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Apple defection would be slap in the face to Intel

Sharon Gaudin | May 6, 2011
Speculation swirls that Apple might ditch Intel for ARM-based chips.

There's growing speculation online that Apple is looking to ditch Intel chips and move to ARM-based processors for its Mac line of laptops.

While this rumor has surfaced before, if there's actual fire behind the smoke, it could mean trouble and a real loss of face for Intel, which is increasingly being confronted by a burgeoning ARM effort.

"An Apple defection from the Intel processor would be more of a slap to Intel's rep than to their bottom line," said Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group. "Apple is selling a lot of systems, but Windows-based PCs still account for 90% or more of the total market."

The website SemiAccurate started the latest round of rumors Thursday, reporting that "Apple is going to show Intel the door, at least as far as laptops are concerned." The website added that this won't happen for two to three years but that it is a "done deal."

And Apple, the story reports, is moving straight to ARM-based processors.

Intel would not comment on the report, and Apple could not be reached at deadline.

Meanwhile, Intel announced this week that it has developed 3D transistor technology that should position the chip maker to better take on ARM in the lucrative tablet and smartphone markets with its forthcoming 22-nanometer chips, code-named Ivy Bridge.

Tablets have been cannibalizing the PC market, with consumers and some enterprises so enthralled with the smaller gadgets that they're not as inclined to buy laptops and desktops. Intel hasn't been able to get solid footing in the tablet market, where ARM-based processors are gobbling up the lion's share of it.

That means Intel is seeing more competition from more directions than it has in quite some time, according to Charles King, a principal analyst with Pund-IT. Suddenly, Intel doesn't have to just worry about AMD; it also has increased competition from Samsung on the memory side, and now ARM.

King noted that with ARM-based chips getting more attention, if Apple decided to trade in Intel for ARM chips, it would be an embarrassment, if not a tremendous business loss.

"The idea of ARM supplanting x86 has been around for a while," King said. "Nvidia's been pushing it for a while, and Microsoft's announced intention to support ARM caused a small firestorm at CES in January, so it's reasonable to assume that Apple may be mulling the idea. But overall, the rumor emerging less than 48 hours after Intel announced Ivy Bridge makes it suspect to me."


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