Editorial: Intel CPU constraints are sign on the road to ARM chips in the Mac

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in General Discussion
Apple CEO Tim Cook mentioned that Apple took about a five percent hit on Mac revenues because of constraints on Intel processors, and the company can't seem to break the 10nm process barrier. The last two times that a chip supplier couldn't keep its promises, Apple made a big move to another architecture -- and this is just another sign on the road to an ARM Mac coming relatively soon.




Apple has been rumored to be moving its Macs over to running on ARM processors in part because Intel hasn't been able to keep up performance. Yet there's a whole other side to the problem and it's volume. Right now Intel can't keep up with the demand it's got.

That sounds like a good problem to have, and certainly Apple has had its fair share of demand far outstripping supply. Plus Intel has just updated its H-series processor, the one that was used in the 2018 MacBook Pro.

Only, while it's faster than it was and of course that's what both Apple and we want, it's a stopgap. This new processor is still using Intel's now aging 14-nanometer production process. Intel hasn't set a deadline for itself for a process reduction in the last five years that it didn't miss.

Where other chip producers are looking at 7nm production and smaller, even if not quite the same across the board, Intel has even had to defend its efforts to make a 10nm process. Late in 2018, rumors purportedly from sources within Intel had even claimed that the company was secretly abandoning its 10nm processor development. Intel was quick to deny everything.

Media reports published today that Intel is ending work on the 10nm process are untrue. We are making good progress on 10nm. Yields are improving consistent with the timeline we shared during our last earnings report.

-- Intel News (@intelnews)


That was in October 2018, though, and just a month before, Intel had owned up to some overall problems caused by increased demand for its processors in PCs.

"The surprising return to PC TAM [total addressable market] growth has put pressure on our factory network," wrote CFO and Interim CEO Bob Swan in an open letter. "We're prioritizing the production of Intel Xeon and Intel Core processors so that collectively we can serve the high-performance segments of the market. That said, supply is undoubtedly tight, particularly at the entry-level of the PC market."

He went on to list what Intel was doing to address this inability to keep up with demand. It included specifics such as investing an extra $1 billion into its 14nm plants in Oregon, Arizona, Ireland, and Israel. Plus he made broader claims to do with the future development of processors.

"We're making progress with 10nm," wrote Swan. "Yields are improving and we continue to expect volume production in 2019."

Intel's investments and expectations of improved supply followed after reports in September 2018 that Intel's slow production was causing it to strongly consider outsourcing its production, including to Apple A-series chip foundry TSMC. It was claimed by report sources that it was falling short of demand for 14-nanometer processors by "as much as 50 percent," with candidates including the H310 and other 300-series chipsets, some of which had allegedly suffered shortages of supply since May.

Some evidence towards the short supplies include a raise in price for its cheaper processors, while the high-end Core i7-8700K was reportedly going in and out of stock at retailers, a problem compounded by its high-end nature likely equating to lower production figures than others the firm produces.

Apple's choices made

Back in 2016, Apple released the first new case design in the MacBook Pro since the 2012 Retina MacBook Pro. As you'd expect, it was thinner and lighter than the 2012.

The MacBook Pro enclosure was very clearly designed for a roadmap that Intel set forth. Intel did crank out faster chips for the machine, sure, at the same thermal design profile (TDP). But, TDP is a measure of a chip at its rated speed, and has nothing to do with the "turbo" speeds, and the dissipation thereof.

So, what we ended up with in 2018 was the six-core i9 MacBook Pro. As shipped, the firmware wasn't up to snuff in regards to thermal control, but even after the patch, the machine still isn't all it could have been, had Intel shipped its 10nm process parts that would have less waste heat -- yes, even at turbo -- for the same processing power in 2017, like it undoubtedly promised to Apple during the 2016 chassis design process.

And then, there's "Marzipan." We've already spoken about it as some length about it being Apple's long-game gateway to ARM Macs, and won't repeat the discussion here.

Other industry doubts

Intel's biggest buyers aren't entirely buying Intel's spin on the chip shortage matter.

"[It's] unfortunate when any key component goes into shortage," said HP's CEO Dion Weisler in 2018. "There's always something in this industry, at the moment it happens to be chips from Intel." At the time, Weisler predicted shortages for the next six months and mentioned that AMD "has got a fantastic portfolio... they are really strong now."

Lenovo's Chief Operating Officer agreed with HP's assessment of the matter.

"It's going to be in my opinion probably for the next six months," said Gianfranco Lanci. "I agree that AMD is going to be a good alternative in terms of performance, it's a good alternative in terms of supply."

