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Apple reportedly plans ARM shift for laptops

'Done deal', apparently

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Apple may - and we emphasis that last word - have decided to transition its laptops from Intel processors to ARM-based CPUs

Intel certainly has a fight on its hands in the media tablet market, currently dominated by ARM chippery, but does it need to worry about the laptop space too? It will if the allegation about Apple, made by chip-centric site Semi Accurate, proves to be correct.

The whispers SA has heard have it that ARM's in-train shift to 64-bit processing will see Apple, already shipping millions of ARM-based devices in the form of iPods, iPhones, iPads and the occasional Apple TV, move its laptops to ARM too.

Speaking of the Apple TV, that's one device that has already made such a transition from the first-generation model's Intel processor to the latest version's Apple A4.

Users don't see any difference. The UI is the same, and no less responsive. The new model is smaller, but that's as much because it lacks its predecessor's hard drive than any extra power efficiency on the part of the A4 - the first Apple TV's Intel chip wasn't exactly a monster.

Moving a consumer electronics product from Intel to ARM makes sense: Apple TV doesn't have the multi-tasking and performance requirements a laptop does. And, in any case, the shift was pragmatic: Apple now needs to maintain only two OSes - Mac OS X and iOS - rather than three, the third being the past-its-prime, tweaked version of OS X that the first Apple TV ran.

Such pragmatism may well see Apple bringing OS X and iOS into closer harmony, at least from a functional perspective. The next OS X, Lion, brings over a heap of features and UI methodologies from iOS, though as any OS X and iOS programmer will tell you, OS X is way more feature-filled than its mobile sibling.

For all the many similarities in the operating systems' APIs, there are many differences, even between directly comparable classes and methods. Full harmonisation of the two operating systems won't be easy.

It's unlikely then that a ARM-based MacBook - most likely the MacBook Air series, we'd say - will run iOS, but an ARM-compiled version of OS X is certainly not out of the question.

What is open to discussion is whether ARM CPUs, even the 64-bit jobs coming, according to SA, in the late 2012/early 2013 timeframe, will be up to the task of powering performance-oriented machines.

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