Mac mini mid-2011 (Apple Thunderbolt Display, MagicTrackPad)

MacBidouille is the source of an interesting new rumor [translation] that Apple is currently experimenting with new ARM-powered Mac variants that include a Magic trackpad built into the system’s keyboard. The company is also reportedly working on a new version of OS X that will be compatible with these ARM machines.

According to MacBidouille’s sources, Apple is developing three new machines with this configuration: the aforementioned iMac and Mac mini as well as a 13″ MacBook, presumably a MacBook Air. The iMac and notebook are both said to have “4 or 8″ quad-core arm64 processors, while the Mac mini has only four.

The systems are reportedly far enough into development that they could become public knowledge soon, but Apple is concerned that making the switch from Intel to ARM too early could be disastrous for the entire Mac lineup, and thus has decided to keep things under wraps for now.

Of course, the lineup has survived a similar change once already. In 2005 Apple announced that it would be moving away from its then-current PowerPC architecture in new Macs and switching to Intel x86 chips.

Since the launch of the first-generation iPad, Apple has been designing its own ARM-based processors (the A4-A7 line) for use in iOS devices. Thoughts of switching the Mac to an ARM platform could indicate that the company is finally ready give its other products the same treatment.

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60 Responses to “Rumor: Apple working on ARM-based Mac variants with larger trackpad built into keyboard”

  1. Bryan Hoke says:

    It’s a MacBook Air with a touch-screen. All the rumors point to that.

    Like

  2. What would this mean for Virtual Machines like Parallels? I wouldn’t dare switch to ARM if it meant running Windows and games would totally be destroyed performance-wise. Why bother switching to ARM? Maybe it’s just a back-up plan like they had secretly for 6 years while waiting to see if PPC was going to be able to mature enough. Is Intel really that bad?

    Like

    • Tallest Skil says:

      Intel isn’t bad at all. No one who wants to do any serious computing will be able to transition to ARM for the foreseeable future, as they have no roadmap to match the capabilities of Intel chips and chipsets.

      Like

      • Jack Zahran says:

        If you read the latest analysis of the A7 processor, you’ll see it’s designed to compete with Intel’s latest higher end designs. It’s scaled down clock and voltage wise to fit into iOS mobile devices. But, if Apple were to move it to a 3 Ghz clock rate, then it would outperform a comparable Intel desktop processor, especially when you measure it by performance per watt.

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      • Tallest Skil says:

        The A7 is in no way designed to compete with Intel’s high, middle, or low-end designs in any respect. Are you insane? No.

        And no, increasing the clock rate–were it even possible–would do nothing to change this.

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    • YJ Chua says:

      Well that depends, really. Perhaps Apple’s now looking at a new market-base: the people who want OS X on an iPad, or perhaps something like that.

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      • jorge1170x says:

        Yes, they know they need to market an answer to the surface pro 3 eventually, or they will continue to look like a former innovator who is now standing still and/or resting on its laurels.

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    • Stetson says:

      I think that the only way it could work would be if these would be separate product lines priced a bit below the existing products. That way those who still want/need the Intel/Windows compatibility can just buy the more expensive versions.

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      • irelandjnr says:

        Arm based 12″ Retina MacBook Air for $999? That’d be a hit.

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      • I was thinking the same thing!

        12″ ARM-based MBA with 24-hr bat life, retina display, OSX 10.10, $999. #shutupandtakemymoney

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      • Jack Zahran says:

        A 12″ MacBook Air with Apple’s SoC (processor, GPU, etc) would mean that the major costs of the MacBook Air would disappear. I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple released a $699 MB AIR. Getting rid of the processor costs with falling SSD storage costs would mean their margins would be better and they would be able to sell at higher volumes with higher margins. It would be the final nail.

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    • Intel was only bad for PPI (Power per Instruction) against SoCs that are ARM architectures with the difference in this gap being as big as almost 360% between an Intel i3 rated at 18 W and dual-core ARMv7 SoC at 5W, all the while the Intel processor offering much better cache support (L1-L2-L3 layers vs. the L2-level single layer cache in ARM) and buffer latencies one-tenth of its one-tenth of its ARM equivalent. For the low-level programmer who knows how to handle their software, Intel was and still is the superior processor. Furthermore, ARM lacked 64-bit support until ARMv8 though still a crappy processor for large scale systems.