And, there are more complaints from other vendors. Even Microsoft has Windows for ARM -- but they did that for other reasons.

All roads point to ARM

AppleInsider has talked before about how Intel is now in the position that PowerPC was before Apple moved away from it -- and that Motorola was in before PowerPC.

Yet that was solely focusing on the weakening performance of those company's processors, and the way that their future roadmap wasn't promising. Even if Intel could make the processors that Apple wants, with the performance it wants, in the thermal envelope it needs, it isn't making them in enough volume -- and Tim Cook has specifically pointed out that Intel is failing to deliver.

We also talked about how a shift to ARM for Mac is effectively inevitable and not a cause for concern for most. And, if reports are true, many of Apple's remaining 32-bit routines aren't going to be updated to 64-bit for whatever geologic feature macOS 10.15 is called. The 32-bit "appocalypse" is heralding a 64-bit future without cruft left over from 32-bit days.

Intel literally can't make chips fast enough. But soon, Apple probably isn't going to care.



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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 80
    LordZeddLordZedd Posts: 3unconfirmed, member
    I've been through the 6502-68K, 68K-PPC and PPC-Intel switches. If there is a switch to ARM, I'm out. No bootcamp, no VM, no games at all, no professional apps, no drivers for anything.
    mpw_amherstmaltzwilliamlondondonjuan1st
  • Reply 2 of 80
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 4,752member
    This is actually a shame.  Intel blew it with 5G, and for the past several years with the x86.  Apple will jettison them like a bad habit and Intel only has itself to blame. 

    I do hope there is an option to run Windows as a virtual machine at a decent speed.  Running Windows on a Mac was the primary (now secondary) reason I purchased my first Mac back in the day.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 80
    seanismorrisseanismorris Posts: 1,109member
    I don’t think Apple is going to go from Intel -> AMD -> ARM.

    On the other hand, it’s probable that others (HP/Dell/Google/Microsoft) in PC’s and Cloud will increasingly look to AMD as a credible Intel Alternative.  That should free up supply for Apple long enough to make their own transition to ARM.

    Intel (years ago) looked to other Foundry’s to build their Atom chips.  It might be time to slowly wind down their own Fountry’s and increase those relationships (over the next decade). 
  • Reply 4 of 80
    blastdoorblastdoor Posts: 1,967member
    AMD is an option, too. In the past, AMD was hamstrung by a weak fab partner (which was just its own weak spun-off fabs). But now AMD is moving to TSMC, the same fab Apple uses. And TSMC is ahead of Intel in fab process. 

    The advantage of going with AMD is that Apple keeps x86 compatibility which, though not essential by any means, is a feature with some value, particularly for people who need/want to run x86 Windows apps either in bootcamp or emulation. Sony and Microsoft used AMD for the PS4 and XBONE, and Sony is signing up with them again for the next playstation. Also, Apple currently uses AMD for GPUs. 

    The disadvantage is that despite recent improvements, AMD still lags Intel (and perhaps also Apple) in chip design. I think that if Apple were willing to expend the effort, they could design a better CPU than AMD. I'm just not sure if Apple is willing to expend the effort for the Mac. 


    entropysdesignrchaickawatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 80
    wood1208wood1208 Posts: 2,027member
    If Intel executes 10nm chips schedule properly than it will be last Intel chips to go in Macbook/PRO. Intel in conference call said it will make 10nm ICE processors based on Lakefield packaging for one specific customer and my guess that could be Apple.
  • Reply 6 of 80
    deminsddeminsd Posts: 143member
    Everyone blaming Intel, yet it's Apple that insists on paper thin, fan-less laptop designs that defy physics on keeping them cool.  The rest of us (Windows users) enjoy the latest and greatest chips and hardware and increasing performance with 8th and 9th gen chips.  I'm fine with fans.  They come on when needed, and are silent otherwise.  I also like having the ability to remove a few screws and change / add more larger SSD's or memory. 

