Mac of the Future: the CPU
Posted 28 November 2012 - 06:58 AM
Keep in mind a bit of math that matters a lot. Create a laptop with a longer battery life than almost anyone works in a day--say twelve hours--and the battery life becomes effectively infinite. You work all day off the battery, charge it overnight, and work all the next day with a new and fully-charged battery. To all appearances, the laptop battery life is infinite.
Posted 28 November 2012 - 07:13 AM
Apple has made the switch four times: Mostek -> Motorola -> AIM -> Intel. NeXT went from Motorola -> Intel -> AIM -> Intel. Altogether that is eight switches. I imagine that they are close to getting it down by now.
Posted 28 November 2012 - 07:25 AM
Maybe the base model 15" will drop to $1799, like the current MBP? It's pretty clear the 15" Retina is going to replace the standard MBP next time out. I was recently in the huge Upper West Side Apple store in NYC, and there was only one non-retina 15" MBP on display!
Posted 28 November 2012 - 04:17 PM
This is exactly how I predict things playing out. The Pro products will continue using the Intel processors while non-pro products will be based upon ARM-based processors.
Posted 28 November 2012 - 04:24 PM
Given the continuing rapid pace of innovation at Intel, it's hard to see a good reason for Apple to make so drastic a change now or in the foreseeable future. Making their own CPUs for the iPhone and iPad makes sense. It didn't involve a major architecture change; their chips are still based on ARM technology and so the switch was all but invisible to users and software developers alike. Their purpose was to be able to design the CPUs and related components to more closely fit the design objectives for their products.
Dropping Intel would not be analogous in any significant way - unless they license Intel technology the way they've done with ARM. It's hard to see the value in that; nor is Intel likely to make such a deal. ARM is a design standard, not an actual hardware product. Manufacturers license the designs to use in their own CPU lines. Intel runs on an entirely different meme. They do both design and manufacturing. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I suspect Apple doesn't have the technical competence to duplicate what Intel does, not, at least, on a large scale. They botched the Maps app for iOS by exceeding their competence. How much more of an overreach would it be to try to duplicate Intel's R&D and manufacturing expertise? Though it may be imaginable, it's hardly plausible.
Apple broke the mold with the iPhone and the iPad, but they did so using existing technologies repurposed to their own design ideas. The biggest innovation in the iPhone was iOS, which was based on existing Apple assets - OS X - and expertise. The iPhone could evolve and improve without disrupting an existing product line or user base. The iPhone and iPad, like the iPod before them, developed their own, independent brand equity. You can use any of them without reference to any other Apple product. You can even use them, to a limited extent, at least, with PCs.
You cannot say the same about the Mac. A radical change here will impact Apple's entire computing customer base. In the past, Apple moved from one processor technology to another for demonstrable benefits in performance and product development. Where's the merit in dropping Intel in favor of an Apple branded CPU architecture? The Mac is not nearly as discreet a product as an iPhone or iPad. It depends to an extent they do not on standardized computer hardware and software. The Mac is a much more complex ecosystem than an iPhone or iPad, serving a great many different kinds of customers and customer needs. These customers are very sensitive to disruptions in their workflows and use habits. Likewise, there is a much larger software developer community for the Mac now than there was when Apple moved to Intel. Discommoding these developers would be far more disruptive than any earlier Apple CPU shift. Again, where's the justification for such a change? Is Intel failing to meet Apple's needs? Indeed, it's rather the reverse: Apple is hard pressed to keep up with Intel's CPU innovations.
Now I could be wrong. It wouldn't be the first time. But despite the buzz it gives some tech writers and Mac enthusiasts to speculate about an Apple CPU for the Mac, I don't see the value in it. Of course that doesn't mean Apple won't do it. They don't consult me about such things. And they have become increasingly insensitive to customer preferences in recent years. But should they leap off this particular cliff, the fall this time could kill them.
Posted 03 December 2012 - 10:27 AM
Re: "To my mind, switching away from Intel CPUs on the Mac may be easy for Apple to do, but nothing they can do will make it easy for users. Not to mention the hurdles it will raise for software developers."
Apple has transitioned users and developers many times. From 68k to PowerPC, from PowerPC to Intel, from OS 9 to OS X, etc. Each one of those transitions could have been fatal for Apple.
It's a non-issue for developers. Just choose "Universal Binary" for your Xcode project. Done.
Re: "In the past, Apple moved from one processor technology to another for demonstrable benefits in performance and product development. Where's the merit in dropping Intel in favor of an Apple branded CPU architecture?"
Market share. And how will ARM-based CPUs in Macs increase Mac market share? By allowing Apple to drop their costs and thus drop retail pricing.
Apple, being one of Intel's smaller customers, doesn't get the same Intel CPU deals that the Dells, HPs, and Lenovos of the world enjoy. Apple pays boutique prices for Intel chips, and even Intel's biggest customers pay through the nose because of the Wintel near-monopoly.
The top Core i7 CPUs cost $1000 each. The A6X SoCs cost $17.50 each. Do the math. Apple could sell higher quality computers for lower cost if and when they eliminate the Intel tax. There's your "merit."
Posted 05 December 2012 - 06:10 AM
Okay! Glad to!
Even leaving the top-of-the-line $1,000 i7's out of the picture, even a mid-range i7 is roughly 5x the performance of an A6X.
Unsurprisingly, the i7 accomplishes this with a massively larger die size: roughly 290mm on each side (~85,000sq mm) versus roughly 125mm on each side (15,600 sq mm) for the A6x.
As you surely know, the unit cost of an integrated circuit is directly proportional to the die size.
So neither Apple nor anybody else will get close to the performance of Intel's desktop chips without getting fairly close in cost as well.
"Apple pays boutique prices for Intel chips, and even Intel's biggest customers pay through the nose because of the Wintel near-monopoly."
Yes and no. Because the CPU market is pretty saturated (just about everybody already owns an Intel CPU) the result is that Intel has to compete pretty aggressively with its past offerings. Since Intel chips have been "fast enough for most desktop usage" (ie, they're rarely the limiting factor for most users these days) for close to a decade now, Intel has to deliver pretty big gains (and competitive pricing) with each processor generation if it hopes to sell any chips.
Posted 05 December 2012 - 12:05 PM
Posted 05 December 2012 - 12:14 PM
You are absolutely correct. It would be utter folly for Apple to ignore Intel's leading-edge processor roadmap for mainstream Apple computing products (notebooks, iMac, Mac Pro, etc.). Apple's chip designs are no match for Intel's, and manufacturing technology - if outsourced (i.e., non-Intel) - would not be competitive.