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Apple CPUs to Replace Intel in Macs?


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#1 DirtyHarry50

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Posted 16 April 2016 - 03:19 AM

Here is an interesting recent article on the subject. I think the final line in the article tells the greatest story of all but then all of it makes perfect sense to me. I would agree it is just a matter of time myself. I've thought this for quite a while now. Earlier I feared it considering my gaming related interest on the Mac and the option for Windows via Bootcamp but now I don't care anymore about that myself. Maybe Apple doesn't either, the Windows on Mac hardware aspect of things I mean. I suspect for most business users wanting access to legacy Windows apps, something like Parallels is probably a far better solution than rebooting to Windows anyway.

http://www.appleworl...own-mac-chips-2
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#2 Camper-Hunter

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Posted 16 April 2016 - 08:36 AM

From the article: "The company describes the A9X chip in the iPad Pro faster than 80% of the portable PCs shipped over the last 12 months in CPU tasks". That's called marketing and of course that's BS, because the sentence should finish with "on a single, carefully selected and specially optimised, benchmark".

The truth is today's ARM processors are nowhere powerful enough for Intel Core i5 or i7 replacement, and the gap is large enough that it will take some time to fill. Add to this the fact that a replacement processor must be much more powerful than the old architecture for something like CPU emulation to be viable: remember Rosetta (PowerPC emulation on Intel x86), and before that the 68K emulator on PowerPC, because customers have hundreds of Intel apps which won't be recompiled to ARM in the blink of an eye, so satisfactory emulation speed is a must have feature.

Also from the article: "Apple certainly has the money to make its own chips. Admittedly, such a task would be a huge one, even for Apple." Huh? Apple already does, the whole article centers around this fact, and they sell much more ARM CPUs than Intel ones already!

#3 DirtyHarry50

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Posted 16 April 2016 - 11:00 AM

Personally, I wouldn't split hairs over what's marketing hype, etc. although I understand what you're saying. The bottom line is the chip is very fast and that comparison about processor speed does not specify how portable PC is defined if I recall correctly.

Whatever is known about today's ARM processors doesn't really provide any view into what is going on at Apple internally with hardware design and development or what may be planned out for say two or three years from now, not that I think I have any clue either. I'm just saying that analyzing what exists at one moment in time when considering something that won't be happening for years does not necessarily tell one much.

I agree emulation would ideal and likely considered a must by Apple too for a time although I cannot say I know that either since there is a first time for everything and we're just speculating here as is that article.

When the article talks about Apple having the money to make its own chips I think the intended meaning there is, to take on the design and manufacture of desktop class chips that do compete with Intel's offerings. Intel has become a slower moving target now to compete against. I highly doubt that whatever went into a first generation ARM iMac would simply be the chip from the then top end iPad Pro for example. It will be more capable than that I would think. As such I think concerns about capability vs Intel CPUs might not be as great a problem as it appears it would be at the moment.

In any event it's a discussion about something potentially in the works, not something happening in the next refresh or two. It does make a lot of sense to me for Apple to shoot for this. The money motive is certainly there. The need to support Windows installs on Mac hardware really isn't anymore for the majority of Mac customers. The benefit of a single instruction set to target no matter what Apple product it is and probably other considerations I'm not thinking of at the moment are all compelling reasons for Apple to move away from Intel who really, they don't need anymore once they can deliver what they need to deliver in terms of performance.

I honestly was worried some time ago about a move to ARM faster than I was going to be ready for it, just myself given the software transition and associated expense. I was also concerned about the loss of Windows gaming on a Mac via Bootcamp. In my own case I no longer care about that. I have a hard time believing Apple would or even should care about that because those who want to do that are such a small subset of a small part of the revenue pie for the company.
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#4 Janichsan

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Posted 16 April 2016 - 01:27 PM

View PostDirtyHarry50, on 16 April 2016 - 11:00 AM, said:

Intel has become a slower moving target now to compete against.
That might be true, but not because Intel has started slacking: they have literally reached the limits of what is physically possible with the current silicon based chip technology.

The CPU's clock rate has already stopped increasing years ago already because higher frequencies would have lead to so much heat that the chips would have started melting. So far, the only way to increase CPU performance further was putting more transistors on it, and to do that they had to become smaller. But now, the transistors cannot be shrunken much more. Just a few nanometers less, and quantum mechanicals effects will start to come into play that will make transistors completely unreliable.

Multi-core CPUs and parallelisation are no panacea, either. There are limits to how much you can parallelise your code and from a certain point on, you cannot gain more performance from it.

Switching to ARM CPUs won't make those limitations magically go away. No amount of ingenious Apple engineering can make a CPU of their own design perform better and faster than an Intel counterpart without running into the same problems. Nothing would be gained.

The simple fact is that we have to let go of the idea of steadily increasing CPU power, not matter from which manufacturer. Moore's Law is coming to an end.