      Now that the PPI argument has been not so valid with Intel’s Y-series as the same grade of the Intel processor has lowered its TDP to 11.5 W while the same grade of ARM SoCs is at 5 W.

      Then of course there is the issue of licensing with ARM vs. Intel, you can get a company like Foxxcon to implement your own ARMv8 based chips while to do so you need to have Intel open a foundry for you which normally costs around $4-5 billion and requires you to pay the very same price again as Intel goes through a ‘tock’ phase.

      As we all know, Apple is hell-bent on integrating its hardware and software, they will lean for the option that will give them is ability. If this is for real, I believe it is a brazen gamble as it seems more of an attempt to cheaply streamline iOS and OS X into a single OS that works across all Apple devices.

      Too much simplification is like an ambitious compression, you might think that you lowered your data-bill but have sacrificed your data and your user experience you highly regard in doing so and it will be pretty much irreversible as you realise that your videos flicker, music wither and pictures look as if someone vomited all over them.

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    • aeronperyton says:

      Apple doesn’t craft it’s OS based on how well it runs someone else’s operating system. Intel is way better than PPC, but ARM is way better than Intel. The fact that Macs can run Windows somewhat painlessly is just a coincidence that Apple decided to throw in. If Parallels takes a performance hit because of a switch, that’s not something their going to lose sleep over.

      Apple has been making mobile devices with the capacity to run the full OS X for years now, they just haven’t tried to market them as such. They likely have prototypes of every Mac they make running a customized OS X on their A series chips just sitting in a dark room somewhere in Cupertino. And just like the switch to Intel, this is something they would spend a LOT of time perfecting and make dozens of revisions and tweaks to before even thinking about announcing it.

      I’ve been waiting for Apple to give their lower-end machines an ARM option as an opening volley for eventually making the processors on everything they sell (Xeon-running Mac Pros probably being the final hold out until there can be some kind of super A chip that could drive an aircraft carrier).

      I think that in less than 10 years, Macs will be built pretty much like iOS devices. A single board with processor, memory, and storage built-in (For the 5% that can’t make due with 128/256/512GB of storage, there will always be Thunderbolt drives). The hardware will be advanced enough and the software will be kept as optimized as possible to guarantee at least five years of full support for every product. Software will unify and there will cease to be separate OSes for desktop and mobile. The future Apple OS will behave like a desktop OS on Macs, like a mobile OS on portable devices, like whatever works best for the device it’s on. Software developers will be making one universal build for each app that runs on everything from a wrist band to a server tower, changing its appearance and behavior to suit the device.

      That’s just an armchair observation of how things are changing and moving. Apple has certainly given this much more thought and are likely many steps ahead of me. It would be nice if there were other companies that put so much thought into the future. At most, to spur competition and advancement… at the very least, to offer some kind of variety. If absolutely nothing else, companies will just follow Apple’s lead and the rest of the market will only be a few years behind what they’re doing.

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      • “Intel is way better than PPC, but ARM is way better than Intel.”

        No, actually, it’s not. Right now Apple has a MacBook Air with better battery life than an iPad and several times the performance.

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      • If OS X only runs on ARM in the near future, i will make mackintosh out of an intel PC. Arm Is a portable processor, not one meant of professional tasks such as music production, which i depend on.

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      • Except for the power efficiency, please elaborate on how ARM is better than the Haswell lineup?

        The iOS for every apple device is an ambitious idea that will perhaps prove to be a developer heaven. However, when considering ARM SoCs vs. Intel processors except the shameful Atom-lineup, how is an ARM-based SoC really better for platforms (15″ MBP, High-end iMacs and MBAs as well as Mac Pros) that will require more processing power?

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      • You are flat out delusional if you think that ARM is better than x64 in anyway but battery life. If Apple switches to ARM, they are saying that they have no interest in serious users anymore. OS X just isn’t so much better than Windows that I would give up all the benefits of the X86/x64 platform just to run it. The day they switch is the last day I own a Mac. And I guarantee that I’m not the only one who feels this way.

