After four years of Intel exclusivity, Apple may be about to mix up its processor choices a little bit. Quoting "people familiar with the matter," AppleInsider reports that AMD reps "have recently been seen" on Apple Commuter Coach buses and heading to meetings with top Apple executives.
The site adds that AMD CPUs have also found their way inside Apple's labs, where the Mac maker is purportedly cooking up future products based on them. There's no word yet on what those products might be, although AppleInsider notes that Apple "is believed to be investigating" AMD's workstation and notebook chips.
Right now, AMD's product offerings don't look all that enticing outside of the very low end—somewhere Apple typically refuses to tread. A look ahead at the chipmaker's roadmap reveals a possible candidate for aluminum-clad Macs, however: Llano, an "accelerated processing unit" that will meld four Phenom II-class microprocessor cores with a Radeon-derived graphics processor, all on a single 32-nm die.
Intel already offers 32-nm CPUs with integrated graphics, but so far, Apple has paired every single one of those chips in its latest MacBook Pros with a discrete Nvidia GPU. And in the new 13.3" MacBook Pros, which lack discrete GPUs, Apple opted for old Core 2 CPUs with Nvidia integrated graphics instead of new Core i3s or i5s with Intel graphics. The latest MacBook Pro lineup seems to hint at a lack of confidence in either Intel's graphics hardware or its ability to supply a sufficient number of new Core Mobile chips. (AppleInsider actually speculates that tight supply of those CPUs forced Apple to delay the MacBook Pro refresh altogether.) In either case, adding AMD to the mix could be a solution.
On a more immediate time scale, a current AMD processor paired with Radeon integrated graphics might be a good candidate for an updated Mac mini. Intel's Core 2 processors won't stick around forever, and Apple might not want to sell a Core i3-based Mac mini with either Intel graphics or a discrete GPU. Otherwise, as AppleInsider points out, there's always the possibility that Apple is merely using the prospect of a partnership with AMD as a bargaining chip in negotiations with Intel.