In a new development, Apple is reportedly working on ARM chips for its Mac devices. The company currently uses Intel processors for its MacBook models, but is supposedly looking to reduce reliance on the chipmaker, starting with supplementing Intel processors with an ARM chip for low-power tasks.
Bloomberg reports that Apple-built ARM chips will be integrated partially in MacBook Pro models scheduled to be unveiled this year. The new chips built for Mac will be used for low power tasks, and leave the Intel chip to take care of the heavy-duty processing.
The new chip could presumably handle basic things like maintaining background app activity. "The updated part, internally codenamed T310, would handle some of the computer's low-power mode functionality. Apple engineers are planning to offload the Mac's low-power mode, a feature marketed as Power Nap, to the next-generation ARM-based chip," the report claims, citing people familiar with the matter.
While these new chips are expected to be integrated in the refreshed MacBook Pro models scheduled for later this year, eventually, the company is supposedly looking to completely switch to ARM-based chips and reduce reliance on Intel's processors. Apple's iPhone and iPad lineup are powered fully by in-house ARM chips, and the Cupertino giant is reportedly aiming to to transition its Mac lineup in the same direction. However, the company has no "near-term plans" to ditch Intel processors for its laptops and desktops, the report claims, though it started exploring this direction five years ago in a bid to improve power-efficiency.
There are several reasons why Apple would look to do away with Intel processors on its Mac lineup. The first, is greater control over hardware and software integration, while another would be greater say on the cost of Mac components.
Integrating two chips into the MacBook Pro will help in improving overall battery life optimisation, given this year's complaints about overall usage time. The report claims that the role of the new ARM chip in the Power Nap feature would not be highlighted by the company, much in the same way the company didn't highlight the use of the T1 ARM chip utilised in current MacBook Pro models to power the Touch Bar. This year's MacBook Pro models will integrate Intel's latest Kaby Lake processors, and are expected to upgrade up to 32GB RAM.
Thursday's Bloomberg report also reiterates the publication's previous claim that Apple is set to release a faster version of its 12-inch MacBook this year, and a new iMac with multi-functional USB Type-C functionality.
Notably, ARM Holdings, which was recently acquired by SoftBank, does not manufacture its own processors - it only providers processor and GPU designs that are used by chipmakers like Apple, Qualcomm, and Samsung, who usually further customise the designs for their own implementations, and manufactured by fabs like TSMC and Samsung. The ARM-based chips are widely used in smartphones and tablets the world over, and are heralded for their power-efficiency compared to Intel and AMD's x86 counterparts.
Intel recently seemingly acknowledged this failing in its own processors by signing a licensing deal with ARM to produce 10nm ARM-based chips for mobile devices. The chipmaker had introduced its own line of x86 mobile and tablet chips under its Atom brand, but couldn't shake ARM or Qualcomm's grip on the market.
Apple's reported move is in a similar direction to what Microsoft recently announced - the maker of the leading PC operating system in December said it would bring ARM chipset support to Windows 10 in partnership with Qualcomm, for the purpose of producing always-connected PCs with lower-power consumption and cellular connectivity. Qualcomm, apart from making ARM-based processors, is also one of the leading manufacturers of cellular modems. The first ARM-powered Windows 10 PCs are expected to launch by year-end.