Report: Apple testing ARM-based desktops and laptops ditching Intel in the process

Rumors have been swirling for a while that Apple is unhappy with Intel's performance in regards to their CPUs. After dropping the PowerPC architecture in 2005, Apple then switched to Intel units for its PC range. The introduction of the iPhone 4 changed that, with Apple deciding to make their own chips in-house and then using them in the iPhone and iPad. 

MacBidouille, a French Apple rumors site, is reporting (via MacRumors) that Apple is now actively developing ARM-based desktop and laptop Macs using knowledge gained from the production of the chips used in the iPhone and iPad. According to a reliable source, Apple is testing an ARM-based iMac with 4 to 8 64-bit processors running on four cores, a Mac Mini with 4 64-bit processors across four cores and a 13-inch laptop with the same specs as the iMac. 

The machines are, according to MacBidouille, well into the developmental stage and include updated keyboards that include a large trackpad. This is inline with the introduction of iOS-style features in OS X which can be accessed via a trackpad but not a mouse. 

While the report claims the machines are developed and could possibly be ready for an announcement but Apple may be unsure about whether releasing such machines is a good idea. Intel is a trusted partner and releasing a machine that directly competes with their technology could cause Apple more grief than they want. 

Source: MacBidouille (via MacRumors) | Image via TechShop 

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show me an ARM which can encode 4k video inc numerous filters...nope, intel will be with Macs for a long time yet!

I truly believe this is a myth, or at least an incomplete rumor. These devices might as well exists, but that does not mean they are meant to replace intel macs.

People said the PowerPC to Ibtrl switch would be impossible but Apple pulled it off so well even Bill Gates said it was an amazing achievement. If anyone can do it I would put my money on Apple. As to if it is worth it I guess Apple know a lot more about Intel and ARMs plans for the next few years. They won't just make an architecture change for the hell of it. If this change does happen then you can be sure they will have a pretty good solution for developers.

I was trying to find that quote. He basically said that the only company in the world who could have pulled of an architecture switch as seamlessly as they did was Apple. Although they did have Steve around then who made people think the impossible was possible..

Steve didn't really have much to do with it. Other than say we need software to make power pc code run on Intel processors. Oh and make it so it just works.

This is something I've wanted to see since Microsoft announced Windows on ARM. I would have expected a few chromebook level ARM laptops from a couple companies by now... maybe we will get to see that since RT is free to license.

A wild guess: both x86 and ARM parts are installed in the same Mac, defaulting to ARM when only native ARM software is running, powering up the x86 parts when power hungry x86 software has to be run?

I would be shocked if they was not doing this. Apple are busy trying all sorts of stuff. I bet there a secret vault with all the failed apple test ideas. I bet if you look hard enough in there, you will find an ipad with an intel cpu in it!

VHMP01 said,
Oh, Apple means Windows RT on MACs! Funny how this is going to be shown as "Magical & Innovative"!

depends if they can get it right.....MS failed

remember the windows xp tablets?

maybe they testing ARM + x86 in a single board? So one can use OSX and iOS at the same time (thus using both OS apps)?

This is would be horrible if true.. Intel has helped them get where they are today with their computer hardware.. Apps are a lot easier to port over.. If this is true.. Apple will have shot itself in the foot..

lol at Apple moving away from Intel

an ARM based Mac Pro? seriously! please

what's likely to happen is that we will see an ARM based Macbook Air, but Apple won't release something as stupid as RT!

glen8 said,
lol at Apple moving away from Intel

an ARM based Mac Pro? seriously! please

what's likely to happen is that we will see an ARM based Macbook Air, but Apple won't release something as stupid as RT!

Apple has a unique way of selling products to their customers.

Apple like to great a magical moment, a bit of myth and romance thrown in the mix and new features they tout as better then the rest. Sometimes they'll even manage to sell you something you already have.

Don't be surprised if they sell a ARM based Mac with cloud computing built in.

A perfect integration of a remotely hosted OS for the Intel Applications.

They'll tell you it has super features of ultra low battery usage from an ultra light device (probably thinner then the Mac Book Air). Since it's got no optical drive and just a SSD. Ram will be soldered on, since you'll be using cloud ram for Intel applications, and the CPU will be a ARM like we see in latest gen ipad/iphones.

