Apple is rumoured to move away from Intel's x86 CPUs in 2020 towards custom chip designs

Could Apple beat Intel with their own custom chip designs?

Apple are rumoured to move away from Intel in 2020 with custom chip designs

Apple is rumoured to move away from Intel's x86 CPUs in 2020 towards custom chip designs

Apple is rumoured to be moving away from Intel processors, creating custom chip designs for both the mobile and desktop markets. Provided that these rumours are accurate, this means that Apple will be abandoning x86, assuming that their upcoming processor designs are not utilising semi-custom IP from AMD (the second largest creator of x86 CPUs). 

Over the years Apple is no stranger from transitioning away from CPU architectures, starting off with 68K processors, then PowerPC processors and finally Intel x86 processors. 

In the mobile market, Apple has created some industry leasing SoC designs, leveraging their custom software to develop specialised hardware which perfectly matches their software needs. This unique approach allows Apple to create custom software and hardware features concurrently, allowing them to quickly adopt new features while also integrating unique design tweaks which can minimise power consumption or maximise performance. 

Contrasting this to other mobile devices, where chip makers have little say over the direction Android takes and how slowly new hardware features are adopted by the platform. Apple's combined hardware/software development allows the company to innovate quickly. 

Apple has been reportedly integrating the features of iOS and Mac OS into a new software platform called Marzipan, blurring the lines between traditional Apple Desktops and the company's mobile offerings. Further integration could help Apple to more seamlessly transition to custom chip designs on future desktop offerings, provided that they can develop chips that can compete with Intel on the desktop.   

Apple are rumoured to move away from Intel in 2020 with custom chip designs

Intel commented on Bloomberg's report stating that "We don’t comment on speculation about our customers”, neither confirming or denying Apple's plan. Bloomberg has also said that Apple could still decide to abandon or delay their switch, which is a distinct possibility of the company's custom processors do not meet the company's expectations. 

Apple originally moved to x86 back in 2006, removing support for PowerPC architectures with the release of MacOS 10.6 "Snow Leopard" in 2009. If Apple transitions to an in-house custom processor design, it is likely that they will be using a custom ARM architecture, as Apple does not possess the required licences to create custom x86 technology. 

While it seems unlikely that Apple could create a CPU that can compete with the Mac Pro's x86 Intel 18-core, it is undeniable that Intel's commanding lead in the foundry market has all but disappeared, making now a great time to create chips using competing foundries. Intel's slow progress and complacency in the x86 market may have also lead Apple's desire to create custom chips, as Intel's CPU performance has not increased at anywhere close to the rate of Apple's mobile processors.  

You can join the discussion on Apple's reported plans to move away from Intel's x86 CPUs on the OC3D Forums

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Most Recent Comments

02-04-2018, 18:02:37

I would disagree that Intel has lost the foundry lead. They may not be 18-24months ahead like they used to be but they definitely are still the leaders.Quote

02-04-2018, 23:10:05

I'm guessing they'll work with AMD for semi-custom designs, like the Xbos/PS4. Those timelines line up well with planned 7nm ThreadripperQuote

02-04-2018, 23:28:46

This will give software developers a lot of headaches.Quote

03-04-2018, 09:15:21

Apple's already moved a good portion of their OSX and iOS development tools to cross-compatible APIs(IE- Metal) and relatively abstract languages that can comfortably compile down to either x86 or ARM. Porting an iOS app to the OSX marketplace nowadays is relatively trivial and mostly concerns UI changes.

Obviously, "legacy apps" that require or are built around high performance low level interaction with x86 processors will either need a Windows-on-ARM style translation layer, or just to be rewritten entirely if they want to reach their past performance, BUT I don't think this will be an issue. I expect these changes will only be made to the "Macbook" and/or "Macbook Air" models where most users do relatively light work with web or app like crossplatform software, and the performance of Intel's CPUs trades blows with Apples A10X(And presumably upcoming A11X) due to the constrained TDP.Quote

03-04-2018, 10:27:36

I think whomever is the first to make the next die shrink work will be leader currently Intel but my hopes are on AMD. I doubt Apple have the means to come even close, sure they have the cash but AFAIK they don't have any fabs etcQuote

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