When Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ) announced that its iPhone 5s featured a 64-bit "desktop class" architecture, the press focused intensely on the "64-bit" aspect of the chip design. While the move to ARM's (NASDAQ: ARMH ) new, clean 64-bit instruction set certainly helped, the real "magic" was actually in some of the extremely smart design choices that Apple made when architecting the Cyclone CPU found inside of the A7. Thanks to a deep investigation by Anandtech (read it here), we now have even more evidence that Apple blew away the competition.
The benchmarks didn't lie
In the vast majority of benchmarks, Apple's 1.3 GHz Cyclone core offered performance that was roughly in line with a 2.4 GHz Intel (NASDAQ: INTC ) Silvermont and meaningfully higher than the various ARM Cortex A15 and Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM ) Krait-based processors per processor core. Of course, Qualcomm and Intel are able to put four of these cores in roughly the same thermal envelope that Apple was able to put two of its cores, so the design trade-off was really "more cores" versus "more performance per core".
Of course, given that the vast majority of mobile applications likely can't make use of more than one core, let alone four cores, the design decision made absolute perfect sense. Indeed, it likely delivers the best user experience. Additionally, while the Android handset vendors need to differentiate among themselves with whiz-bang marketing features, Apple need not get involved in that sort of thing, although the "64-bit" marketing point didn't hurt. It can make the soundest technical decisions free from marketing constraints.
Was Apple really trying to replace Intel in the MacBook?
Given that the Apple Cyclone CPU core is extremely wide and, according to Anandtech, looks much more like a big core CPU from Intel rather than any of the mobile cores from ARM/Intel/Qualcomm, it seems likely that Apple was at the very least toying with the idea of replacing Intel in the Mac.
It's understandable that Apple would at least consider doing so, but as Apple likely found out, scaling to Intel Core level of performance while operating with a manufacturing disadvantage to Intel is nigh impossible. That's not to rule out a potential Intel foundry deal with Apple. Nor does it rule out TSMC and/or Samsung reaching process parity with Intel, although this is unlikely. But, at least for now, it's difficult to imagine such a move.
Foolish bottom line
While many are rightfully disappointed in Apple's stock price performance, the fact of the matter is that the company is still plenty innovative where it counts, whether that innovation directly translates into top- or bottom-line growth. While many (including myself) believe that Apple will return to profitability growth by the end of the year, the market is pricing Apple as if such growth will not materialize. If the bulls ultimately prove correct, then they could be in for a generous, long-term payday.
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