Apple Looking To Drop Intel On Mac For ARM-Based Processors From iOS [Report]

Apple Looking To Drop Intel On Mac For ARM-Based Processors From iOS [Report]

Back in 2005, Steve Jobs announced that Apple had dropped PowerPC for Intel. Fast forward to 2012, and Intel may be on the way out.

For years, the rumor mill has been saying that Apple is looking to ditch Intel’s processors in the Mac lineup. Since the rise of iOS, Apple’s own “A” series chips have powered products like the iPhone and the iPad. Apple is a company known for wanting complete control over every facet of product design, including the innards of its iPhones and Macs.

Apple has partnered with Intel on the Mac for the past seven years, but internal changes within the Cupertino company could see the Mac move to ARM-based processors in the near future.

According to a new report from Bloomberg:

Apple engineers have grown confident that the chip designs used for its mobile devices will one day be powerful enough to run its desktops and laptops, said three people with knowledge of the work, who asked to remain anonymous because the plans are confidential. Apple began using Intel chips for Macs in 2005.

While Apple is now committed to Intel in computers and is unlikely to switch in the next few years, some engineers say a shift to its own designs is inevitable as the features of mobile devices and PCs become more similar, two people said. Any change would be a blow to Intel, the world’s largest processor maker, which has already been hurt by a stagnating market for computers running Microsoft’s Windows software and its failure to gain a foothold in mobile gadgets.

The report frames its claims in the recent Apple executive shakeup narrative, highlighting that Bob Mansfield has been brought back to Apple to lead a new Technologies group focused on “ambitious” plans for semiconductors and wireless technologies. Reportedly, the internal thinking at Apple is that the processors powering devices like the iPhone will soon be robust enough to fuel desktop machines like the iMac.

The A6 in the iPhone 5 is fast, but it’s nowhere near as powerful as the Intel Ivy Bridge chips that power new Mac models. There’s still a huge discrepancy between mobile and desktop processor performance, but Apple obviously believes that it can close the gap in time. My colleague John Brownlee has already argued the pros and cons of ARM vs. Intel on the Mac. ARM is great for power efficiency,  but there won’t be an ARM chip in the next several years that is a serious threat to the horsepower Intel wields.

Apple has definitely been building up its processor talent with aqui-hires and the new position filled by Bob Mansfield. Power efficiency, battery life, and thinness will always be at the forefront of Apple’s design choices, so don’t be surprised to see an Apple-branded chip make its way into future MacBook models before the iMac or Mac Pro.

Something is definitely up. Watch your back, Intel.

  • ac1dra1n

    I agree with this 100% imagine the speed and efficiency with that much more space to work with. I think they will do this with the MacBook Air first. It makes more sense in the “ultrabook world”

  • TheKnightWhoSaysNi

    I originally moved to the Mac because it had the x86 safety net. Being able to run Windows if I needed to gave me enough assurance to make the jump. That was 6 years ago, and I haven’t needed Windows for about 5 years now. I wonder, however, if such a move would deter new adopters.

  • CharilaosMulder

    The A6 (A6X for bigger screens) really is powerful enough for the basic tasks, and even somewhat more complex tasks. That said, a huge percentage of Mac/PC users would be covered with this kind of performance. Imagine the battery life on a MacBook. Imagine how green it would be. Imagine it not getting warm at all, imagine no fan at all. I’d love to use an A6X powered MBA as a portable for developing software, communicating, using creativity apps and some basic gaming.

  • Robert X

    I doubt very much that they are going to drop Intel on the desktop. That would be very foolish.

  • Tkf530

    I hope that they make a “Fusion Processor” that has an ARM and x86 processor.

  • Yellowcows

    The Rise and Fall of a great company that is only happy with 4-5 %Market Share… They constantly try to irritate their consumers…

  • Shaun Green

    As the Intel based Mac side of the business shrinks into an ever decreasing percentage of Apples revenue against the ARM based iOS side of the business it makes perfect sense for Apple to investigate the possibility of switching, if only to maintain the economies of scale and reduce their reliance on outside companies like Intel for their core components. They could of course simple buy AMD and make their own chips. AMDs’ market cap and share price is so low it wouldn’t even make a dent in Apple’s cash pile.

  • dcdevito

    Smart move, it would complete the transition into the post PC era.