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      • Also when Apple began the switch to Intel, Window’s marketshare was close to 99.999% so it was important to make it as painless as possible for Windows users to switch over to OSX. Now, not so much.

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      • “ARM is way better than Intel.” This statement nullified everything that followed.

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      • Stetson says:

        @gwsws2b

        The iPad Air gets 10 hours from a 32wh battery.

        The 11″ Air gets 9 hours from a 38wh battery.

        The 13″ Air gets 12 hours from a 54wh battery.

        Yes the Airs get good battery life and better performance, but they also require bigger heavier batteries to accomplish that task. Intel chips are also significantly more expensive to Apple than their self-designed ARM chips.

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    • I think it has less to do with Intel and more to do with Apple. As it stands Apple designs their own ARM-based chips for use in iOS. Now, Apple is looking to do the same with OS X. Is Apple incapable of designing it’s own Intel-based chip? No. Will Intel let Apple? No. So they are moving to ARM probably due to their ability to make a custom line of chips. They’ll also be able to bring the improvements they’ve made in there iOS chips, like battery savings and bring them to the Mac.

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      • irelandjnr says:

        Oh battery savings and thermal properties will be the very reason for an ARM Retina MacBook Air to exist.

        Like

      • Jack Zahran says:

        It’s not illegal or impossible to develop a x86 processor, and Apple could include in the hardware a a virtualization feature for x86 ISA translation. But, I wouldn’t like to see that. I would prefer to see Apple spend the resources on the iWork suite obviating need for MS Office. And, I think that is what they are doing. As far as games, etc. Think of all the iOS developers that will be able to simply port their iOS apps to the ARM based Macs.

        Look to see if at WWDC Apple creates more 1 to 1 User Interface translation elements. That is, if screen gestures easily translate for the programmer into trackpad gestures. Allowing the developer to quickly repurpose the User Interface to OS X. If it’s a one step proposition, than expect ARM macs.

        Like

    • Carl Steijn says:

      Intel is the undisputed leader in terms of end user device CPU right now. It would be a shame if Mac abandoned Intel. That said, newer versions of Windows support Atom CPUs, so at least compatibility remains.

      Like

  3. I don’t see the point. Unless this delivers desktop performance at a tablet price range in a mac mini, i don’t see the point in switching to a new processor architecture that is less compatible overall with intel. we would need another rosetta in order to support all current applications, and bootcamp is out of the question unless it’s for windows RT, which is not an ideal OS for those who are bootcampping are trying to get.

    Like

  4. The article says, “the lineup has survived a similar change once already.” It’s actually twice. Before the PPC processor, Macs ran on 68000 series CISC processors from Motorola.

    I think a hybrid machine would be nice. Give me both kinds of processor and I can do whatever I want.

    Like

    • Yes, that switchover occurred in 1994, with the introduction of the PowerMac 6100 (A machine I still own, by the way …) The PowerPC 601 would run the motorola binaries using an instruction emulator, and the PowerPC was so fast that it ran the binaries at 68040 speed …

      Like

  5. “Of course, the lineup has survived a similar change once already.”

    No, it has survived a similar change TWICE already. 680×0 –> RISC –> Intel

    OS X is a radically portable OS. We can easily move to ARM. For portables this may make sense for battery life, for desktops though, not so much. We’ll see.

    Like

  6. RP says:

    Seems some are under the delusions that Apple will not eventually ditch Intel. its just a matter of time. IOS and Mac sharing the same CPU would make development a hell of a lot easier. IOS being far more popular than Mac will only benefit the Mac and customers alike.
    There will always be the Intel Mac Pro for hardcore applications.

    Like

    • “There will always be the Intel Mac Pro for hardcore applications.”

      What about the MB Pro?

      Like

    • Mac sharing the same CPU would make development a hell of a lot easier.

      Not really. As an iOS developer I am almost completely insulated from the underlying OS. Case in point, when I compile apps they compile for Intel when they are running on the simulator and ARM when they are running on the device. I choose the device I want to runt he app on and there are precious few places where the difference between the two is relevant to my code and I don’t have to think about it. Indeed the places it is relevant are nearly all due to the fact I have to accommodate a simulator that doesn’t actually have a camera and/or gyroscope. But such differences are irrelevant in relation to the underlying OS and chipset.

