Of ARM And AMD
A year after the iPhone launched in 2007, Apple executives recognized that using ARM CPUs in the iPhone was a no gain, no win proposition because every other smartphone maker could use similar chips so the company bought P.A. Semi, a fabless semiconductor design company. That purchase led to the A-Series CPUs that power today’s iPhones and iPads, specialized chips that show up in AirPods and MacBook Pro and iMac Pro models, and helped to set the stage to differentiate Apple’s wares from competitors.
Apple still has to shop around for chip manufacturers, and it’s not likely that Intel will go out of business soon, but the iPhone maker has become a semiconductor powerhouse with a growing appetite for custom silicon. The real question is: can Intel keep up? Samsung makes the most chips but Intel makes the most money. After that, it’s Taiwan Semiconductor (which makes the chips in new iPhones and iPads), then Qualcomm, followed by Broadcom (which wants to buy Qualcomm) and a few others in the also-ran business.
Way down the list is AMD which makes Intel clones, and some of its recent designs provide greater processing power than comparable Intel chips but at much lower prices. Apple has choices. For the Mac, it’s Intel Inside but AMD’s new Ryzen chips could provide greater power, lower power consumption, and lower prices than Intel Inside.
Apple’s own A-Series Bionic CPUs– in iPhone X and iPhone 8 and 8 Plus– benchmark about the same as mid-range MacBook Pro models. Is Apple capable of putting its own ARM-based CPUs into a Mac? Apple-designed CPUs already power iPhone, iPad, Apple TV 4K, and, yes, HomePod. Apple-designed chips grace the MacBook Pro, the iMac Pro, and AirPods.
Yes, Apple is a chip design powerhouse and that means it is time to put Intel outside because the chipmaker is having difficulty competing against up and comers– Apple included. Two new AMD CPUs– the Ryzen 2400G and 2200G are quad-core powerhouse chips with a modest price tag– with performance that makes Intel look old, slow, and tired.
The best Mac bargain you can buy these days is iMac Pro at $4,999 (running Intel Inside). Why a bargain? In today’s dollars, it is less expensive than the original $2,495 Mac in 1984. What could Apple do to replace the aging $999 MacBook Air? How about an Apple-designed ARM-based CPU that runs only macOS? And a slightly more expensive and powerful version that also runs Windows and Linux?
At times, Apple seems fearful to upset the apple cart, so to speak, but it already has thanks to the success of its own chip design division. Apple must differentiate its product line against competitors and that makes it time to put Intel outside the Mac (while the company adds more Intel modem chips to the iPhone line to compete against Qualcomm).