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Debunk: why Apple isn't likely to go to ARM for MacBooks

updated 02:40 pm EDT, Fri May 6, 2011

We examine why Apple may not go ARM for Macs

One rumor floating online late Thursday has contended that Apple would switch to ARM for the MacBook line. The claim from unnamed sources for SemiAccurate would have Apple wait until at least mid-2013 to use the first 64-bit ARM processors, like NVIDIA's Project Denver, and was supposedly talking to TSMC and others to get chip production. We have reason to doubt why this would come to pass, and we expect Apple to stay on Intel for quite some time.

The first and most direct problem is simply the risk of forking product roadmaps. Why would Apple have its notebooks using ARM but leave all its desktops -- the Mac mini, iMac, and Mac Pro -- running Intel chips? The company could implement universal binaries like it did with the Intel transition, but if this wasn't part of a full-scale transition to ARM, developers would have to perpetually test two code bases to support all Macs. Even universal binaries would still introduce problems unique to one platform or the other.

Moreover, Steve Jobs and other Apple executives have famously criticized Android fragmentation. It would be counter-intuitive, not to mention hypocritical, to induce that on the Mac. Any ARM transition would likely be all or nothing.

Questions loom, too, about why Apple would even need to transition away. It's true the company values battery life and mobility, and is often determined to bring as much development in-house as possible. However, its situation isn't the same as it was when the company detailed plans to move from PowerPC to Intel in 2005. That transition was virtually forced by decisions by IBM and Motorola to slow down and eventually drop mainstream processors.

At last check, Apple was dramatically outpacing the market in sales growth by using mostly off-the-shelf Intel processors. Expanding its processor design team and reorienting its entire computer lineup would not only be expensive, but unnecessary. It could even be damaging by reducing the number of buyers switching away: while Windows 8 will use ARM, most versions of Windows and its apps on the market in 2013 will still need an Intel architecture.

And, simply put, the timing of the rumor leaves much room for error. Very few people at or partnering with Apple have knowledge of what the company is planning two or more years away. The company is at times legendary for its secrecy; leaking a long-term plan, especially for something as fundamental as a partial platform switch, is rare if not non-existent.

We never want to completely rule out claims that aren't completely implausible, and Apple has repeatedly talked about going "back to the Mac" with features from iOS. It's also a company that likes to reinvent its lineup even when doing well; the iPod nano taking over from the iPod mini is a classic example. Even two to three years from now, however, there would be very few incentives for Apple to switch to ARM and more to stay with Intel.


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By Electronista Staff
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Comments

  1. Haywire

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Nov 2001

    +8

    There are 2 major advantages to ARM

    1. Very low power.

    2. Apple can design what it wants into the chip and have done so with the graphics portion of the chip in the iPad 2 (which is apparently faster than Nvidia's Tegra 2).

    And the future will bring very fast ARM architectures.

  1. BigMac2

    Forum Regular

    Joined: Dec 2000

    +4

    Maybe one day, but not in short terms

    I don't think Apple want to put a full OSX on ARM anytime soon. Apple got a much better strategy by having an unified kernel for iOS and MacOS X while differentiate both plateform in it's UI and API making sure both ecosystem being separated for developer.

    The biggest problem with ARM reside in lack of common hardware support like printer, all software will need to be recompile and emulation is not an option here.

    It don't believe in Windows 8 on ARM BS, Microsoft had never put effort in multi plateform OS. They made an PPC and Alpha Windows NT back then, but It failed to offer solution for developer for making universal runtime, so very little software where available for any version of windows beside the x86, same thing is happening right now with 64bit version of Windows. Microsoft marketing strategy is to make sure that every OS they made will be called Windows but they all be incompatible to each other.

  1. facebook_Clarence

    Via Facebook

    Joined: May 2011

    0

    ARM

    I can't buy a computer I can't install Windows on. Luckily, McBook Pro runs Windows better than a lot of the other PC brands. If it didn't run Windows, I'd have to get another brand. That's nothing personal against Apple, I just make my livelihood with Windows, not Mc OS.

  1. MisterMe

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: May 2007

    +4

    Processor unity?

    Bunk! We don't program in assembly language anymore. MacOS X's predecessor, OpenSTEP ran on multiple processors including x86, 68000, 88000, HP-PA, SPARC, and PowerPC. We all know that MacOS X was implemented on never fewer than two processor families. The major difference between iOS and MacOS X is IO. Essentially the same code base runs on IA-32, IA-64, and the A4/A5.

    Many seem to believe that Intel makes the ultimate processors. Once Apple switched to Intel, it was game, set, and match. Apple was married to Intel. It would optimize MacOS X to Intel like Microsoft did when it dropped support of other ISAs in Windows NT. This was simply not true. As integrated circuits, Intel processors are awesome. As a computer ISA, it was obsolete when Apple made the switch. It is no less obsolete now. It was not so much that Intel won Apple's business as it was that IBM lost Apple's business. In fact, IBM put considerable effort into ticking-off Steve Jobs.

    Just for kicks, surf over to IBM's website and take a gander at the POWER7. Imagine where we would be if IBM had stayed off its high horse and produced cool-running PowerPC versions of the POWER6 and POWER7. Boot Camp would not be possible, but I don't care.

    Admittedly, the ability to run Windows natively on Apple hardware has helped to vault Apple into the No. 2 valuation spot among all corporations on Earth. However, everyone with the sense that God gave red brick should have known that something was up when Apple chose its own processor for the iPhone and iPad. Does this mean that Apple will provide its own processors for its laptops and desktops? Absolutely not. However, it also means that such a move cannot be ruled out. Perhaps, Apple has made the determination that the ability to run Windows natively is just not that important anymore.

    Perhaps not. Whatever happens, the next couple of years promise to be very interesting.



  1. chas_m

    Moderator

    Joined: Aug 2001

    +3

    OS X can run on just about anything

    But having said that, I don't think we'll see it on ARM in the short-term.

  1. samirsshah

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Oct 2010

    +2

    Apple should not go ARM...

    for the reasons listed above and many more.

  1. facebook_Raul

    Via Facebook

    Joined: May 2011

    -1

    Never say never

    Few years back no body though on things like Apple not only providing support to run windows on a Mac but also advertising it. Macs running on intel, or making an mp3 player or a phone.
    There could be also distortion in the rumors, perhaps the talk was about an actual Apple branded TV or a hybrid iOS/OSX Laptop with a desktop and file system that runs Apps powered by an ARM chip.
    My wish would be a 27" iMac as thin as an iPad 2 :p

  1. AdamC

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Apr 2008

    0

    iMac and Mac mini are just desktop version of the

    I wonder whether the author has opened up the iMac or the mac mini and take a peek inside. He would be surprise with what he will find.

    Yes open them up and take a peek.

    I believe in time to come only the Mac pros will be using Intel chips. But then who knows the Intel chip maybe replace by an A8.

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