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Apple May Not Have to Ditch Intel to Get ARM Architecture for Macs

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In a quest for thinner form factors and power conservation, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) has leaned heavily on ARM Holdings  (NASDAQ: ARMH  ) for its power-conserving architecture. So far, however, this ARM architecture has only made it to Apple's mobile devices, while rival Intel (NASDAQ: INTC  ) continues to power Apple's Macs. However, ARM may still eventually wiggle its way into Apple's Mac lineup.

A match made in competition
I've previously suggested that Apple's new A7 processor with 64-bit desktop-class architecture from ARM Holdings could be a sign that Apple may attempt to build up its silicon prowess to eventually end its reliance on Intel in Macs. But a fresh story brings new light to the story: What if ARM and Intel worked together?

Semiconductor company and Intel partner Altera announced at the developers' conference yesterday that Intel will begin manufacturing 64-bit ARM chips in 2014, according to Forbes.

The move actually makes a lot of sense. Intel could finally pick up where it's slacking: mobile. For instance, Intel could finally become another foundry alternative for Apple's mobile devices as Apple tries to diversify away from its reliance on frenemy Samsung for processor fabrication. What about ARM Holdings? ARM would get its foot in the door with the world's largest semiconductor chipmaker.

As Insight 64 analyst Nathan Brookwood said to Forbes:

It's huge. Imagine ARM's most powerful and technologically advanced 64-bits processor built on Intel's leading-edge fabs. A duo that will be hard to beat.

The possible partnership sounds like a solution to Apple concerns that Bloomberg highlighted in late 2012 for a common chip design between desktop and mobile.

As handheld devices increasingly function like PCs, the engineers working on this project within Apple envision machines that use a common chip design. If Apple CEO Tim Cook wants to offer the consumer of 2017 and beyond a seamless experience on laptops, phones, tablets, and televisions, it will be easier to build if all the devices have a consistent underlying chip architecture.

If Intel's future relationship with Apple was in any way threatened, this move to build chips with ARM architecture could be an excellent way to address this issue.

Who's the big winner?
There's one sure winner: the consumer. ARM's power-conserving architecture, combined with Intel's fabrication, will likely lead to incredible progress on the mobile front. Even more, it may finally bring common architecture to mobile and desktop, helping companies like Apple achieve more seamless integration between the two platforms than ever before. As far as the businesses involved, Brookwood believes that the move "would actually make business sense for everyone."

If anything, however, this is a solid confirmation that Apple's move to 64-bit desktop-class architecture in its mobile devices was an early, smart move in the right direction. And if Apple's move to 64-bit architecture in mobile devices was intended to lay the foundation for a common chip design between the two platforms, it looks like Apple's insight may turn out to be correct.

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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On October 30, 2013, at 11:16 PM, makelvin wrote:

    The dilemma Intel is currently facing is very similar to the dilemma that Microsoft is facing with their Office suite of applications.

    If Intel help Apple make the ARM architecture to be so powerful and efficient that most people do not feel like they need to use the Intel architecture anymore, they might potential help in demise of their own chip architecture that they still own in the desktop and laptop market. But if they don't and the ARM architecture eventually end up to be powerful enough to take over the desktop and laptop market someday anyway, then they will end up with nothing.

    Microsoft is struggling a similar decision with their Office software. They are hoping that by withholding their Office apps on the other platforms, it would help provide Microsoft's mobile platform an advantage and gain market share over Apple and Android. But if they fail to do so and Apple and Google are already giving away their equivalent Office apps. Microsoft might end up losing everything when a lot of mobile users are starting to get comfortable with those other software and do not feel the need to have MS Office anymore. With Apple already officially announced that they are giving away iWork for Mac and all iOS devices as well as an iCloud version of iWork, the question is, is Microsoft already too late?

  • Report this Comment On October 31, 2013, at 10:27 AM, jpanspac wrote:

    I think it's more likely that pigs will sprout wings and fly than Intel will manufacture ARM chips.

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