Rumor: Apple to dump x86 for ARM in laptops

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.

Comments closed
    • WaltC
    • 10 years ago

    I believe this…and I also believe that next year, AMD is buying Intel–so go grab your shares now!…;)

    Seriously, I wonder why people come up with this nonsense…? Sure is amusing, though.

    • ShadowTiger
    • 10 years ago

    I think that they are going to split their notebook AND their desktop segment into 2.

    They will have their high powered workstations/MBP using intel or AMD chips just like right now.

    Then they will have the consumer nettop and cheap notebooks use ARM because thats all they need 99% of the time. These will switch to iOS, and probably touch screens as well.

    They may even have an ARM version and a x86 version of their macbook air line… or maybe the iPad take over that role…

      • bimmerlovere39
      • 10 years ago

      Hm… makes sense, actually. The lines are already there, honestly.

      iPhone, iPad -> “light” ARM (fast enough for mobile, lower TDP/higher battery life), iOS
      iMac, MacBook Air -> “fat” ARM (More cores, higher TDPs than the light ones), OSX
      MacBook Pro, Mac Pro -> AMD/Intel, OSX

      Assuming OSX continues to pick up interface elements from iOS

      Mobile stays ARM, what I think of as the “design” products – iMac, MacBook Air – go to ARM, allowing them to be even smaller/lighter/thinner/shinier, while the two “pro” lines continue to be on the high end of performance in their segments. The one thing I wonder about is how the iPad and MacBook Air get along in a few years… The difference in size between an 11″ Air and a 10″ iPad is not significant.

    • PRIME1
    • 10 years ago

    [url<]http://i.imgur.com/XRwq2.jpg[/url<]

      • KoolAidMan
      • 10 years ago

      Hilarious

      • crose
      • 10 years ago

      LOL.. but what did they really say??

      • XaiaX
      • 10 years ago

      Actually, the fact that Windows 8 will run on ARM makes the whole idea of OSX on ARM incredibly less stupid sounding, since they could do the ARM switch without losing Windows compatibility, which is definitely a nice selling point.

    • Sam125
    • 10 years ago

    I’m guessing if this rumor is true then it’ll make a lot of chip architects very happy considering how kludgey modern x86 cpus really are and how that in itself is limiting performance gains from an architectural standpoint.

      • dpaus
      • 10 years ago

      Except, maybe, for the 90% of them that work at either Intel or AMD

        • Sam125
        • 10 years ago

        I’m sure x86 is going to be fine. It sounds like Apple just wants more control over their hardware instead of making their computers any more of a commodity than they’ve already become. That sounds about right for a company that’s as focused on design as Apple.

      • BobbinThreadbare
      • 10 years ago

      What do you mean by “kludgey?”

        • kristi_metal
        • 10 years ago

        he meant “kludgy” 😉

    • Chun¢
    • 10 years ago

    Is Steve following BILL on this one?

    • nagashi
    • 10 years ago

    My bet is that future mac laptops will have both an intel x86 chip and an arm chip. The arm chip will be used for the core OS, running iOS applications, and probably a small selection of Apple apps that just don’t need a huge processor (Mail.App, iCal, etc). If the intel chip can be turned off even 30% of the time, letting an arm chip handle the rest, you potentially get a laptop with a pretty big power usage advantage over windows for most use cases. Only when really maxing the machine (ie, revving both chips to full) would you see parity with everyone else.

      • bimmerlovere39
      • 10 years ago

      Interesting… a really nice concept. But considering Apple has scrubbed significant upgrades (Arrandale 13″ MacBook Pro, I’m looking at you) because they’d have to have more chips on the PCB… I’m not sure I see them taking the space to follow through on this.

    • End User
    • 10 years ago

    I’d like to get a Sandy Bridge based MacBook Air. I don’t have any interest in an ARM based MacBook Air as I don’t see ARM offering Sandy Bridge levels of performance anytime soon.

