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Four-pronged ARM-based Mac rumor channels Rasputin

Guess what company would benefit if true? Hint: It's a Korean bête noire of Apple

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An intriguing rumor is a difficult thing to kill – and the long-whispered switch by Apple of its Mac line from Intel to ARM-based chippery has again resurfaced, Rasputin-like, to live another day.

Jeffries & Co. industry analyst Hyunwoo Doh, Barron's writes, has released a report that recommends his clients stock up on Samsung stock, saying that Sammy would benefit from manufacturing ARM-based chips for Apple's Macs.

According to Doh (no Simpsons jokes, please – we're adults here...), unidentified "industry sources" have told him that Apple is planning the switcheroo "despite [ARM] having inferior performance versus Intel's CPU."

Doh offers four reasons for the changeover, Barron's relates:

  1. "Low power consumption: The PC market is currently focused on increased battery life through low power consumption, rather than on high performance;
  2. Cost reduction: ARM's AP [application processor] has a simple architecture and the unit price is much lower than the Intel PC CPU, as there are multiple market players;
  3. Ecosystem integration: Apple's iPhones and iPads currently use ARM-based APs; and ...
  4. Manufacture of parts according to Apple's schedule and designs: While PC manufacturers currently have no option but to accept Intel's development schedule, ARM merely licenses its designs, which allows companies like Apple the freedom to customize its AP."

From where we sit, for the workloads performed by most consumer Macs it's hard to argue convincingly against any member of that speculative quartet.

When the ARM-based Mac rumors first began surfacing in mid-2011, the UK chip designer's offerings were notably less peppy than the top-of-the-line Cortex-A57 design they unveiled in October 2010. Nor had ARM announced the big.LITTLE power-saving scheme that the Cortex-A57 can share with its A53 little brother to enhance that low power consumption that Doh put as number one on his list.

So perhaps it's time. If so, it would be a delicious irony if one of the prime beneficiaries would be Cook & Co.'s bête noire, Samsung, which along with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) is said to be sharing the manufacturing of the next iteration of Apple's ARM-based processor, presumably to be named the A8.

There would also be a sense of historical harmony in such a deal. After all, ARM the company got its first funding from Apple – along with Acorn Computing and VLSI – when it was set up to provide the chip that ran Cupertino's ill-fated Newton "personal digital assistant."

Back to irony: ARM arguably saved Apple from crashing and burning back in the late 90s. Steve Jobs, having returned to Cupertino, needed mucho mazuma to keep Apple afloat, and he got a good chunk of it by selling off the struggling Mac maker's large holdings of ARM stock.

Maybe lower-cost, good-enough ARM-based chips will again help fatten Apple's coffers – along with Sammy's, as well.

Business imperatives can make strange bedfellows. ®

Bootnote

Speaking of irony, Doh's report came out the same day Intel announced that it's doubling down on the low end of the tablet market with a partnership with China's Rockchip. Is it possible that Chipzilla and ARM are passing one another, one going up the performance ladder into Macs while the other steps down a rung or three into sub-$100 tablets?

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