We know already that Apple keep multiple architectures of their Mac OS, from System to OS X. Hence how easy it was for them to switch to the Intel platform...

They'll tell you that you'll be able to download any Intel Application and install it to the cloud. As soon as OS X sees you're trying to launch an Intel app, it'll ask if you want to move it to the cloud. A special folder on your Mac that is seemingly linked to the cloud computer (or they'll have cloud applications from the Mac Store).
Once installed to the cloud, when you run the application, it'll be running on a virtual PC with the process forwarded to your ARM machine, much like we can do with X Windows (Remember, Linux etc all use a loop back for it's display), think LTSP/mainframes.
They'll tell you that because you're using the cloud, you'll have computer processing that is worth $10,000 at your finger tips, 100% up time and you'll be able to resume your games and applications instantly as they're always 'on' ready to go in the cloud... for the sum of a $10 a month subscription.

Apple are great with integrating their hardware and systems. They don't have to worry about 3rd party companies messing up how it works. I could see this working very well for them.

Of course, it might just be my imagination going wild again and we'll just end up with a crappy RT laptops.

VHMP01 said,
"Don't be surprised if they sell a ARM based Mac with cloud computing built in"... You mean a Chromebook, right?

It's much more then what Chrome OS provides. Since Chrome OS only send data back and forth over the web for interactivity with client side applications, or what are essentially just webpages.

If you've ever remotely logged into a system via SSH and performed a compile on the system. You'll see it doing the task at the remote end. While the graphical dialog box, your terminal, is at your client end.

That's cloud that harnesses server-side computing power at a very basic level.

Take it one step further, where the remote application's GUI is forwarded to the client, like you can do already with X Windows, and you have very power servers running software that is interacting with your client's native widget controls.

We use this already to provide the applications on clients in the Linux terminal server project (LTSP.org). I see no reason why Apple, using their in house software, can't push it into apple icloud and provide the same level of service for it's users with ultra-light ARM terminals.

The difference between LTSP, and them, would be the software is already included on the Apple terminal. Not only allowing for remote Intel cloud computing, but also any ARM software for local usage.

I'm talking a full Intel Photoshop CC application running on the cloud server, with the GUI forwarded to the ARM Mac. You get the speed and memory of the server, with the ultra light spec of the client ARM machine.
If Chromebook can do that...

It's inevitable that the days of OS X running inside an ARM will happen and Intel never offer anything beyond 4 core at a reasonable price range which makes it impossible to give a reason why enthusiast or consumer need to buy a new mac or even pc user starting to feel the lack of competition from Intel won't spur them lower down the price. Since the A7 is already 64 bit CPU, it can overtake intel performance/per watt at a faster rate for computer such as Macbook Air. They just need to get it right with all the application and could substantially reduce the cost of mac by avoiding pricey CPU from Intel

An ARM chip that comes with comparable performance to an i7 desktop CPU/GPU from Intel wouldn't consume less power. One of the biggest reasons people are buying Macbooks is that they can run Windows on it. That would be gone plus you would loose support for all the x86 programs. A Macbook Air with ARM wouldn't be more than an iPad with Keyboard.

We won't know for sure until they come up with a chip that come close to i5 or i7 and maybe they could still significantly reduce power consumption with more advanced nm size in the few years. ARM have proven it can rival intel cpu performance in the mobile device segment and it's only matter of time how they gonna take a giant leap. One of the few things that Intel done poorly is how stingy they can be when providing more cpu core and Apple might start to aware the value of ARM can provide in the future compared to intel in price, performance per watt.

The problem with CPU cores is not Intel's resistance to add more, it's software and dev tools that are lacking proper support. Look at AMD, they tried to move the industry in this direction with the FX CPU lineup and got kicked in the balls by the software industry. Single threaded performance is still the most important for any desktop CPU today.

Not entirely true. Intel will charge at an absurd price if you try to go beyond 4 core. They have better single thread performance than AMD but it's not the reason to jack up the price because if there provide the option of running two CPU in the z97 motherboard it will be hell lot of cheaper purchasing two i7 CPU for 8 cores.

Single threaded performance is and will always be king, and as I explained above ARM is still about 5-6 times slower than Haswell clock for clock.