    10nm will be nice when it arrives, but I don't see it being Intel's fault that Apple cannot move forward in performance.
    edited May 1 maltzwilliamlondondonjuanpratikindiacrowleyElCapitanLatkozoetmb
  • Reply 7 of 80
    MisterKitMisterKit Posts: 292member
    I’m in over my head knowledge wise but it stood out that Microsoft has full Windows running on ARM. Not some watered down version. Maybe emulation will be a moot point.
    designrFred257
  • Reply 8 of 80
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 5,004administrator
    wood1208 said:
    If Intel executes 10nm chips schedule properly than it will be last Intel chips to go in Macbook/PRO. Intel in conference call said it will make 10nm ICE processors based on Lakefield packaging for one specific customer and my guess that could be Apple.
    We're coming up on two years since the first estimated delivery date has passed on this one, so I'm not holding my breath.
    lolliver
  • Reply 9 of 80
    georgie01georgie01 Posts: 273member
    deminsd said:
    Everyone blaming Intel, yet it's Apple that insists on paper thin, fan-less laptop designs that defy physics on keeping them cool.  The rest of us (Windows users) enjoy the latest and greatest chips and hardware and increasing performance with 8th and 9th gen chips.  I'm fine with fans.  They come on when needed, and are silent otherwise.  I also like having the ability to remove a few screws and change / add more larger SSD's or memory. 

    10nm will be nice when it arrives, but I don't see it being Intel's fault that Apple cannot move forward in performance.
    The MacBookPro’s have rather nice fans...

    There are certainly advantages to the Windows market of computers, but the reality is that relatively few actually capitalise on upgradeability and it’s likely Apple decided to use their hardware design prowess to implement other nice features in light of the fact that most potential buyers won’t upgrade their Macbook’s anyway.
    edited May 1 StrangeDaystmay
  • Reply 10 of 80
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 5,004administrator
    deminsd said:
    Everyone blaming Intel, yet it's Apple that insists on paper thin, fan-less laptop designs that defy physics on keeping them cool.  The rest of us (Windows users) enjoy the latest and greatest chips and hardware and increasing performance with 8th and 9th gen chips.  I'm fine with fans.  They come on when needed, and are silent otherwise.  I also like having the ability to remove a few screws and change / add more larger SSD's or memory. 

    10nm will be nice when it arrives, but I don't see it being Intel's fault that Apple cannot move forward in performance.
    Apple doesn't design in a vacuum, and designs multi-year enclosures on promises from vendors. Like we said in the article, we know that Intel was asked about future thermal performance in 2015 and 2016. Intel was promising 10nm, and all the benefits, for early 2017, and we're also sure that some decisions were made regarding it vis a vis the enclosure in the design process.

    Max Speed. Thin. Quiet. Pick two. Apple has picked thin and quiet, and has done so for very nearly a decade. It's great that you like the ability to "remove a few screws" and etc. I do as well, but the much, much larger customer base does not, and prefers thin and quiet. And, I'm sure that you see this drive for thin in the Windows market as well. The shift has been obvious for the last five years.


    pscooter63fastasleepn2itivguywilliamlondonStrangeDayslolliverdesignrcommentzillatmayJWSC
  • Reply 11 of 80
    sirozhasirozha Posts: 618member
    LordZedd said:
    I've been through the 6502-68K, 68K-PPC and PPC-Intel switches. If there is a switch to ARM, I'm out. No bootcamp, no VM, no games at all, no professional apps, no drivers for anything.
    The only way for Apple to ensure that there are plenty of apps for the ARM-based macOS is
    to make a hybrid iOS/macOS device. With the Marzipan framework, the same app can run in iOS and macOS with minimal effort. That’s the only way to leverage the plethora of existing iOS apps to run in the desktop (aka ARM-based macOS) mode. Otherwise, few developers will want to develop for the ARM-based macOS. 

    By the way, the ARM-based Macs will only happen with lower-end Macs, such as MacBook and perhaps MacBook Air. The MacBook Pros will continue to be intel-based for a foreseeable future. 
    tmay
  • Reply 12 of 80
    sirozhasirozha Posts: 618member
    blastdoor said:
    AMD is an option, too. In the past, AMD was hamstrung by a weak fab partner (which was just its own weak spun-off fabs). But now AMD is moving to TSMC, the same fab Apple uses. And TSMC is ahead of Intel in fab process. 

    The advantage of going with AMD is that Apple keeps x86 compatibility which, though not essential by any means, is a feature with some value, particularly for people who need/want to run x86 Windows apps either in bootcamp or emulation. Sony and Microsoft used AMD for the PS4 and XBONE, and Sony is signing up with them again for the next playstation. Also, Apple currently uses AMD for GPUs. 

    The disadvantage is that despite recent improvements, AMD still lags Intel (and perhaps also Apple) in chip design. I think that if Apple were willing to expend the effort, they could design a better CPU than AMD. I'm just not sure if Apple is willing to expend the effort for the Mac. 


