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Way back in 2006, Apple announced that its entire Mac lineup – then based on IBM’s PowerPC processor architecture – would be switching to Intel’s x86 processors. The switch began with the MacBook Pro and iMac lineups, and finished with Apple’s prosumer machine, the Mac Pro.
That was already six years ago. Since then, Macs and Windows PCs have been sharing Intel’s latest and greatest, making the choice for consumers as easy as a decision between Windows or OS X.
But now, rumors have started to swirl, ones that say that Apple is getting ready to ditch another architecture for something else – this time, for ARM processors. There are a lot of bad things that could come out of yet another switch, but thankfully, there are many positives, too. Join me as I run down through the pros and the cons of an ARM-based Mac lineup.
For starters, ARM processors are getting increasingly powerful, while decreasingly power-hungry. Think about it: Apple’s third- and fourth-generation iPads can run a whopping resolution of 2048 × 1536, all while playing intensive games and achieving 10 hours of battery life.
They also run fairly cool. Tablets with ARM processors are generally cold to the touch, and if they get warm, it’s just that: warm. Historically, Apple’s laptops have had relatively subpar cooling when compared to their PC counterparts, so ARM chips would certainly help in that arena, too.
Since they don’t need fans or heatsinks, ARM processors also allow for thinner designs. And let’s be honest: one of Apple’s most important goals is creating incredibly thin devices. By using ARM chips, the already-thin laptops produced by the Cupertino-based company would become even thinner - and that’s obviously very important to Apple.
Of course, there are definitely negatives to yet another switch. In fact, that is one of them: it’s another switch. The switch from PowerPC to Intel processors wasn’t easy on Mac users, especially considering that all of those popular Mac apps had to be rewritten – oftentimes from the ground up – to work on Intel’s processors.
And while performance is good on ARM processors, they’re just not up to snuff when compared to x86 chips. I know I literally just wrote that performance is good, but the fact remains that for a number of tasks (like video encoding), Intel still wins. Apple targets its laptops at media professionals, so taking a backseat to media performance wouldn’t be a desirable move.
Apple, of course, is full of people who are masters at weighing the pros and cons of any decision. They will likely make the best decision for what the company is planning to do in the future, though it’ll take a while for consumers to adapt to those plans.
I honestly don’t know which I’d prefer, though. An ARM-based MacBook Air would be an amazing mobile companion – but I have my iPad for ARM-based tasks. My laptop, while not exactly a powerhouse, still encodes video more quickly than my iPad can.
Because of that, I think that a switch to ARM for Macs is a pointless one. Then again, Apple could make a whole new line of Macs that run on ARM – but that would be fragmentation, and we have other companies and products for that.
What are your thoughts on an ARM-based Mac? Would you buy one, or would you rather spend the money on an iPad or an Intel-based MacBook Air?