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Exploring the idea that Apple might abandon Intel CPUs for ARM


Former Apple executive Jean-Louis Gassee published an interesting piece earlier this week exploring the idea that Apple, some time down the road, might abandon Intel and instead rely upon ARM chips for its entire Mac lineup. As it stands now, Apple already uses ARM chips across its lineup of iOS products.

In addition to low power usage, here a few reasons why Apple might consider dropping Intel.

First off, Intel processors are flat-out more expensive. Dumping Intel for ARM would therefore allow Apple to offer ultra-affordable Macs while at the same time preserving their precious margins. In this scenario, Apple would be able to steal away even more marketshare from Microsoft while generating boatloads of cash in the process.

Another reason Apple might consider dropping Intel is Apple's intrinsic need to control as much of the underlying technology in its products as possible.

In the first place, Apple's drive to own "all layers of the stack" continues unabated years after Steve's passing. As a recent example, Apple created its own Swift programming language that complements its Xcode IDE and Clang/LLVM compiler infrastructure.

As Gassee points out, relying on third party hardware sometimes creates situations where Apple's product plans have to be put on hold. As a recent example, we're directed to the delayed launch of Intel's Broadwell processors which Apple reportedly wants to incorporate into next-gen iMacs and MacBooks. While Intel CEO Brian Krazanich initially claimed that Intel's next-gen processor would launch in time for the 2014 holiday season, it now looks as if Apple will have to wait until 2015 for that.

And as anyone who follows Apple can attest, the company abhors the idea of putting its product plans on hold while waiting for another company to get their house in order.

All that said, switching to ARM is hardly as simple Gassee makes it seem. Of paramount importance is the issue of performance. While power efficiency is key on mobile devices, desktops and laptops need a lot more power under the hood, to say the least.

On that note, Joel Hruska of ExtremeTech has a great rundown of some of the technical challenges and practical obstacles Apple faces in a theoretical world where it decides to part ways with Intel.

On the issue or performance, Hruska sums things up nicely: "Apple's newest A7 Cyclone SoC is a beast - but it's a long, long way from being in any way competitive with Intel's Core chips in terms of performance."

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