updated 12:25 pm EDT, Fri April 16, 2010
Apple may get around Intel limits with AMD deal
Apple is in "advanced discussions" that may see it use AMD chips to supplement Intel, a potentially major rumor claimed on Friday. Executives and others from AMD have reportedly been seen visiting Apple's Cupertino campus and giving briefings to help Apple work on AMD-based Macs. The AppleInsider source claimed that most of the testing so far has centered around AMD's workstation chips, headed up by the Opteron line, and for mobile chips like the Turion series.
The surprise shift, which isn't necessarily definite, would come both out of business and technical reasons. At a minimum, choosing AMD would let Apple have more than potential one processor supplier and would have both the flexibility to build more system types as well as to avoid supply problems at Intel's end. It's believed but not confirmed that a shortage of mobile Core i5 and i7 processors this spring may have played a large role in delaying the new MacBook Pro line and favored Acer over Apple. Even if not a point of contention, Apple could use AMD as a threat to Intel to give it favorable pricing and ship dates.
In hardware, AMD also has a handful of advantages that weren't present when Apple broadcast its intent to use Intel in 2005. Since it acquired ATI, AMD has had the advantage of far faster integrated graphics than Intel, whose GMA architecture hasn't advanced significantly in performance even over the past two years. The custom NVIDIA chipset in the 13-inch MacBook Pro, as well as the graphics switching in larger MacBook Pros, is virtually necessary to maintain performance expectations by avoiding Intel's graphics whenever possible. AMD's Radeon and Mobility Radeon graphics, meanwhile, perform much more like dedicated if low-end graphics cores and often support modern features.
With an Intel-only lineup, Apple has no guarantees of getting NVIDIA integrated graphics as the ongoing Intel/NVIDIA dispute may legally prevent NVIDIA from producing such a part for Core i3, i5 and i7 processors until it's resolved.
In workstations, AMD recently launched a 12-core Opteron that could theoretically outperform an eight-core Xeon in very parallel tasks. Many Opterons also cost significantly less than their Intel counterparts and could help curb the rising prices for Mac Pro towers.
Mobile has often been AMD's weak point as it has seldom devoted as much attention as Intel to power efficiency in the area; its Turion and mobile Athlon lines have often used more energy or else run at lower clock speeds. However, it's speculated that Apple could use AMD to custom-engineer chips, much like it did the A4 in the iPad, to get the exact results it wants.
None of the involved companies have commented on the accuracy of the apparent leak.