When Apple Inc. switched from using IBM processors to Intel chips in its venerable Macintosh computer line almost seven years ago, it was a big deal.
The late Steve Jobs and Paul Otellini, president and CEO of Intel, appeared on stage together at Macworld 2006 to make the surprise announcement—with Jobs' typical flair—that iMacs with Intel's Core Duo processors were available immediately, six months ahead of schedule. Two of Silicon Valley's most famous and successful companies were finally getting together.
But now it appears that that run may be winding down. On Monday (Nov. 5), the Bloomberg news service reported that Apple is exploring ways to replace the Intel processors it uses in Macs with some version of the A5 and A6 SoCs it uses in its iPhones and iPads. The Bloomberg story, which cited unnamed sources "familiar with the company’s research" said Apple engineers have grown confident that the chips it uses for its mobile devices will one day be powerful enough to run desktop and notebook PCs.
Recall that last week Apple showed the door to two senior executives and reshuffled responsibility for several of its divisions. The company seemed to take pains to include in that announcement the cryptic statement that Apple's semiconductor teams—which now report to Senior Vice President Bob Mansfield—"have ambitious plans for the future."
Retooling Apple's ARM-based A6 to power PCs would certainly qualify as ambitious. It would also be consistent with Apple's modus operandi in recent years—moving toward vertical integration and greater control over the chips it uses in its products. It would, of course, require a great deal of work on both the hardware and software sides.Such a move, however, would not occur overnight--it would likely take Apple several years.
For Intel, it is unclear how large of a blow such a move by Apple would be. Apple—with its wild success and iconic products—is a prestigious logo to include on the customer slide in a Powerpoint presentation. But Intel's biggest customers are Hewlett-Packard Co. and Dell Inc. Apple sold 4.9 million Macs in its most recently concluded quarter; HP shipped 13.6 million PCs in the third quarter, while Dell shipped 9.2 million. Related stories:
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A quick search on LinkedIn for "Binary Translation" (BT) shows something of a mass exodus of such specialists from Nvidia within the last two years. BT was (is?) the essential enabler for "Project Denver"
Aren't 75% of Apple revenue from iPhone/iPad?
Isn't Samsung the biggest competior of Apple in smartphone and tablet?
Isn't Samsung manufacturing and helping design SOCs for Apple?
Who would going to manufacture this ARM processor for iMac? Most likely Samsung.
Then, what would do Apple good?
There's a tradeoff; Apple has to pay ARM for the architectural license and possibly per-chip royalties depending on the licensing agreement.
Apple's competition also pays licensing fees (Qualcomm, Samsung,
Going with Intel enables Apple to retain Intel's very generous volume/courtesy discounts on the silicon while at the same time leveraging Intel's large driver and compiler teams.
This in turn allows Apple to focus on innovating in other areas; OS/Middleware/Applications while at the same time improving margins and/or enabling Apple to price their products more competitively.
" If the consumer realises that all a Mac is, is a computer the same as a Sony or Lenovo, they won't pay the premium."
Which has basically never been the case in the history ~40 year history of Apple.
The "architecture" (x86 vs ARM) is irrelevant. x86 is actually a disadvantage, but a minor one, as all Intel chips since the Pentium immediately translate x86 into an ARM like RISC ISA.
What's left is microarchitecture and circuit technology. Of these, Intel currently leads in absolute performance per core, while ARM leads in performance per watt, which translates into throughput performance.