Intel has been rumored for years to start building ARM chips. Now they actually are doing so, and will begin fabrication of 64-bit ARM processors in 2014, but not for Apple.
According to Reuters, the x86-making fabrication giant will start making ARM chibs in its foundries starting next year. The news came from Intel partner Altera.
Intel, obviously, is feeling the heat from ARM. Despite Intel’s best efforts, the company has had no luck breaking ARM’s stranglehold on the mobile market, or successfully replacing ARM chips in mobile devices with their own low-power Atom chipsets.
However, it would be easy to make too much of this. As we’ve written before, Intel is not likely to drop x86 anytime soon. For one, ARM is woefully underpowered compared to x86, and now that Intel has gotten power-management issues out of the way with Haswell, the power-savings benefits are mostly gone anyway (and frankly, they were always overblown.)
The major reason Intel is probably looking to make ARM chips now is to fill capacity in their fabs. As we’ve written before, chips are made in giant semiconductor fabrication plants called fabs. Intel’s got the most advanced fabs in the business, producing chips that are using technology literally one to two years ahead of what other chip makers like Samsung, TSMC and Global Foundries can make.
These fabs, though, are expensive to set up, and expensive to keep running. If a fab isn’t producing every nanometer of silicon it can at every second of the day, it ends up costing the company money. So if Intel has fabs that aren’t outputting as many wafers as they could because there’s not enough x86 demand out there, it might make sense for Intel to accept lower revenue per wafer by making ARM chips instead.
In other words, this isn’t necessary a death knell of x86, or Intel, and certainly no indicator you’ll have a Mac with an ARM processor in it anytime soon.