Rumor: Apple to dump x86 for ARM in laptops


— 11:16 AM on May 6, 2011

Apple currently used ARM-based processors in its iPhones and iPads, but could the instruction set architecture also be coming to the company's laptops? SemiAccurate says yes. In fact, the site claims that Apple is set on transitioning its entire laptop line over to ARM-based hardware. The move isn't expected to happen for a couple of years, which is how long it will take for chips that use the new 64-bit ARM instruction set to emerge.

SemiAccurate's sources have been right before, but given the site's name, it would be prudent to add a sprinkling of salt to this latest rumor. Perhaps not too much, though. Nvidia has made clear its plans to bring ARM-based processors to traditional PCs, and Microsoft has already shown a version of Windows 8 built for the ISA.

Switching to ARM-based processors would be a huge move for Apple, but this wouldn't be the first time the company changed instruction sets. Apple announced its transition from PowerPC to Intel CPUs not even six years ago. At the time, Jobs cited Intel's superior performance per watt as the impetus behind the switch. It's hard to see the same case being made for ARM, but Apple's focus may now be on achieving a baseline performance level with the lowest possible power consumption... in a chassis no thicker than a few sheets of paper.

With ARM-based processors growing faster and more capable, and x86 designs consuming less and less power, we'll surely see some overlap between the two ISAs in the future. Intel already intends for us to have x86 smartphones, so why shouldn't Apple bring us ARM-powered notebooks? You know, other than AMD's Fusion APUs and Intel's Ivy Bridge successor to the sweet Miss Sandy. Neither of those options sounds particularly magical, though.

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