While Apple has been spending a fortune improving its chip designs, analysts have been swift to dismiss that it will ever be great in the chip business.
According to x-Bit labs, Apple will never be able to develop central processing units that are powerful enough to compete against x86 micro-architecture. Apple will have to install Intel chips in its Macs because it cannot enter that league.
Jon Peddie, the head of Jon Peddie Research, has apparently said that Apple has used off-the-shelf chips and never designed a non-mobile CPU. While it has started to develop its own system-on-chips for ultra-portable products like iPhone or iPad, this does not mean it is ready to come up with something for the big league.
Apple has been saving shedloads by making its low-power A4 and A5 system-on-chip devices and many of the “chip experts” it has been hiring lately have been low-power processing experts.
Peddie said that once Apple has that technology it will not let it go. It will never ever sell that part, it will be exclusively Apple, and we’re going to have a devil of a time trying to figure out what’s in it and its specifications.
But it is a doddle to develop a mobile SoC, rather than to design a fully-fledged microprocessor that will be able to power a desktop or a notebook. Chip development costs may be too high even if Apple actually creates CPUs competitive to Intel’s or AMD’s.
Nathan Brookwood, the principal of Insight 64, said that part of the reason for this is that Apple’s unit volumes for notebooks are smaller than for iOS devices, and the R&D needed to field a competitive notebook CPU would be way higher, so the economics don’t work.
Apple could also find using microprocessor technologies are patented by AMD, Intel, IBM, Sun/Oracle and some others. Jobs’ Mob, which is not exactly popular in the industry because of its own Patent Trollage might find itself getting in to patent wars against established chip designers.
Brookward said that there was a huge IP hurdle for anyone trying to build an x86-compatible CPU. Any chip that claims x86-compatibility but lacks licences from Intel and AMD would be a sitting duck for patent infringement claims.
Apple would have to out-engineer Intel on Intel’s playing field and there have been a lot of outfits which have tried to do this and failed. So far the best has been AMD, which says it all really.
He concluded that while Apple has shown itself willing to kick its key suppliers in the nadgers it does not make sense for Apple to kick off a competition against Intel as it is out of its league.