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The next forced march...

ARL (Moderator) – August 23, 2011 07:29PM Reply Quote
Goodbye Intel, hello ARM?

Discuss pros and cons below...

James DeBenedetti – August 23, 2011 11:59PM Reply Quote
Referencing Tony's post in the rum0rz thread…

While there are R&D costs related to the A5, you need to remember that the CPU cores in the A5 are licensed from ARM, not designed by Apple; ditto for the PowerVR GPU (and most other systems on the chip). The A5's design is roughly similar to the Tegra 2 (both have dual Cortex-A9 cores running at 1GHz), which Nvidia sells at a profit for $20. Assuming the quad-core A6 has the same cost escalation over the dual core A5 as it did over the single core A4 (75%), that will put its cost at roughly $25.

While the 5x performance estimate for Nvidia's quad core Kal-El (vs. the dual core Tegra 2) is somewhat abstract, the video in the roadmap I linked shows 2x the CPU performance - roughly equal to Intel's Core 2 Duo, which powered the Macbook Air until just a couple of months ago. The GPU increase appears to be even higher. And once you've hit the speed of a recent Macbook Air, there's no need to meet the projected order of magnitude increase to be a competitive alternative for the next generation.

Not to mention, unlike the PowerPC -> Intel transition, Apple already has 40,000+ developers who have written 400,000+ apps for an ARM based OS X variant.

James DeBenedetti – August 24, 2011 02:00AM Reply Quote
From the rum0rz thread:

This is probably a small part of it (no pun intended), but wouldn't any ARM chip also require a pretty hefty GPU, as opposed to Intel's (not fantastic, but extant) integrated GPUs? How would that affect size, heat, cost? And are any GPUs compatible with ARM architecture?

SoCs include a GPU. Nvidia's are obviously homebuilt, while most other tablet / smartphone vendors with ARM chips use PowerVR (which is partly owned by Apple). Here's a writeup on the SGX 543MP2 in the A5. Note that this is a dual core version... it can have up to 16 cores. Series6 was recently announced and is supposed to be a lot faster. Rumor has it that Intel will be using PowerVR GPUs in its new line of Atom CPUs.

Here's John Carmack's take on it all.

ARL (Moderator) – August 24, 2011 02:11AM Reply Quote
All good points - but for me it's not so much whether Apple moves to a better architecture but that Apple is moving to a different, non-standard architecture for computers again.

Moving to Intel was worth the pain because it blew all the "it's not compatible" arguments out of the water. It won't run your windows app? Fire up parallels or boot into wintendo.

It's also hard to be slower than your competitors when you're essentially running the same hardware. With a different architecture we're back to the bad old days of photoshop bakeoffs. Even if the processors are considerably faster they may seem slower because they're a different architecture and 3rd party vendors have coded sloppily for a brand new platform or because there's a lot of x86 emulation code.

OS X may very well be getting more platform agnostic but it's still another rewrite for software vendors and years of glitches & incompatibilities while apps are updated. Hell, I still have Photoshop CS which needs rosetta to run - I don't fancy shelling out almost the same cost as a new mac just to run photoshop again on ARM.

The move from PPC to Intel was justified by both the huge compatibility benefits and the fact PPC just wasn't cutting the mustard.

Unless ARM-powered tablets are going to end up more overpowered than desktop machines I don't see the need for the move - especially if none of Apple's competitors are going to do so.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/24/2011 02:11AM by Tony Leggett.

James DeBenedetti – August 24, 2011 03:09AM Reply Quote
Tony Leggett
All good points - but for me it's not so much whether Apple moves to a better architecture but that Apple is moving to a different, non-standard architecture for computers again.
Unless ARM-powered tablets are going to end up more overpowered than desktop machines I don't see the need for the move - especially if none of Apple's competitors are going to do so.

At this point for Apple, the ARM machines (iPad/Phone) are the mainstream, while the Mac (or even the PC) is the "different, non-standard" (and significantly more expensive) architecture for computers.


The question is not whether the Mac will stay on Intel so much as whether Apple will bother with such a (comparatively) low volume / profit business if the architecture is too significantly different from Apple's bread and butter. Especially if the material components (like Intel CPUs) are significantly more expensive than the alternative. We've already seen what Apple does to low volume, tangental products like XServe. As ArsTechnica said in All this has happened before:


It seems probable that NVIDIA, and the rest of the ARM chipmakers, are simply sitting on a much larger market opportunity than Intel, especially if Intel can't match the Cortex A8 in power draw and cost. And even if it can, there are a host of reasons for mobile and consumer electronics vendors to pick ARM over x86, not the least of which is the fact that nobody wants to be wedded to a single CPU supplier.

If it turns out that the ARM ecosystem can get within a factor of two of x86 in terms of performance and performance per watt as ARM chips move to higher levels of size and complexity, and if that ecosystem can simultaneously keep the cost of ARM chips much lower than that of x86 chips, then ARM could do to x86 what x86 did to Alpha, MIPS, SPARC, PowerPC, and the other RISC workstation architectures. Intel used its process strength to get close enough to RISC workstation and server performance that the PC's status as a low-cost commodity machine gave the PC an edge. We all know how the story played out: the high-end RISC vendors were marginalized, as the lower volumes on their now-boutique chips kept their prices up; meanwhile, Intel relentlessly narrowed the performance gap and moved the PC into new markets because it was dramatically cheaper and almost as good.

