Apple MacBook still up for grabs in x86-RISC war

Intel CEO Paul Otellini insists Apple isn’t going to be ditching x86 processors for RISC-based chips in its MacBook lineup “any time soon.”

“Apple’s growth in Macs has quadrupled since they shifted to Intel. Their market share has quadrupled since they shifted [from PowerPC] to Intel,” Otellini said earlier this week during a company conference. 

“And that value proposition has served them very well. [As such], I don’t see their Mac line moving in any different direction any time soon.”

However, Tom Kilroy, a senior VP at Intel, refused to specifically confirm whether Santa Clara had been guaranteed a place in future MacBooks, telling Reuters on Wednesday such an announcement would be up to Cupertino.

Still, Kilroy did claim that ARM chips simply aren’t up to the task of powering Apple’s next-gen MacBooks.

“Go look at the performance of those platforms… They’re taking our latest and high-end end versions of second-generation core, and ARM doesn’t even come close to any capability there.”

Unsurprisingly, a number of analysts and journalists continue to disagree with Intel’s assessment.

“Apple likes vertical integration, has proven ability to migrate software among instruction sets, and can derive adequate performance from non-Intel CPUs,” Linley Group analyst Joseph Byrne told CNET. 

“Thus, I think it’s only a matter of time before we see Apple computers with keyboards using ARM CPUs.”

SemiAccurate’s Charlie Demerjian expressed similar sentiments in a report earlier this month, claiming Apple had already decided to adopt RISC-powered chips for its future MacBook laptops.

“x86 is history on Apple laptops, or will be in 2-3 years. In any case, it is a done deal, Intel is out, and Apple chips are in. The only question left is if they will use their own core, a Samsung core, or the generic ARM black box. 

“My bet is on generic for the first round, with a custom uncore, and moving to progressively more proprietary features with each successive generation.”

But prominent Silicon Valley analyst David Kanter remains unconvinced.

“Rumors aside, Apple will not switch their laptops to ARM any time soon. In the past, Apple successfully made two platform transitions, when their hardware partners had no performance competitive designs,” Kanter told TG Daily in an e-mailed statement on May 10th.

“x86 has no problem keeping up with the market in terms of performance or efficiency, and there are too many technical and business challenges for an ARM migration.”