Apple is well known for making big splashy announcements, whenever it unveils a game-changing piece of new tech like the iPod or iPad. Strangely last year the Cupertino giant made an announcement every bit as revolutionary. But one which largely escaped notice by the general public. The announcement made at the firm’s annual worldwide developer conference confirmed Apple would start designing and manufacturing its own chips for mac computers. To be clear it’s not just tech geeks and tiresome Apple fan boys who need to be aware of what the announcement means and what its implications are.
For several years now Apple has been sourcing its cpus from household name chip giant, Intel. This special relationship between Apple and Intel started back in 2006, after apple’s previously favored IBM Motorola chips were written off as inadequate. Apple’s brand new in-house chip the M1 was first rolled out this past November on the company’s Macbook Air and Mac mini range. In what marks a significant departure. This new chip on the block was designed using the so-called ARM architecture. Which is markedly different from Intel’s preferred x86 architecture.
What actually is the difference in technical terms?
ARM uses what hardware geeks call an RISC or reduced instruction set computing layout. The x86 uses a CISC or complex instruction set computing arrangement. In very broad language this means Intel’s x86 has a more complicated architecture than ARM chips. ARM therefore performs fewer distinct mathematical functions or instructions than the x86 which has many more built-in instructions. On an arm chip this shortfall in instruction needs to be made up for inefficient software design as opposed to hardware.
But surely more complex is better from a microchip point of view, not necessarily. The ability of the x86 chip to perform a greater number of instructions makes it more powerful certainly. But at the cost of guzzling up a great deal more power. That’s why big powerful PCs always need noisy fans and constant mains power. Alternatively ARM chips are most often found on mobile devices. Like phones where compact size and energy efficiency battery life.
ARM chips based Apple devices
The latest ARM based iPhones and iPads offering performance on a par with laptops. This should come as no surprise since 2010 apple has been working tirelessly to refine their iPhone and iPad based ARM chips. And now it seems the moment has come when ARM chips are ready to make the leap from mobile to more traditional PC form factor.
Why are they doing it?
Because the two rival chip architectures ARM and x86 function in such different ways. Software design for one won’t work on the other. This means under the old regime anyway software that worked like a dream on your iPad wouldn’t work at all on your mac. You could use an emulator but you’d have to put up with a noticeable dip in performance and speed.
Now both PC and mobile Apple devices are set to use arm chips. Mac users will enjoy a far more seamless experience when swapping tasks between their devices. And this kind of slick fuss-free user-friendly interface is exactly what endears the Apple experience to millions of fans around the world. Not only that but thanks to ARM’s less power-hungry nature. Laptop users running on the new M1 chip can expect usage time between charging’s to increase dramatically.
There’s more, Apple has been the standard bearer for slimmed down elegant devices that both perform and are easy on the eye. They believe that within a few short years arm-based laptops could be even more razor thin than the current Macbook air range. As they’ll at last be able to dispense with bulky hardware. Like the fans needed to keep those thirsty x86 is cool.
The present conventional wisdom among tech experts is that regular consumers won’t notice a huge difference after the transition. But more professional users might want to wait a bit before buying an ARM mac for now. Max higher spec machines will continue to ship with Intel hardware. So in sum Apple is making its own chips to liberate itself from reliance on Intel’s manufacturing woes. And in turn strive for the ultimate dream of total vertical integration.