  • jahsoul

    With this, I begin to question how Apple view those use their devices other than “it being a Mac.” Since Mac has become the cool and hip thing, power users has been getting the shaft. How many Macbooks, iMacs, and Mac Mini’s have we seen since 2010? Now, how many Mac Pros have we seen since 2010? Power efficiency isn’t the first thing on the mind of anyone who is doing multimedia work. It’s pure processing power. It is what it is though. The bottom line is money but boy, it sucks falling into a demographic that isn’t embraced anymore.

  • Ed Clowes

    Wow. After years of being slowly converted to the Cult of Mac by iPods, iPhones, and IPads, I finally took the plunge and bought my first Mac, a Macbook Air. Got one with the 2 GHz i7 and 8 gigs of RAM, and in a straight up fight against my desktop PC (quad core AMD 3.4 GHz with 8 gigs RAM) the Air took only 1 minute longer to encode a ripped DVD with Handbrake than my PC did. I am impressed to hell with this little machine. Part of the reason I decided to check out the Mac is that I am not a fan of what MS is doing with windows. Devices (phones, tablets, etc) and desktop computers are different beasts, used for different jobs. I don’t want a mobile proc in my desktop or laptop any more than I want a tablet interface on my PC. Apple, please just don’t.

  • jahsoul

    Wow. After years of being slowly converted to the Cult of Mac by iPods, iPhones, and IPads, I finally took the plunge and bought my first Mac, a Macbook Air. Got one with the 2 GHz i7 and 8 gigs of RAM, and in a straight up fight against my desktop PC (quad core AMD 3.4 GHz with 8 gigs RAM) the Air took only 1 minute longer to encode a ripped DVD with Handbrake than my PC did. I am impressed to hell with this little machine. Part of the reason I decided to check out the Mac is that I am not a fan of what MS is doing with windows. Devices (phones, tablets, etc) and desktop computers are different beasts, used for different jobs. I don’t want a mobile proc in my desktop or laptop any more than I want a tablet interface on my PC. Apple, please just don’t.

    I’m not a fan of the convergence of mobile and desktop that Windows but I believe that Apple is taking OSX (or whatever it will be in the future..lol) the same direction. Once I saw them merging a few iOS apps into Mountain Lion, I shook my head. The only thing that I care about on my Mac Pro is Native Instruments Maschine, Logic 9, and AUs (aka stuff a mobile platform cannot handle.) I will just waiting and see how this plays out, but like I said in the post, I understand that since Apple is now hip and cool, we are the fringe.

  • Mystakill

    Power efficiency isn’t the first thing on the mind of anyone who is doing multimedia work. It’s pure processing power.

    Agreed. If I wanted an underpowered, light, and power-conscious portable, I’d get an Air. I’m getting more and more perturbed with each new Apple hardware release; underpowered, overpriced, and non-upgradeable, all in the name of sveltness and power.

    Makes me dread the first full release of OS X after Ive “minimalizes” everything down to “its simplest form”.

  • jahsoul
    Power efficiency isn’t the first thing on the mind of anyone who is doing multimedia work. It’s pure processing power.

    Agreed. If I wanted an underpowered, light, and power-conscious portable, I’d get an Air. I’m getting more and more perturbed with each new Apple hardware release; underpowered, overpriced, and non-upgradeable, all in the name of sveltness and power.

    Makes me dread the first full release of OS X after Ive “minimalizes” everything down to “its simplest form”.

    +1000 at your comment.

    It’s one thing with software (well not really but that’s another topic) but I hate being locked into hardware. That’s why I don’t think I can get a Macbook Pro after 2010. I still hate the fact that the Mac Pro is being overlooked.

    And I firmly believe that they should make 2 versions of OSX: an edition for the poweruser, and one for everyone. I just don’t like the direction they are going with the software. That why I always say, I hate that Apple became “hip” and “cool” because they leaves those that were using Apple for “work” as the fringe.

  • ActionableMango

    This is simply not credible. Maybe someday in the distant future.

    For now, the performance simply isn’t there. Heck, there wasn’t even a 64-bit ARM CPU until a few days ago.

About the author

Alex HeathAlex Heath is a senior writer at Cult of Mac and co-host of the CultCast. He has been quoted by the likes of the BBC, KRON 4 News, and books like "ICONIC: A Photographic Tribute to Apple Innovation." If you want to pitch a story, share a tip, or just get in touch, additional contact information is available on his personal site. Twitter always works too.

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