Given that there is no x86-only equivalent of Windows in the mobile space to give Intel the monopoly that it enjoyed in the PC market, it's possible that competition in the ARM ecosystem could get performance up into Intel's territory (without ever beating it) while being much cheaper due to massively higher product volumes. In that scenario, the x86 PC becomes a boutique, high-performance, niche machine, like the classic RISC workstations of yore. If x86 winds up in the same high-performance, high-cost ghetto as, say, Alpha, then it's curtains for Intel... unless, of course, the chipmaker jumps back on the ARM bandwagon.

There's a reason why Microsoft is making sure Windows 8 runs native on ARM.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/24/2011 03:12AM by James DeBenedetti.

tliet – August 24, 2011 04:36AM Reply Quote
Totally agree with this idea. OS X light/iOS for ARM is already a magnitude bigger for Apple than OS X on Intel. I'd be willing to bet their development is more focused on ARM than on Intel.

One consideration though; a big seller for Macs these days is Windows compatibility. Maybe it's a pill Apple wants to swallow, but Macs without Windows compatibility will have to be sold to a specific market.

bahamut – August 24, 2011 07:54AM Reply Quote
Yes but the apps are totally different.
Almost none (none?) of my apps for iPad/iPhone would be any use of the Mac.

Perhaps Apple wants to make a Netbook. That would be fine. But I don't see how any of this justifies the production of entirely new lines of chips that could power Mac Pros. Unless of course moves like butchering Final Cut are ways to get pros back off the Mac?

tliet – August 24, 2011 10:42AM Reply Quote
How about an iOS with support for more traditional input devices such as a trackpad and a keyboard?

Think of a MBA with a touchscreen and a fold out keyboard/trackpad combo. Can be used as an iPad, but also turned into a full Mac experience with applications that are geared towards the platform. Since most (if not all by now) applications are Cocoa, it should be relatively easy to pull that one off. Traditional iOS applications will run unmodified and Cocoa applications might involve a recompile, or rework to adapt them to touchscreens.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/24/2011 10:50AM by tliet.

bahamut – August 24, 2011 12:43PM Reply Quote
Tliet. That seems perfectly fine as a fork of the iOS experience. I don't see it working for anything serious, however. Going to an iPad with a keyboard for my work would be akin to going back to 1988 in terms of what it could do for me, computationally speaking.

Roger – August 24, 2011 01:24PM Reply Quote
Yeah. Is the Mac-on-ARM hardware question really just a stalking horse for the question of whether, as iOS grows, they're eventually just going to knife the Mac?

John Willoughby – August 24, 2011 01:54PM Reply Quote
Cyberdyne Systems Customer Support
I think the whole point of getting rid of Carbon apps was to move developers to Cocoa, where it really will be a toggle switch to compile for ARM.

ARM iMac = no non-Apple OS X apps on Day 1. 40,000 apps on Day 30. Plus compatibility with tens of thousands of iOS apps.

Also, this whole area of exploration really keeps the fire under Intel's ass to keep moving forward with high-performance, low power chips.

ddt – August 26, 2011 11:38PM Reply Quote
Discovered by accident that I still had this bookmarked... .


El Jeffe – August 27, 2011 06:41AM Reply Quote
What a journey.
tliet - I am not offended by the photo just the offensive disease that has taken him to this place in his life and many others like him. If not your posting, I would see this somewhere. I would not shoot the messenger. Yes, perhaps 'warning' or something as a rule for our community here. But seriously, this is the FIRST THING I saw this morning (just got up) and I am glad I have. It has given me time to say a prayer for him and others. And as you can imagine, I am reflecting on my own being/situation again. And I am thankful that we made it to the UK and got to meet Ron. Sorry we did not make it to see you, tliet.

El Jeffe – August 27, 2011 06:42AM Reply Quote
What a journey.
ok. my posting got attached somehow to a different thread. (out of my control)

John Willoughby – August 27, 2011 11:00AM Reply Quote
Cyberdyne Systems Customer Support
I don't know. "The next forced march" might be a good title for that photo. I'm not trying to be funny; I'm in a somber mood. We'll all make that march someday.

Bruce Robertson – August 27, 2011 02:31PM Reply Quote
And I just saw an article that reminds us that he is 56 years old. Even in less severe photos, he has looked so much older for so long now that I had not really been aware of his actual age. Yes, we will all make that march some day. For many, and certainly for Steve, it will come far too soon.

El Jeffe – August 27, 2011 07:04PM Reply Quote
What a journey.
Yeah, I thought they said he's been battling this for 8 years. That means he was only 48 if that is true , when he started getting ill.


Who knows how long before 48/2003 this had affected his health, too.

porruka (Admin) – October 09, 2011 12:25PM Reply Quote
The cat has your pipe.
Something to consider in the context of the "MacOS on ARM discussions"...


porruka (Admin) – October 26, 2011 02:21PM Reply Quote
The cat has your pipe.
Still more about Intel vs ARM and the possibilities of the future.


James DeBenedetti – December 22, 2011 01:27PM Reply Quote
288 ARM CPUs (1152 cores) in a 4U server box... sold by HP:


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