Apple has been using Intel CPUs in Macs since 2006, when the company moved from PowerPC chips. This coincided with early releases of OSX. Recently, Apple has been working to integrate its hardware and software even more, first with custom design mobile CPUs for its iPhones and iPads. Now, Bloomberg reports that Apple might also move away from Intel CPUs from 2020. This could be an interesting change in the technology market, as Apple goes it alone in hardware and software.
In a way, such a strategy makes sense. While Windows is hardware agnostic, and widely compatible with pretty much everything, it’s not without its issues. Some unexpected hardware configurations can simply be lemons. Microsoft is also working to merge Windows into a single software platform, rather than having to jointly develop different operating systems with the same features. Moving to custom CPUs in Macs would allow Apple to better integrate hardware and software, and not rely on Intel’s release schedule for new product.
Apple is also working towards closer integration with its various operating systems. It’s rumoured to be working on allowing iOS apps on Macs, most likely through an emulation layer. This is simply because x86 CPUs in Macs can’t run ARM software natively.
There is the matter of who would actually build the chips, and what technology they would be based upon. Apple is not really equipped to do that sort of work itself. If Apple wanted to merge its operating systems, it could base its CPUs in Macs on ARM technology, similar to the chips in its mobile devices. After all, ARM chips can now run Windows 10 in an emulation layer. It’s not that much of a stretch to put macOS on ARM hardware. However, for the top-range Macs, this would not be a good option. ARM CPUs simply don’t have the grunt to compete with x86 silicon.
However, there is one other option. Apple could ask AMD to design semi-custom CPUs in Macs. AMD has form in designing chips for both Sony (Playstation 4) and Microsoft (XBox One) that work seamlessly with software. It’s also able to scale up those CPUs with its latest architecture, from two core Ryzen 3s all the way up to 32 cores in its EPYC server chips. These would certainly have the grunt for the kind of workloads expected from high end Macs like the Mac Pro.
Will Apple jump ship from Intel and go it alone on CPUs in Macs? If the rumoured timetable is correct, then there isn’t actually much scope for immediate change. Though there’s just enough time for custom chips to be designed by third parties. Who will get the job of building more things for Apple? Only time will tell.