When it comes to the chips that run our computers these days, there are not many players. Windows PCs and Macs come with Intel Inside. Apple’s iPhones and iPads use ARM as the basis for their customized CPUs.
Other CPU manufacturing players exist, a few prosper, but the big dogs in town are Intel and ARM and Microsoft is working on a version of Windows server to run on ARM CPUs in their cloud services operation. Fortunately for Apple and unfortunately for Intel, not all ARM CPUs are the same.
The Chip Trinity
That Intel’s many CPUs are powerful is not the issue. They are. They’re also expensive. And they suck up power the way politicians suck up donations. Intel has worked to change that by introducing newer CPUs that maintain powerful traits, while reducing the power they need to run.
Meanwhile, ARM technology has gone the other way with power sipping CPUs that have increased in power while using less power. Yes, that needs to make sense. Apple took the basic ARM architecture and customized it so each iPhone and iPad squeeze out more power while using less power than anything comparable from Intel, ARM-manufactuers, Qualcomm, or anyone else.
Why does Microsoft want Windows server running on ARM CPUs in the company’s cloud services?
It’s a combination of performance, scale, power, and value. ARM-based CPUs are small, take up less space, use up less power, generate less heat (which saves power costs for electricity and cooling, etc.), and yet for certain aspects of a cloud server, provide sufficient performance to increase the value of switching from Intel Inside.
That explains why Apple went with ARM in the iPhone a decade ago. Microsoft is just getting around to figuring out that the same principles apply in cloud services.
Apple’s ARM is not Windows’ ARM because not all ARM CPUs are created equally and unlike Intel, there isn’t a big warehouse full of CPUs which every manufacturer can buy. ARM is fabless. That means it does not manufacture chips the way Intel does. Apple customizes its ARM-based designs to match hardware and software, and that gets more performance from less power, hence, longer battery life.
It’s unlikely you will ever see a high end Mac– of the quad-core i7 variety– using an ARM-based Apple designed CPU, but it is possible Apple could put just such a custom designed CPU in a Mac Pad. Yes. I know. Apple says ‘baloney.’ But Apple, and co-founder Steve Jobs said ‘baloney’ to ideas that were quickly adopted, so there’s always hope. My idea of the Mac Pad is the antithesis of Microsoft’s Windows’ ARM in their cloud operations.
Powerful? Yes. Power sipping? Yes. But a Mac without Intel Inside. An entry-level Mac with a touchscreen. And why not, Apple? It’s not as if the iPad Pro has set the tablet world on fire. Let the two compete to see which is the entry-level computer for the masses; iPad or Mac Pad.