The SemiAccurate (http://macte.ch/LUHV) web site generated a lot of discussion over the weekend when it said that Apple was planning to dump Intel from its laptop lines within 2-3 years. That’s an interesting idea, and perhaps it’s on target, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.
But first, some background. Here’s part of SemiAccurate’s report: “The short story is that Apple is moving the laptop line, and presumably desktops too, to ARM based chips as soon as possible. With A15/Eagle allowing more than 32-bit memory access, things look up, but it seems silly to do so before the full 64 bit cores come in the following generation. Nvidia is directly telling certain favored analysts that they will have Denver out in Q4 of 2012, maybe Q1/2013, and that uses the full on 64-bit ARM instruction set. It won’t be out by then, but that gives you a good estimation of when that ISA will break cover from one vendor or other. Think mid-2013.
“At that point, Apple can move to ARM without worrying about obsoleting code with an ISA that is on the verge of changing, and no memory overhead worries either. Basically, it looks like the perfect time. Ironically, SemiAccurate’s moles tell us that the boys on infinite loop are planning to move laptops to ARM at about that time.”
However, I don’t foresee Apple making such a move anytime soon. There’s a BIG difference between the performance needed on a Mac — which often runs several processor-intensive apps at a time –and iOS devices, which tend to run just one app at a time (though they do support limited multitasking). Background processes are limited to certain power-optimized functions such as music playback or push notifications.
As Charles King, a principal analyst with Pund-IT, told “PC World’ (http://macte.ch/NFoXE): “What people seem to be overlooking is that current ARM processors are 32-bit, meaning that they can only address a max of 4GB memory,” he explained. “This is a showstopper in terms of system performance and user experience. A move to ARM would require every ISV in the Apple software and hardware ecosystem to port their code to the new processor, just like they did when Apple moved from Power to Intel chips — except they had Intel helping out with that change.”
What’s going to happen is that Mac OS X will become more iOS like (starting with the upcoming Lion system), and iOS will become more Mac OS X like. But they’re not going to merge for a LONG time to come — if ever.
So we’ll continue to see ARM processors in iOS devices, including the Apple TV. And — who knows — Apple might even release an iOS laptop of some sort. But it will be Intel chips (including the upcoming Ivy Bridge processors) in both Macs and Mac laptops for the foreseeable future.
That said, I do think Apple has its own chip plans in the works. But that’s a topic for another column.
— Dennis Sellers