      • Corrado
      • 10 years ago

      My guess is that in a few years (when this is stated to happen) ARM CPUs will be worlds faster than a Sandy Bridge chip. Seeing as the Tegra 2 CPU’s are competitive with full blown x86 CPUs of 5 years ago, I don’t see why that trend would stop

        • Farting Bob
        • 10 years ago

        It would appear that most ARM designs are primarily pow power focused, while desktop Intel designs are about high speed within far higher limits. It would take ARM to do a complete 180 on its design ideology to rival Intel and AMD in desktop and high performance laptop parts.

        Competing with 5 year old mid range chips wont cut it when it comes to swapping x86 intel CPU’s for ARM in their laptops. People expect big improvements in performance in laptops and desktops. In smaller screen handhelds it isnt nearly as much of an issue.

          • OneArmedScissor
          • 10 years ago

          “People expect big improvements in performance in laptops and desktops.”

          Are you so sure? I haven’t seen any in quite some time. X new $300 CPU that comes out once a year hasn’t displayed a tangible benefit for PCs in years. I think you may have CPUs confused with graphics cards, which only a comparitive handful of people care about.

          Meanwhile, people are buying up progressively slower and slower new platforms like candy – because they’re cheaper and still get the same job done.

          The “big improvement” people expect is for prices to drop over time. Now people are accustomed to checking their facebook or email or whatever on, of all things, their phone that they got for $50 with their plan. That just further degrades any remaining expectation of increased “speed” that is hidden in a magic box for an additional several hundred dollars.

          The “performance” isn’t being delivered, and it just makes the ARM system designers’ jobs that much easier.

          Want to add CPU power? Pile on cores. Focusing on low power and minimized circuits is precisely the way to accomplish that, not riding the 4 GHz barrier, which Intel is [i<]still[/i<] obsessed with, 6 years later.

            • NeelyCam
            • 10 years ago

            [quote<]Want to add CPU power? Pile on cores. Focusing on low power and minimized circuits is precisely the way to accomplish that, not riding the 4 GHz barrier, which Intel is still obsessed with, 6 years later.[/quote<] Are you on this "4GHz barrier" BS argument [i<]again[/i<]?!!? Didn't we already conclude that you're wrong and there is no magic barrier?!

            • OneArmedScissor
            • 10 years ago

            I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about. At 3.8 GHz, the power vs. frequency curve skyrockets and that’s just a basic fact.

            See any Intel CPUs boosting a single core to 4 GHz yet? They’re finally going to have an eight core chip that temporarily boosts one core to 3.9 GHz, after six years!

            Intel’s insistence on making virtually every CPU they sell ride that fine line between overkill and insanity is a big reason why, despite all the advances in “efficiency,” TDP levels haven’t budged since they blew them through the roof with the P4.

            • NeelyCam
            • 10 years ago

            [quote<]I don't have any idea what you're talking about. At 3.8 GHz, the power vs. frequency curve skyrockets and that's just a basic fact.[/quote<] Could you please explain the physical reason for your "basic fact"? Feel free to use actual semiconductor device physics instead of random circumstantial "evidence".

            • NeelyCam
            • 10 years ago

            Your two-day silence must mean that we are in agreement – there is no 4GHz barrier.

            This has happened before, though, so I fully expect you to bring it up again in a couple of months when top-bin BD launches at 4GHz.

          • Corrado
          • 10 years ago

          Then why are people replacing their laptops with tablets and netbooks?

        • swaaye
        • 10 years ago

        How do you know Tegra 2 cores (A9 right?) are competitive with Athlon 64 X2? I’d like to see some proof of this. Tegra 2 doesn’t even have NEON SIMD.

