Rumors point to Apple moving to ARM processors for future notebooks

Subject: Processors, Mobile | May 6, 2011 - 07:11 PM |
Tagged: project denver, nvidia, macbook, Intel, arm, apple

A very interesting story over at AppleInsider has put the rumor out there that Apple may choose to ditch the Intel/x86 architecture all together with some future upcoming notebooks.  Instead, Apple may choose to go the route of the ARM-based processor, likely similar to the A4 that Apple built for the iPhone and iPad.

What is holding back the move right now?  Well for one, the 64-bit versions of these processors aren't available yet and Apple's software infrastructure is definitely dependent on that.  By the end of 2012 or early in 2013 those ARM-based designs should be ready for the market and very little would stop Apple from making the move.  Again, this is if the rumors are correct.

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Another obstacle is performance - even the best ARM CPUs on the market fall woefully behind the performance of Intel's current crop of Sandy Bridge processors or even their Core 2 Duo options.  

In addition to laptops, the report said that Apple would "presumably" be looking to move its desktop Macs to ARM architecture as well. It characterized the transition to Apple-made chips for its line of computers as a "done deal."

"Now you realize why Apple is desperately searching for fab capacity from Samsung, Global Foundries, and TSMC," the report said. "Intel doesn't know about this particular change of heart yet, which is why they are dropping all the hints about wanting Apple as a foundry customer. Once they realize Apple will be fabbing ARM chips at the expense of x86 parts, they may not be so eager to provide them wafers on advanced processes."

Even though Apple is already specing its own processors like the A4 there is the possibility that they could go with another ARM partner for higher performance designs.  NVIDIA's push into the ARM market with Project Denver could be a potential option as they are working very closely with ARM on those design and performance improvements.  Apple might just "borrow" those changes however at NVIDIA's expense and build its own option that would satisify its needs exactly without the dependence on third-parties.  

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Migrating the notebook (and maybe desktop markets) to ARM processors would allow the company to unify their operating system across the classic "computer" designs and the newer computer models like iPads and iPhones.  The idea of all of our computers turning into oversized iPhones doesn't sound appealing to me (nor I imagine, many of you) but with some changes in the interface it could become a workable option for many consumers. 

With even Microsoft planning for an ARM-based version of Windows, it seems that x86 dominance in the processor market is being threatened without a doubt.  

Source: AppleInsider