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#5 DirtyHarry50

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Posted 17 April 2016 - 07:31 PM

I don't disagree with anything you say above Janichsan.  I never meant to imply Intel is slacking in some way. I think they are doing their level best to squeeze every last bit of performance they can out of existing technology while I am sure spending a lot of time and money on what might eventually replace it not that any such information would be public at this time I wouldn't think. Likewise however, I see Apple being in the very same position with ARM chips where they are using them now.

In my mind, given the time it is likely to take for a new breakthrough technology to be researched (I assume it is just a matter of time with the amount of time completely unknown) that what I said still applies simply because Apple can catch up to Intel pretty easily I have a feeling with ARM processors and go that route until the next big thing, reaping the aforementioned benefits in the meantime.

So I guess I just see this as Apple choosing an alternative they can exert full control over, reap more profit from and standardize the hardware across the ecosystem further. It would seem to me to be full of win for them. They are masters of marketing and I think could sell another transition despite the associated pain that goes with it. As for Windows compatibility on Mac hardware, I'd still maintain it is at this point largely irrelevant with Office available on OS X and iOS as well as legacy apps best run in Parallels or whatever. What business is going to have people rebooting into Windows on Macs for some app and then back, you know? I don't see much of that being very likely if at all.
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#6 Camper-Hunter

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Posted 18 April 2016 - 12:29 AM

View PostDirtyHarry50, on 17 April 2016 - 07:31 PM, said:

In my mind, given the time it is likely to take for a new breakthrough technology to be researched (I assume it is just a matter of time with the amount of time completely unknown) that what I said still applies simply because Apple can catch up to Intel pretty easily I have a feeling with ARM processors and go that route until the next big thing, reaping the aforementioned benefits in the meantime.
IMHO you underestimate the difficulty and spending necessary to obtain ARM processors which would outclass Intel ones. I seriously doubt this would be economically viable, or at least a smart move: in the end, which choice would give Apple more money in the long run?
Also, previously Apple switched processor architectures when the old one was seriously lagging behind the competition: Motorola unable to improve the 68K architecture which was abandoned long not after, and the PowerPC having hit a brick wall too after the G5 class CPUs. However, today Apple uses Intel x64 chips which dominate the field. And I'm not convinced unifying CPUs on iOS and OS X has so much benefits: nowadays for many apps, it's just a compiling option which differs.

But who knows, as you said we're just speculating!

Quote

as legacy apps best run in Parallels or whatever.
Well, remember what I wrote about CPU emulation performance yesterday: if you switch CPU architectures, then your Parallels or VMware won't simply have to emulate Windows (which they do well and fast except for specialised tasks like those involving the GPU), but also the CPU, and that's a sure way to get a major performance hit: someone remember the excruciating slowness of VirtualPC and RealPC back in the days?

#7 Janichsan

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Posted 18 April 2016 - 12:35 AM

View PostCamper-Hunter, on 18 April 2016 - 12:29 AM, said:

…someone remember the excruciating slowness of VirtualPC and RealPC back in the days?
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#8 Thain Esh Kelch

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Posted 18 April 2016 - 01:51 AM

They could run Word at least.
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#9 DirtyHarry50

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Posted 18 April 2016 - 02:54 AM

Well, I don't think Apple would need to outclass Intel processors really. They just need to be roughly as capable for what users are doing on the hardware in the majority. I think they are an attractive option for portable Macs also which Apple sells many more of than desktops as I understand it. I think R&D would be paid for by what it is saved not paying anything to Intel and they certainly have the money for R&D already on hand.

That's a good point about CPU emulation which I hadn't thought about but might be another case of if it can be "good enough" while not being great even that is kind of a plus as it incentivizes users to move on a new standard to regain decent performance sooner than later. That's not exactly a nice scenario for users short-term but it works for Apple overall. People will complain a lot about such things but they often don't act on that complaining. So I don't see it as huge risk if handled carefully. I'm thinking there of OS X apps though. For Windows apps in a VM I can see that potentially being a significant issue early on but the question is how much does that even matter anymore and I can't say I have any idea about that.

It does seem to me that with Apple's IBM partnership they are more focused on making inroads of their own rather than being overly concerned with catering to legacy Windows software indefinitely.
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#10 Janichsan

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Posted 18 April 2016 - 03:13 AM

View PostDirtyHarry50, on 18 April 2016 - 02:54 AM, said:

Well, I don't think Apple would need to outclass Intel processors really. They just need to be roughly as capable for what users are doing on the hardware in the majority.
That would mean death for scientific computing on Macs, for professional image and video editing, and last but not least for gaming.

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#11 DirtyHarry50

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Posted 18 April 2016 - 06:38 AM

I probably didn't state that very well and I think reading what you just said I am off about the "in the majority" part of my comment since the use cases you bring up are important.

What I mean is if they are close in performance they are a viable alternative. I'd agree if they are not close then they aren't to the degree they are lacking in performance. I cannot see Apple introducing new hardware that performs poorly though vs what it is trying to compete against or keep up with. What i most wanted to address there was the notion of any need to outclass Intel. I wouldn't agree that is necessary, only that the performance be competitive.
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#12 Frost

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Posted 18 April 2016 - 12:43 PM

I could see Apple using home-baked ARM CPUs in MacBooks or something like that, maybe even a Mac mini.