        • Rza79
        • 10 years ago

        What makes you think that Tegra 2 is competitive with a full blown x86 CPU of 5 years ago.
        5 years ago, the Core 2 Duo was launched. Even at 1Ghz, a C2D runs circles around a Tegra 2 (or any other ARM cpu for that matter since the Tegra 2 isn’t anything special).
        An ARM A9 cpu can’t even match a Pentium M of 2003 (clock for clock & core for core). How much further do you want me to go back?
        The Cortex A15 is supposed to be 40% faster clock for clock (vs the A9). By the time it’s launched (late 2012 or 2013), it will ‘maybe’ get close to x86 cpu’s of 2006.

        • WillBach
        • 10 years ago

        [quote<]Seeing as the Tegra 2 CPU's are competitive with full blown x86 CPUs of 5 years ago, I don't see why that trend would stop[/quote<] What was seen was a score from a benchmark on a projector that roughly equated an x86 CPU from 5 years ago running an unoptimized workload to a Tegra 2 SoC running a more-optimized version of that same workload. I have looked at a lot of Tegra 2 products, and they are not competitive with the Core2 Duo at all in terms of performance, period. It's not even close. [quote<]I don't see why that trend would stop[/quote<] While it's reasonable to expect increasing performance from ARM designs, it's unreasonable to expect Intel and AMD to stand still. If we assume that Tegra is only behind x86 big core performance by about five years, it's still behind by five years. Denver is supposedly geared toward "big core" workloads. Maybe it will surprise us with its performance, but I strongly doubt that it would beat Sandy Bridge in performance. Beating Bobcat would be a stretch, IMHO as a computer engineer. Maybe I'm biased (I work on x86) but it's really, really hard to look at the where ARM is and where Sandy Bridge is and imagine the gap closing soon.

      • tay
      • 10 years ago

      Sandy Bridge MBA is going to break sales records (for macs anyway). So many people are waiting for them.

    • albundy
    • 10 years ago

    would it also mean that they would ditch OSX as well? they would then have complete and utter control of any applications on the machine, thus eliminating their arch enemies from the equation.

    • esterhasz
    • 10 years ago

    iTunes + iOS are the biggest success stories in Apple’s company history. NOT pushing that OS and the controlled younameitStore + walled garden concept into new market segments, now THAT would be weird. If I had Apple stock I would write an email to SJ every bloody morning, just after breakfast, and tell him to get iOS based laptops out ASAP!

      • End User
      • 10 years ago

      Apple released The Mac App Store last year.

        • esterhasz
        • 10 years ago

        yeah but you can sideload apps on the mac ,-)

    • pedro
    • 10 years ago

    Anyone else having issues accessing SA? It’s been going on for a couple of months now but I’m unsure if this is just some (ill-directed?) censorship happening in Thailand.

    I used to love reading Charlie’s crazy, hate-fuelled rants against Nvidia.

      • Game_boy
      • 10 years ago

      No issues here. Can you send a message sent to the website admin (if not can I)?

      Charlie’s forum posts are both more informative and a lot less like a rant than his articles. He sounds sane on the forums.

        • indeego
        • 10 years ago

        Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are likely reasonable folks in person as well.

    • Bauxite
    • 10 years ago

    “laptop”

    So, is that what they will be calling ipads with a keyboard dock? I guess if you drink your own kool aid enough, you don’t need to make full-function computers anymore.

    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 10 years ago

    Mac pros won’t go arm in the foreseeable future. No real news here.

    • bthylafh
    • 10 years ago

    Not unless they can write an Intel->ARM version of Rosetta that will yield good performance. I wouldn’t expect a PPC->ARM version out of Apple, though.

    Also not unless they transition all their products over to ARM, I think, which I just don’t see happening with the Mac Pro line.

      • End User
      • 10 years ago

      Rosetta has been dropped in pre-release builds of Mac OS X 10.7.