The other link provided by somebody else (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amdahl%27s_law ) shows how scaling by multi-cores is limited, so adding more cores will not offset an architectural performance deficiency. Even if it did by adding a ridiculous amount of cores (let's say 32 instead of 4) then you would have a serious die space issue or needing to create a multi chip motherboard and spend more power budget on the interconnects, which will ultimately offset any benefit you were looking for.

ARM has no chance for the time being, and remember that Intel is the one having the best fabs around, so your argument of overtaking them on the "nanometers" race is not even on the roadmap of any of the major neutral fabs (TSMC, GlobalFoundries).

If single threaded performance determine the overall important of performance then 8th generation console won't have to used 8 cores despite less powerful CPU compared to Intel. All it takes is to fully optimize the application that can scale well with more cores without performance compromise.

It's stupid to think Apple will release half baked hardware that can't run anything... A huge chunk of Mac sales come from the the creative industry which require excellent performance with the best apps.. Apple is well known for tweaking it's hardware and the chances of them taking a step back is slim to non. I don't know the technical aspects of the processors but i'm sure Apple will do what is best for their OS and hardware... obviously if they do not then they will lose lots of customers myself included.

Wow yet another architecture change? I find this hard to believe because tons of applications would have to be rewritten. I think the transition from PPC to intel was a bold step which proved to be a good one I can't see them being able to pull it off again with all the devs having to rewrite for ARM.

It proved to be a good step but it was easier to make with a tiny dedicated user base. Their user base is still comparatively small but it's been filled with people who felt comfortable buying a Mac that could run Windows. Those people are less likely to put up with the hassle and expense of an architecture change.

jakem1 said,
It proved to be a good step but it was easier to make with a tiny dedicated user base. Their user base is still comparatively small but it's been filled with people who felt comfortable buying a Mac that could run Windows. Those people are less likely to put up with the hassle and expense of an architecture change.

Well of course. After all, it was an Apple computer that was found to be the most reliable Windows PC.

They have enough resources that it seems only reasonable that they would develop such devices but it might only be a contingency.

I don't think the running Windows issue is what it once was - firstly most things are cross-platform now, unlike in 2006 when x86 Macs debuted, and secondly Windows support on the Mac is poor to begin with. I do think though that for high end applications the loss of the ability to virtualise x86 OSs (particularly on the Pro lines) would be serious. It would also be a hassle for developers forced to port their binaries from x86 to ARM.

Honestly I think they are just giving themselves an option if they want to pursue it in the future. We know OS X x86 was actively developed for years before it came out as a product.

So they are basically creating a Chrome book or Windows RT equivalent, that's strange as those products are said to be such a failure.

I'm not a microarchitecture expert, but reading in a few places, mainly anandtech, and based on the tests that they did, comparing Atom and ARM, ARM doesn't seem to be inherently power efficient and the thought that x86 is an inefficient design seems to be a myth. ARM cores consume less, because they've always been far behind x86 in performance, on purpose.

It seems that intel could actually match ARM's power consumption/performance curve.

Oh, I so want them to succeed, but I don't think they will. People who are going to buy a mac assuming it can also run Windows or going to have a bad time.

I don't think they'll run into performance issues with 16/32 cores. These things will work really well and if this also means a price drop, I'll buy one for sure.

Lol, not run into performance issues with 32 cores?
Show me any application (not for a cluster or supercomputer system) which effectively uses 16/32 cores:

deadonthefloor said,

The NT Kernel scheduler.

Wrong, I said application, you can't call a kernel subsystem an application.

Apples and Oranges. This is, however, the same kind of story that started coming out when they were testing Intel hardware before they announced that switch. There were people, just like you, who sat there and said the same thing about them ditching IBM's Power chips for Intel.

But back then Intel was a great choice (they should've made it earlier tbh), it was one of those decisions that increased profits, sales and efficiency.

Heck I even bought 4 Apple computers after they made the switch (never bought one before).

But ARM isn't a forward step in terms of power. They'd have to recode OSX, not a hard job sure, but what about all that software that runs on x86/64 code? There'd need to be emulation (again), and we know how well that worked out last time...

Maybe as an additional product line perhaps?

I have serious doubts they'll transition away from Intel processors; certainly being able to run OSX and Windows on the same computer helped with Mac sales. I can't imagine an ARM processor in a MacBook Pro/Retina or Mac Pro.

