Arm Macs and AMD rising: How Intel's endless 10nm struggles cost it so much

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Arm Macs

And now, a long-anticipated, yet still-wild shoe has dropped: Apple is dumping Intel’s x86 processors in Macs, shifting to its homegrown A-series Arm chips instead.

apple arm processor features Apple

Apple teasing some of the capabilities coming in its Arm processors for future Macs.

Apple historically has little patience with partners that fail to meet expectations. The company’s leadership can’t be happy that Intel’s processors have largely stalled in performance upgrades over the last half-decade.

During that time, Apple’s own hardware team has kept the pedal to the medal. Ars Technica’s testing shows that the A12Z Bionic inside the new iPad Pro delivers GeekBench scores higher than the Core i5 inside the 2020 MacBook in both single-core and multi-core tests. It actually comes closer to the Core i9 inside the 2019 MacBook Pro in single-thread performance despite the iPad Pro’s tighter thermal constraints.

GeekBench is just a single benchmark, and usurping the Intel Xeon chips inside the higher-end MacBook Pros will be a difficult challenge. Still, Apple obviously feels its future is more secure in its own hands rather than Intel’s. The transition from Intel to ARM will be painful for Mac users, but it should be fun to see what Apple’s engineers can whip up now that the chains are off.

Either way, it’s yet another in a series of body blows for Intel. NetMarketShare puts MacOS at about 10 percent of the total PC market, and analyst firms place quarterly sales for Macs in roughly the same ballpark. Losing 10 percent of the valuable laptop market hurts, especially when you consider that AMD’s hoovering up more customers in the desktop and server markets, and making serious inroads on laptop integrations too. All those small losses start to feel mighty big when you add them together.

acer swift 5 sf514 55 high 02 Acer

The Acer Swift 5 is the first laptop announced with Intel's next-gen "Tiger Lake" CPU and upgraded Xe graphics.

The day after Apple announced its move, Acer teased the world’s first laptop with Intel’s 10nm+ Tiger Lake chip and Xe graphics. Don’t think it’s a coincidence. Intel’s making bank right now, but it’s in a fight for the future, pummeled left and right by Apple and a resurgent AMD. Tiger Lake needs to impress, or at least hold the line as much as possible.

Intel’s endless 10nm nightmare has cost it so, so much—but Chipzilla’s fought back from behind before. After AMD stunned the world by beating Intel with Athlon 64 nearly 15 long years ago, Intel responded with the stunningly successful Core architecture that heralded over a decade of unrivaled dominance. It could happen again, but the odds of success seem far less likely this time around. AMD’s firing on all cylinders, and Apple’s not coming back. After a half-decade of stagnation, Intel has a fierce fight on its hands.

Intel says it will start manufacturing advanced 7nm chips in 2021. The company still hasn’t announced any 10nm Core chips for the desktop. We’ll see how it goes.

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