      • jensend
      • 10 years ago

      From what I understand, emulating 32-bit x86 on ARM shouldn’t be too much of a problem. It’s easier to emulate another ISA when it has fewer registers than the ISA you’re running it on, and it’d be quite possible to build a small amount of extra logic into the first couple of generations of CPUs designed to help run x86 code faster (with the idea that as subsequent versions of the ARM cpu continue to improve and as customers rely less on the x86 emulation you’ll eventually drop the hardware emulation stuff). This has already been done by a Chinese group, except with MIPS rather than ARM: [url<]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QEMU#Hardware-assisted_emulation[/url<]. I doubt anyone would make emulating 64-bit x86 code a priority. Most software has continued to be available as 32-bit (often through universal binaries) and the software which really needed to be 64-bit is the kind of software which would have to be ported to the new architecture to get decent performance.

    • colinstu
    • 10 years ago

    Did apple not get Intel’s memo on these new 3d transistors? Even more performance gains and less power consumpution?

    Apple is stupid to dump x86 for a platform that really has nothing going for it besides SOC kind of and lower power consumption kind of. A bunch of people who switched to mac used it for it’s ability to run windows in bootcamp or virtualized. Now that ability will be removed.

    It’s terrible that Apple needs to make a product for the dumbest individual out there and make everyone else get dumbed down too. It’s not simplicity… it’s brainwashing. OS’s are the way they are for reasons… it’s called functionality.

    I hope lots of people dump apple on a move like this. No amount of software can make hardware obsolete… Apple is only going backwards. Might as well bring back a 22nm shrink of the 68040 and throw on iOS with a bunch of optimizations.

      • raddude9
      • 10 years ago

      [quote<]platform that really has nothing going for it besides SOC kind of and lower power consumption kind of[/quote<] I think you are forgetting about Price! [quote<]A bunch of people who switched to mac used it for it's ability to run windows in bootcamp or virtualized. Now that ability will be removed.[/quote<] You are also forgetting that microsoft is going to put windows 8 on ARM as well!

    • StashTheVampede
    • 10 years ago

    Why NOT run ARM on a laptop (or a desktop, server? A laptop is laptop is merely one tool to get things “done” and I can’t imagine any specific reason why it couldn’t be ARM.

    Yes, not all software will work in ARM. Guess what? This transition has happened more than once and it will continue to happen.

    • FuturePastNow
    • 10 years ago

    No way.

    I can see an ARM version of the Macbook Air (24-36 hour battery life?), but that’s it.

      • OneArmedScissor
      • 10 years ago

      I can see an octal-core 64 bit ARM SoC in Windows, Android, and Apple OS powered laptops. This has little to do with what fits into Apple’s existing product line and everything to do with the direction computers in general are headed.

    • PRIME1
    • 10 years ago

    My prediction is that Apple will switch to NVIDIA’s “Project Denver” CPU and that by 2014 NVIDIA will have 20% of the CPU market.

      • Rza79
      • 10 years ago

      Finally someone made LOL today … THX!

      • UberGerbil
      • 10 years ago

      Uh, no. Apple wants more control of the IP within their boxes, not less. They’re not going to evict Intel in order to invite someone else in. When they’re running an ARM-derived (ISA) but entirely-proprietary CPU + GPU in their mainstream Macs, it’ll be all [u<]Apple[/u<]-proprietary. If you want to look for somewhere nVidia might have an in with Apple, look towards Apple TV -- if Apple decides they want to challenge the consoles with an iOS devices that runs AppStore games on your TV. But (if it happens) that'll be temporary too -- once Apple has developed sufficient resources internally, they'd kick nVidia to the curb just as they'e done to every other CPU vendor over the years.

        • dpaus
        • 10 years ago

        [quote<]"...an iOS device that runs AppStore games on your TV"[/quote<] So I could finally use my 1,000 Watt 7.1 channel home theatre system to give those fart apps the presentation they deserve?

        • PRIME1
        • 10 years ago

        While they could make an ARM chip, it’s doubtful they could make one with a sufficient GPU.

          • dpaus
          • 10 years ago

          Sufficent for what? iOS games aren’t exactly demanding, and there’s lots of GPUs for ARM available for licensing, any of which should be more than adequate for anything but the most demanding video editing tasks by the time these hit production.

