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Rumor: Apple to ditch Intel on MacBooks – going ARM based

There are rumors circulating that Apple may drop Intel chips and move the design of future MacBooks onto similar silicon that powers Apple's iPhone and iPad. This is obviously heightened by reports that Windows 8 will support both ARM and Intel platforms.

While in theory this seems like a logical enough move, in the real world, ARM chips are certainly not in the same performance league as Intel's latest designs. Various leading analysts however have opinions on this possible move.

Linley Gwennap, analyst at The Linley group says “Apple has switched architectures in the past, so it is certainly possible they could switch to ARM. I don't see why they would do it, though. Even with a 64-bit architecture, ARM processors will not offer performance competitive with the high end of Intel's line, so Apple might be sacrificing all of its professional users. ARM may offer some battery life and cost benefits for mainstream laptops, but given that Intel is focusing on these parameters, I don't think the benefits would be sizable. Also, as indicated by its recent 22 [nanometer] announcement, Intel has a manufacturing technology advantage that will prevent ARM from getting very far ahead, if at all. So I am skeptical.”

Macbook range: ARM processors coming?

Linley Group analyst Joseph Byrne has a slightly different view “Apple likes vertical integration, has proven ability to migrate software among instruction sets, and can derive adequate performance from non-Intel CPUs. Thus, I think it's only a matter of time before we see Apple computers with keyboards using ARM CPUs. I agree…that it makes sense to wait for the 64-bit ARM instruction set to break cover. My guess is that they'll use a homegrown CPU out of the chute. They've had CPU-development capability long enough in house to have something ready in 2012.”

Ashok Kumar, an analyst with Rodman and Renshaw says “Has Apple beefed up its chip team? I don't think they have. Besides, silicon is not their forte. I think it would be a strategic mistake. Intel can offer them extremely competitive products, leading-edge process technology, and throwaway prices. So, what's the advantage? There's going to be more risk than upside. If they misexecute on a product line, then the entire product strategy is at risk. And the price-premium argument completely goes away.”

For Apple, the decision is not so clear cut, Intel will have 22 nm chips available by 2013 which will mean that their performance will be in a grouping of its own. People might not need cutting edge technology, but there is an audience, even for Apple customers that always want the fastest processors on the market, a move Apple has highlighted by moving to Sandybridge very recently.

KitGuru says: It seems unlikely to us, but the industry rumours are persisting.

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