I suppose they could do cheaper ARM based machines and resurrect the Universal Binary to contain Intel and ARM binaries (making it a requirement for apps in the Mac App Store), but it just seems like a terrible idea.

If they do ditch x86-64 in the future, an Apple Mac will be of little value for me.

DKAngel said,
and arm is so under powered it isnt funny, seriously not happy with intel performance thats funny

Haha yeah. It's funny how every OS in the world can get good performance out of intel chips, except mac, who actually have a closed set of hardware and compile JUST for those specific devices unlike other OS's which support everything...

It's not about raw performance, it's about performance-per-watt. It was the reason Apple switched to Intel and it's the reason they may now (partially) switch to ARM. Although it makes programming for OS X a bit harder since a fast ARM setup would have a ton of cores.

Ambroos said,
It's not about raw performance, it's about performance-per-watt. It was the reason Apple switched to Intel and it's the reason they may now (partially) switch to ARM. Although it makes programming for OS X a bit harder since a fast ARM setup would have a ton of cores.

True, but Intel have made good progress in getting the wattage down with their Atom series.

Ambroos said,
It's not about raw performance, it's about performance-per-watt. It was the reason Apple switched to Intel and it's the reason they may now (partially) switch to ARM. Although it makes programming for OS X a bit harder since a fast ARM setup would have a ton of cores.

Intel as of now has better performance-per-watt than ARM. Let's take for example, Intel i7 3770 CPU with the TDP of 65 watt. A theoretical ARM Cortex-A57 with 65watt of TDP will not have the same IPC as the aforementioned Intel CPU.

This is why, if Intel ever managed to miniaturized their Intel CPUs to have the same TDP as a typical ARM CPU (less than 1 watt typical), ARM will be in trouble.

An ARM with 65w of TDP? Yeah I don't think so. I've just looked up the A57 you're talking about and the physical AMD chip that uses it (Opteron A1100) has a TDP of 20w.

n_K said,
An ARM with 65w of TDP? Yeah I don't think so. I've just looked up the A57 you're talking about and the physical AMD chip that uses it (Opteron A1100) has a TDP of 20w.

That's why I say 'theoretical'. Between an ARM CPU and Intel CPU wikth the same TDP, the Intel CPU is going to be more powerful.

ranpha said,

That's why I say 'theoretical'. Between an ARM CPU and Intel CPU wikth the same TDP, the Intel CPU is going to be more powerful.


Between one CPU, yes. But ARM shines in performance per watt at lower clock speeds. Combine a ton of ARM cores and you'll get a better performance per watt than most Intel dual- and quadcores. And that's exactly what Apple is trying. If it works will depend on the workload completely. Many things aren't easy to parallelize and they're going to suffer.

Ambroos said,
It's not about raw performance, it's about performance-per-watt.

On a desktop? I mean, I could follow your thinking up to a certain point on laptops (if your purpose is just media consumption), but desktops and productivity laptops are about being FAST, not about how energy efficient they are at watching YouTube, browsing websites and playing a microtransaction driven game.

Just remember every extra second you wait for your device to complete a task is a second lost in revenue for you or your boss. The bottleneck should be your ability to perform a task, not the tool you are using to complete it.

n_K said,

Haha yeah. It's funny how every OS in the world can get good performance out of intel chips, except mac, who actually have a closed set of hardware and compile JUST for those specific devices unlike other OS's which support everything...

Macs have bad performance? O _o wow, let me inform my macbook air, the thing has dared to perform quite well, the nerve! such ignorance from it!

sanctified said,

Macs have bad performance? O _o wow, let me inform my macbook air, the thing has dared to perform quite well, the nerve! such ignorance from it!


Yes, my 2006 macbook is incredibly slow to load up and run programs on lion, before the original mac drive died (at a pathetic 4 years of age) and I had a triple boot, both linux and windows xp loaded up quicker than OSX.

Co-ords said,
who is IBM? ;-)

That huge corporation that is a lot bigger then you think and has major influence on high end system design ;)

Co-ords said,
who is IBM? ;-)

That company that is still considered, among developers and computer technicians, as the most important company, computer wise, in the world. The company that have been developing almost all the technologies that are included in the device you're using, including software.