            • PRIME1
            • 10 years ago

            Apple is a big supporter of OpenCL

            • bittermann
            • 10 years ago

            If they support OpenCL so much then a more likely candidate would be AMD.

            • PRIME1
            • 10 years ago

            NVIDIA is a better supporter of OpenCL than AMD.

            • dpaus
            • 10 years ago

            Don’t say that to PRIME1, you’ll give him an aneurism!

        • Ushio01
        • 10 years ago

        I was under the impression that the A4 and A5 were Apple designed SOC’s using off the shelf cortex A8/A9 cpu’s, SGX GPU’s and various over bits so there was no proprietary bits except it being custom assembled.

          • NeelyCam
          • 10 years ago

          I’m sure there’s something custom in it… otherwise they would’ve bought the near-identical chip from Samsung.

            • Ushio01
            • 10 years ago

            It’s a custom SoC so only features the components Apple needs rather than being a general purpose SoC that can be used in any device like what the over SoC makers supply.

      • indeego
      • 10 years ago

      Here are some of your previous predictions:

      [url=https://techreport.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=64122<]Physx Will Catch on[/url<] [url=https://techreport.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=31&t=56965<]Pats 72-3 in 2008 SuperBowl[/url<] [url=https://techreport.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=71119<]The 5870 will be beaten by the 470480(unclear) by at least 20%[/url<] (My favorite)

        • PRIME1
        • 10 years ago

        1.) Phsyx did catch on. Batman, Mirror’s Edge, Metro2033, etc, etc.

        2.) Your lack of a sense of humor is disapointing

        3.)If you actually read the thread it was about the speed of the 480. Which was indeed faster than the 5870 (sometimes by more than 20%).

        3 strikes. Your out!

        Although it was sweet of you to take the time and (sort of) read through all my posts ♥

          • Anonymous Coward
          • 10 years ago

          Not only do you generate a lot of replies with trollish posts, you even get people to spend time researching your old posts. Amazing.

    • HisDivineOrder
    • 10 years ago

    It’s funny. I said this somewhere else yesterday and today all the rumors say what I said. Am I a source? If so, I’m a source someone got off a forum somewhere, haha. J/k.

    But seriously, I think this one’s obvious to anyone with a brain. Apple loves making their own CPU’s, having exactly the amount of performance they expect, having the supply be in their control in a more direct way, and being able to add features as they need them. Things like Quicksync won’t be there and go unused if Apple’s controlling what chips are used.

    I imagine, though, the best part of this is that it will help bring the iOS and OSX markets together in the long term picture, helping broaden the capabilities of iOS and OSX to include the best of each while helping to eventually shave costs of having to maintain multiple (different) codebases down to maintaining divergent forks of the same codebase.

    It might even help create a “magical” experience like taking your iPad and connecting it to a dock that appears like the bottom of a laptop and creating a netbook from your iPad. Like magic. Then Steve Jobs can wave his hands around and say, “LIKE MAGIC! Only I could come up with something as awesome and magical as this. And only Apple can bring it to you!”

    Of course, Asus will have done it years before, but hey, what’s a lie between Apple and its users?

    • d0g_p00p
    • 10 years ago

    Looks like Apple wants to push iOS really hard in the future. That is the only reason why I can see them switching to ARM. Have their entire portable line up be iOS/ARM based and move OS X to be strictly for desktop systems.

      • bimmerlovere39
      • 10 years ago

      They’d be amazingly stupid to convert MacBook Pros to iOS.

      They may not be ThinkPads, but MBPs do get used for real work be some people. I see iMacs changing over before MBPs.

        • cygnus1
        • 10 years ago

        Why? iMacs and MBPs are basically the same thing, just one comes with a battery.

          • bimmerlovere39
          • 10 years ago

          Yeah, but there’s a step up from iMacs – the Mac Pro. I was thinking the two top end/”pro” models would stay X86, while the others would go ARM/iOS for normal light use.

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