An interesting new article from the Wall Street Journal reveals that Apple has been putting serious pressure on Intel to reduce their processors’ power consumption. Apparently, Apple even threatened to abandon Intel chips until Intel made progress on the matter.
The result of all of this pressure was that Intel announced a significant change to their product roadmap to lower the average power draw of all of its chips from 35-40 watts all the way down to 15 watts – a huge difference!
The curious part of this tale is that it shows that Apple isn’t afraid to investigate using processors other than those made by Intel, whether that would mean moving to AMD’s line of processors, or (and more likely given their current investment in chip-making) creating a new and more powerful version of their own custom silicon – perhaps an A6 or even A7 chip.
It has been rumored previously that Apple has experimented with running the MacBook Air on an A5 chip in their labs, so this could be a significant possibility for the future. But if Apple did decide to begin moving Macs over to their own custom silicon, what might this mean the the future of the Mac?
The chief benefits of using custom chipsets in future Macs would largely revolve around power efficiency and space savings – both aspects which Apple has proven are important to them.
If Apple did decide to began using custom “Systems on a Chip” (SoC’s) in future Macs, it would certainly improve battery life, and enable Apple to make even lighter and thinner Macs. It could also help Apple to bridge the gap between iOS and OS X. One possible concern, however, is that it could require software written for the Mac to be re-written in order to run on the new hardware.
One interesting possibility, however, is that by working closely in or heavily investing with a chipmater on such a chip, perhaps using 3D transistor technology, such as that recently developed by Intel (which improves both performance and power consumption), it’s possible that a new custom-made chip could combine the current x86 platform with ARM-based processing cores. Intel has even publicly stated that they would be willing to consider working with Apple on projects like this, and I suspect other processor manufacturers would feel similarly.
The result of this would be a chip that could support both architectures simultaneously, running code designed for x86 processors (such as Mac apps) as well as code designed for ARM processors (such as iOS apps). It could possibly result in universal apps becoming available that work not only on iOS, but on a Mac as well, as it would simplify development of apps that work with both iOS and OS X.
Apple could easily invest a chunk of their massive cash reserves into researching this type of technology and either build their own custom processor or hire another company to build it for them. If any company could pull out all the stops and stand as another major presence in the processor world, it’d be Apple.
If the rumors are true, and Apple is indeed considering taking this road, this could lead to a greater transitioning and bringing-together of iOS with the current desktop platform, OS X. It seems as though Apple is already working to bridge this gap, particularly considering design decisions that Apple has made in Mac OS X Lion’s interface to make it more iOS-like. Certain analysts are even already predicting that Apple will eventually combine OS X and iOS into a single unified operating system.
It’s possible that Apple could transition all future portables, even the MacBook Pro, to use a powerful space and battery saving SOC, without significantly sacrificing either computing power or compatibility.
One downside to this, however, is that it would decrease a user’s ability to perform upgrades, as RAM becomes integrated onto the chip, which might leave users of Apple’s Pro line of hardware feeling a bit betrayed.
While it’s entirely unclear to what level Apple may be pursuing these ideas (or at all), it certainly does provide some food for thought. Would this be a good thing for Apple in the long run? As always, we value your comments and ideas, so sound off with your thoughts!