Agreed. Mac fans won't like to admit it but Windows compatibility is the main thing that keeps Macs in business. Sacrifice that and the only customers Apple will have will be the tiny number of die hard fans.

Gergel7077 said,
If true, good luck with that Apple. You're gonna need it.

I really don't think they will need it. Apple has an incredible ability to take something that is limited, market the crap out of it, and then third party developers will fill all of the holes for them.

I mean, look at the iPad and the iPhone. They aren't first to the market but people will eat it up.

jakem1 said,
Agreed. Mac fans won't like to admit it but Windows compatibility is the main thing that keeps Macs in business. Sacrifice that and the only customers Apple will have will be the tiny number of die hard fans.

I wouldn't necessarily say it was the MAIN thing, but being able to fire up a Windows VM or even Bootcamp back to Windows is an advantage to the Mac and OSX. I do keep a Windows VM around on my Mac and even then I only use it for a handful of things.. a car parts catalogue application that only runs on Windows, and my copy of Adobe CS5 because I don't want to pay for creative cloud having already paid out for CS5 a few years back.

jakem1 said,
Agreed. Mac fans won't like to admit it but Windows compatibility is the main thing that keeps Macs in business. Sacrifice that and the only customers Apple will have will be the tiny number of die hard fans.

Maybe Apple will offer parallels or bootcamp wth Windows RT as an option.

deadonthefloor said,
Maybe Apple will offer parallels or bootcamp wth Windows RT as an option.

Virtualization per definition won't work on anything other than x86. On top of that Windows RT would be pointless considering how few apps actually run on it.

A version of OSX that uses the ARM architecture where software is acquired through Apple's OSX store but looks similar to Intel based OSX. In short, apple is pulling a Windows RT.

Dot Matrix said,
Well, that's bound to create all sorts of application incompatibilities...

I guess this will bring all the iOS apps to Mac, but not sure what will happen to performance

I also use macbook to run windows, it looks like this one is going away too

They myth is that graphic designers use MAC's, this move would alienate all of their customers as there are no ARM versions of Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign etc..

Dot Matrix said,
Well, that's bound to create all sorts of application incompatibilities...

You are aware of what they did when it came to making the switch from IBM PPC chips over to Intel? Recompile applications into a single package, which made them cross platform - they were called 'Universal' binaries. It worked extremely well and developers seemed to, from my recollection of things, make the transition fairly painlessly even if it did take a couple of years.

It's kinda neat with Apple apps as they show up as just a single file, but are actually a container with all the libraries and resources need to make the application run. So a Universal binary contained both PPC and Intel versions of the application - it was seamless to the user as you just clicked the icon and it launched the appropriate build of the application.

Chicane-UK said,
make the transition fairly painlessly even if it did take a couple of years.

You think a couple of years is painless? Apple probably need to do this if they want success in the PC market, all their glory is with ARM iPhone and iPAD. While MBA and MBP and the rest is not even the equivalent of what Windows Phones are in the Smartphone area.

Edited by Wall-swe, May 26 2014, 12:05pm :

Chicane-UK said,

You are aware of what they did when it came to making the switch from IBM PPC chips over to Intel? Recompile applications into a single package, which made them cross platform - they were called 'Universal' binaries. It worked extremely well and developers seemed to, from my recollection of things, make the transition fairly painlessly even if it did take a couple of years.

It's kinda neat with Apple apps as they show up as just a single file, but are actually a container with all the libraries and resources need to make the application run. So a Universal binary contained both PPC and Intel versions of the application - it was seamless to the user as you just clicked the icon and it launched the appropriate build of the application.

They may have done that, but I remember the transition not going too smoothly. Or maybe it's the transition from OS 9 to OS 10 that I'm thinking of...

Dot Matrix said,

They may have done that, but I remember the transition not going too smoothly. Or maybe it's the transition from OS 9 to OS 10 that I'm thinking of...

The transition from OS9 to OSX did take a lot longer, no doubt about it. There was a lot of apps that simply never got ported or took a LONG time to bring over. Indeed a lot of folks were still using the Classic environment (which is how they ran OS9 apps on OSX) when Apple then announced the switch to Intel, rendering Classic immediately useless (as Classic didn't get ported for Intel chips).