That has absolutely no place in a Mac Pro, MacBook Pro, or iMac though. ARM's come extremely far in the past few years and they're beating Intel in the low power space as hard as POWER is beating Intel in the server and HPC space. But for heavy desktop computing, Intel still rules the roost. There are a few good reasons to switch, and a LOT of good reasons not to.

The only switch from Intel I think has any real likelihood of happening would be if AMD's Zen architecture really pans out, I could see Apple being potentially interested in AMD's offerings since that would retain compatibility.
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#13 DirtyHarry50

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Posted 18 April 2016 - 01:40 PM

That's a good point about the Mac Pro in particular. I had thought about that and wondered what would they do there in a scenario where they move to ARM processors. One question that came to mind was do they even sell enough of them anymore to care? Maybe they do.

I could certainly see ARM in the MacBooks and Minis too but then the issue becomes supporting two versions of OS X and expecting 3rd party developers to also and expecting users with multiple Macs to own multiple versions of apps, etc. Thinking about that I am inclined to think if it were to happen at all it would be an all or nothing thing.

That's a good point about the Mac Pro in particular. Although they seem fine with really dumbing down the lower end of the product lines maybe what they have at the high end of them will keep a change like this from happening or even being considered.
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#14 Janichsan

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Posted 18 April 2016 - 02:03 PM

View PostDirtyHarry50, on 18 April 2016 - 01:40 PM, said:

I could certainly see ARM in the MacBooks and Minis too but then the issue becomes supporting two versions of OS X and expecting 3rd party developers to also and expecting users with multiple Macs to own multiple versions of apps, etc. Thinking about that I am inclined to think if it were to happen at all it would be an all or nothing thing.
I have to agree here. Fragmenting the Mac platform by using two completely different and incompatible types of CPUs in different models would be the worst thing Apple could do.

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#15 Sneaky Snake

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Posted 18 April 2016 - 02:30 PM

View PostJanichsan, on 18 April 2016 - 02:03 PM, said:

I have to agree here. Fragmenting the Mac platform by using two completely different and incompatible types of CPUs in different models would be the worst thing Apple could do.

They do have a history of doing it. Back during the switch to x86 they were selling Macbooks and iMacs with Core Duo CPU's, while simultaneously selling PowerMac G5's
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#16 DirtyHarry50

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Posted 18 April 2016 - 03:22 PM

View PostSneaky Snake, on 18 April 2016 - 02:30 PM, said:

They do have a history of doing it. Back during the switch to x86 they were selling Macbooks and iMacs with Core Duo CPU's, while simultaneously selling PowerMac G5's

Yikes. I'm guessing that did not go on for long though, did it?
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#17 Frost

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Posted 18 April 2016 - 04:09 PM

View PostSneaky Snake, on 18 April 2016 - 02:30 PM, said:

They do have a history of doing it. Back during the switch to x86 they were selling Macbooks and iMacs with Core Duo CPU's, while simultaneously selling PowerMac G5's

To be fair, the reason they did that was IBM had the dual core 970MP all ready to go which was a massive step up over existing PowerMacs, most pro apps were somewhere between partially complete and totally incomplete on x86 at the time, and most importantly the Core-based Xeons were not yet ready to go. Apple had every intention of completing the move to x86 on their professional lineup once the Core-based Xeons were available.

And I agree; while ARM would make sense in a MacBook or Mac mini, that would split the Mac userbase, would which be no bueno. So I can't see it happening. Again, the only move away from Intel in the desktop space that I can see happening anytime soon would be moving to AMD. All existing apps should remain compatible, and they could play Intel and AMD off against each other every couple years like they've been doing with ATI/AMD and NVIDIA for the past decade and a half on their GPUs. That's only if Zen does well though; AMD's current CPUs are just way too far behind Intel.
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When there's a multiplayer version, I'm going to be on Frost's team. Well, except he doesn't seem to actually need a team...I mean, what's the point? "Hey look, it's Frost and His Merry Gang of Useless Hangers-On!" Or something.

#18 Frost

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Posted 19 April 2016 - 05:41 PM

Well speak of the devil!
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Eric5h5:
When there's a multiplayer version, I'm going to be on Frost's team. Well, except he doesn't seem to actually need a team...I mean, what's the point? "Hey look, it's Frost and His Merry Gang of Useless Hangers-On!" Or something.

#19 the Battle Cat

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Posted 19 April 2016 - 06:15 PM

View PostFrost, on 19 April 2016 - 05:41 PM, said:


Wait, the devil is a nerd?  Actually that would explain the Bandai Pippin.
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#20 DirtyHarry50

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Posted 19 April 2016 - 08:01 PM

Well, maybe Apple will be transitioning to new CPUs from AMD too. If that's the case, what do those have to offer for onboard graphics? How well does their tech compete with say Iris Pro or whatever is currently Intel's best?
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