    I’ve been hearing about s3x simulators for a while now but didn’t know that Microsoft released XBONE. Thanks for letting us know. 
  • Reply 13 of 80
    realisticrealistic Posts: 1,147member
    deminsd said:
    Everyone blaming Intel, yet it's Apple that insists on paper thin, fan-less laptop designs that defy physics on keeping them cool.  The rest of us (Windows users) enjoy the latest and greatest chips and hardware and increasing performance with 8th and 9th gen chips.  I'm fine with fans.  They come on when needed, and are silent otherwise.  I also like having the ability to remove a few screws and change / add more larger SSD's or memory. 

    10nm will be nice when it arrives, but I don't see it being Intel's fault that Apple cannot move forward in performance.
    It is Intel's fault 100%. Intel provided Apple, HP, Lenvo and others with the product map. specs, information and timelines for what they planned to make and when, so that they all could build new harder to take of advantage of Intels 'advanced' chips in designing their new hardware and now Intel can't deliver the goods.
    lollivertmay
  • Reply 14 of 80
    aplnubaplnub Posts: 2,596member
    LordZedd said:
    I've been through the 6502-68K, 68K-PPC and PPC-Intel switches. If there is a switch to ARM, I'm out. No bootcamp, no VM, no games at all, no professional apps, no drivers for anything.
    Windows is driving in the same direction. They even have a version of Windows running on ARM. Don't jump off a bridge yet.
    lollivertmay
  • Reply 15 of 80
    crimguycrimguy Posts: 118member
    I'd go AMD in a heartbeat.  They don't run that cool though.  I have an 1800x desktop and it is a fine performer for an incredible price.  

    Can arm hit those kind of performance numbers?  I'm asking honestly - I've seen incredible ios benchmarks but that's apples/oranges.
  • Reply 16 of 80
    JWSCJWSC Posts: 552member

    There’s a potential play here for Apple with Intel.

    1) Intel is in a weakened position with their capitulation in 5G modems and falling behind in wafer fab technologies.  2) Apple apparently doesn’t get first dibs on chips coming out of Intel.

    They could either walk away from each other or...

    If Apple were to throw, let’s say, $5B at Intel to build a new state of the art 7 nm plant, Apple could ask for and almost certainly get preference in first shipments for the next few years ahead of its PC frenemies.  This keeps Apple in the same architecture as the PC club but puts them at the front of the line when it comes to processor shipments alleviating supply constraints.  Not saying it will happen but it’s just a thought.

  • Reply 17 of 80
    blastdoorblastdoor Posts: 1,967member
    crimguy said:
    I'd go AMD in a heartbeat.  They don't run that cool though.  I have an 1800x desktop and it is a fine performer for an incredible price.  

    Can arm hit those kind of performance numbers?  I'm asking honestly - I've seen incredible ios benchmarks but that's apples/oranges.
    The issue isn't ARM per se, the issue is whether firms designing ARM-based CPUs are willing/able to make the level of investment needed to match Intel and AMD. I believe that Apple is absolutely capable of meeting or beating Intel and AMD. The real question is whether they are willing to spend the time and money to do it when, really, they don't have to. 

    But there's no technical limitation preventing an ARM CPU from competing with an x86 CPU. 
    tmay
  • Reply 18 of 80
    Here's what's going to happen...

    Apple will take the Mac's to ARM, alongside their new technology that allows a custom-modified AMD processor to run x86-64 code, but still thunk everything over to ARM for actual processing. Since they won't be literally emulating the x86, Intel can't sue.

    Now that Intel has bailed on 5G (and the iPhone remains FAR more important than the Mac), there's no reason for Apple to kowtow to Intel. 

    Apple may buy AMD since they're already heavily into their GPU's for Macs...less likely they'll buy Intel because they don't want to be in the server business.
  • Reply 19 of 80
    ctt_zhctt_zh Posts: 2member
    aplnub said:
    LordZedd said:
    I've been through the 6502-68K, 68K-PPC and PPC-Intel switches. If there is a switch to ARM, I'm out. No bootcamp, no VM, no games at all, no professional apps, no drivers for anything.
    Windows is driving in the same direction. They even have a version of Windows running on ARM. Don't jump off a bridge yet.
    You can indeed buy a Windows 10 ARM machine right now, they are typically very cheap machines to compete with Chromebooks. However, Windows 10 Intel PCs are going nowhere. If Apple does (eventually...) go the ARM / AMD graphics route, the Intel / nVidia combination in PCs would offer significant advantages for many users.
    tmay
  • Reply 20 of 80
    davgregdavgreg Posts: 482member
    The possibility also exists for Apple to develop its own x86 chips. They certainly have the people capable of doing the work.
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