Rosetta ran PowerPC apps on Intel Macs without any problems (even games ran perfectly, faster than on the hardware they were designed for). There's no reason why Apple couldn't make a 'Rosetta 2' to for running Intel apps on an ARM platform. Not much processing power is required actually.

Microsoft were supposed to do this for Surface RT (so standard Windows apps would run on it).

68k said,
Rosetta ran PowerPC apps on Intel Macs without any problems (even games ran perfectly, faster than on the hardware they were designed for). There's no reason why Apple couldn't make a 'Rosetta 2' to for running Intel apps on an ARM platform. Not much processing power is required actually.

Microsoft were supposed to do this for Surface RT (so standard Windows apps would run on it).


Except you will never get a performance increase. X86 has many instruction sets and such. PowerPC was catchable with what X86 has to offer. But ARM lacks a whole lot of instruction sets which will cause the ARM CPU to have to execute instructions multiple times what was done just once in an X86 chip. Severely crippling performance.

AFAIK there's a rumour some Russian dude figured out a way to run X86 on ARM without much performance loss (claims 20% loss).

Shadowzz said,

AFAIK there's a rumour some Russian dude figured out a way to run X86 on ARM without much performance loss (claims 20% loss).

that's nonsense. For instance ARM chips don't even have the bandwidth and latencies that an Intel chip can get, so unless Apple really pulls a rabbit out of the hat there's no way they could get even close to 40% of a Haswell chip clock for clock.

For example AMD's Jaguar cores are already about twice as fast clock for clock than A15 cores (see http://www.anandtech.com/show/6974/amd-kabini-review/3 ) and we all know those are still well below a Haswell core, and the same review linked above has i3 results that show about 3x higher raw performance than the Jaguar (the i3 is clocked 15% higher, but we can still say above 2.5x). Even taking into account that this will be ARM v8 on 64-bit chips I don't recall the performance jump from A15 to be that big to offset this.

This is productivity desktops and laptopts we are talking about, energy efficiency is not as important as absolute performance. ARM chips don't even do 3.0ghz yet, so Intel chips by default have a 30-40% clock limit advantage. Sum up the previous figures with this one and you will easily see how this is not possible without a huge performance regression. We are probably still years away until ARM can approach Intel's big cores from a performance standpoint, and it could possibly never happen.

And then let's not even get started on the GPU side of the story...

Its just a rumor and he claims they're at 20% and they should be able to get it down to 10% even. But we'll see soon. They seem to want to release it later this year.

Considering the technical specs and limitations, I hardly doubt it. But I'm interested in the result :)

68k said,
Rosetta .....
Microsoft were supposed to do this for Surface RT (so standard Windows apps would run on it).

Actually Rosetta is including two compiled binaries in one file. This leads to horrible bloat. And people complain about MS Bloat.

So much that on the modern side, AppX package is being changed so you only get the resources / codebase needed for your EXACT device compiled at purchase time to native code.

Wall-swe said,
They myth is that graphic designers use MAC's, this move would alienate all of their customers as there are no ARM versions of Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign etc..

Indeed, in reality it's just TV/Movie stars and Hal Emmerich.

deadonthefloor said,

Actually Rosetta is including two compiled binaries in one file. This leads to horrible bloat. And people complain about MS Bloat.

So much that on the modern side, AppX package is being changed so you only get the resources / codebase needed for your EXACT device compiled at purchase time to native code.

Wrong. 'Rosetta is a dynamic binary translator for Mac OS X that allows many PowerPC applications to run on certain Intel-based Macintosh computers without modification.' http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosetta_%28software%29

Universal binaries are in no way related to Rosetta.

Universal binaries were the best solution at the time. Minimal effort required for programmers to support two platforms (Intel and PowerPC Macs).

Wall-swe said,
They myth is that graphic designers use MAC's, this move would alienate all of their customers as there are no ARM versions of Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign etc..
It wouldn't be difficult for a company as large as Adobe to port Photoshop to ARM.

Wall-swe said,
They myth is that graphic designers use MAC's, this move would alienate all of their customers as there are no ARM versions of Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign etc..

There is already a lite version of Photoshop version for ARM processors, check the AppStore, furthermore it wouldn't be too hard to port them if Apple does the move first.