, does not equal being dumbed down.

     

    When 10 steps are taken down to 5 and eventually 1....that is called progress.

  • Reply 16 of 183
    maecvsmaecvs Posts: 129member
    That would be an incredibly stupid move. It would be like going back to the days of the Power PC chip. Windows compatibility would be gone, the critical reason the mac has made the in-roads into the PC market that it has today. The Mac would go back to being a niche product.
  • Reply 17 of 183
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Rogifan View Post





    It's a research note. How is that a big story? A big story would be a press release from Apple announcing an ARM Mac. An analyst speculating on what Apple might do in the future isn't breaking news.



    This analyst has broken some of the biggest Apple-related scoops of the last few years. It's a big story, and it broke this morning, and that's why we used the breaking tag.

  • Reply 18 of 183
    misa wrote: »
    Not happening.

    Every time I see a story like this, all you need to do is look at the use-case, and it falls flat on it's face.
    1) Existing A-series and ARM based parts are still Pentium 3-era speeds on comparable workloads
    2) Intel's Atom parts are barely faster than Pentium 3-era parts
    3) Intel's onboard video has always been a joke, but mobile isn't much better.

    I could see Apple eventually producing a CPU/GPU that is more capable than Intel's weak mobile offerings, but Apple is unlikely to create an environment where they have to produce two versions of software for any extended period of time (see Motorola vs PPC, and PPC vs Intel.)

    Look, Apple is CURRENTLY producing two versions of OS. In addition, Apple is also doing work to squeeze more performance out of the A-series chips, Metal and Swift come to mind... and we are only on the first iteration of those.

    There is little to encourage Apple to leave the intel standard for the desktop or pro Mac products, but Apple's focus is on mobility where they make the most of their money today and projected forward. Apple doesn't even need to make the iOS Macs touch-enabled, the keyboard/trackpad gets the job done just as well. All I see that needs to be done is let more apps access the docs that may have been created by a different app.
  • Reply 19 of 183
    The last line of this article is the killer for me: there is NO WAY an Ax (10,11, 12 whatever) could ever run a virtualized Windows. I need this for my work. Granted, most people don't.

    But that not withstanding, EVERY SINGLE APP you own would have to be repurchased (compiled for ARM). That alone would cost a fortune.

    Still, for newbes, it could work. They would, of course, need it to have a multi-user and REAL multitasking OS (i.e., it has to be Mac OS and not any kind of iOS). But it's possible.
  • Reply 20 of 183
    chadbagchadbag Posts: 1,100member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Misa View Post



    Not happening.



    Every time I see a story like this, all you need to do is look at the use-case, and it falls flat on it's face.

    1) Existing A-series and ARM based parts are still Pentium 3-era speeds on comparable workloads

    2) Intel's Atom parts are barely faster than Pentium 3-era parts

    3) Intel's onboard video has always been a joke, but mobile isn't much better.

     

     

    They don't need to make a CPU with equivalent performance to an intel chip.   For the same energy and thermal footprint, they can use many of their chips to replace a single intel chip.    A single quad core i7 looks to be around 80-85W depending on model (65/84/88 for the three listed on wikipedia).  I was not able to find power consumption on the A8X but found "tablet CPU power consumption" to be about 4-8W in estimates.  So lets use 8, and kick it up to 12W for an improved version of the A8X with faster clock speed, etc.  Now stick 6 of those in one machine, each with 3 cores.  That is 18 cores of 64bit ARM goodness, running 30-50% faster (based on our power bump estimates), vs 4 in the intel, for about the same or less power/heat usage/output as the single intel chip.

     

    I suspect that such a thing, once engineering had optimized things for that many cores, etc. would run quite well.

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