      It would make a difference to some teams in Apple and games producers. But remember many more games are already ported to iOS ARM. I think there is even a chance the Mac will see a higher number of ports because of this. The port will be done first as a straight port with no tweaking for touch based devices and then once running on the ARM based mac, the tweaks will be added for touch based devices/display sizes. The problem though is that the selection of ports will be skewed towards games that will work best on iOS and the Mac will be more of quick-win afterthought, so if there is an increased number of ports it will be a mixed blessing. The casual gamer and those who prefer to run native games, will be catered for. The hardcore gamer, who currently uses bootcamp to run games, will be left high and dry.

      Still I can see the Mac begin to establish a bit of a games base though around the iOS/Mac ecosystem. In any case, more than it has at present.

      Like

    • Why not have ARM64 for hardcore applications? If Apple keep pushing OpenCL hard, use nVidia/AMD GPU’s and possibly adopt the standardised approach that AMD is promoting for ARM64 based computers then it is plausible for Apple to release a hardcore ARM64 based computer that has a tonne of cache, supports a load of memory, clocked up 3Ghz+ with tonnes of cores and all the niceties of a modern workstation CPU. The big question though is whether Adobe is willing to make that move because it took Adobe ages to finally transition from PowerPC to x86-64 so I’m not hopeful about them going from x86-64 to ARM64.

      Like

  7. Oflife says:

    Interesting thought, (don’t laugh!), what if the next Mac mini, IS a keyboard? Why not? Built in trackpad, ports on the rear/side. This would be superb for small businesses or those with little space. Just plonk the ‘KeyMac’ on your workspace, connect to power and a monitor and Bob’s your Uncle! (Unless his name isn’t Bob.)

    Most Mac mini users don’t require huge amounts of power or expandability, so a simple product like this would be awesome. The only downside is that you have to use the Apple keyboard design, but that is no different from a MacBook or other laptop.

    There are or were PCs like this, I remember seeing them a while back.

    Like

    • The Commodore 64 was like that. A very feasible idea.

      Like

      • Oflife says:

        And the Vic 20, BBC Micro, Acorn Atom, ZX-81, ZX Spectrum, come to think of it, most 80s computers!

        Like

    • Oflife says:

      Thinking more about my idea, effectively, it would be a MacBook Air without the display or battery. The ‘Magic trackpad’ would be in front of the keyboard, not to the side, else Apple would need to produce either two variants or a swappable design, both of which would be costly. By placing the trackpad in front of the keyboard, lefties are taken care of too. So this would be a deep keyboard, not like the current Apple Bluetooth/full size wired keyboards that are narrow and require a separate mouse or trackpad.

      Like

      • irelandjnr says:

        Or the story implies a Mac mini shipping with a Magic keyboard and the box itself ARM based. That’s how I interpreted it.

        Like

      • rettun1 says:

        Connects to displays via airplay would be a neat idea too. I think they should still stick a battery in something like that, so you wouldn’t have to be tied to a wall through a power cord. A very cool idea!

        Like

    • drgeert says:

      Off topic, but very interesting!

      This could also be what a living room computer would look like.

      I could imagine a keyboard/trackpad with a Mac Mini inside as a kind of Apple TV form factor, where precisely the tv screen is what is not included because people already have those.

      It would need to connect to the screen via AirPlay. Hope that would not make it to expensive.

      Like

      • irelandjnr says:

        The future living room computers are your phone, your tablet and your laptop and your TV — same as now.

        Like

      • I imagine a similar device. My device would be this. A beautiful keyboard with a built-in trackpad with a sort of built-in Apple TV. Students would all be given iPad minis, iPads, iPod touches etc. If they need a larger screen with “better apps” they simply set their iDevice down beside the keyboard and the monitor comes alive with performance apps delivered from the device or the web. When not on the performance setup they can study, research on their iDevice. Simple, cheap and industry changing. As the performance and apps improve. Wow! You heard it hear first. ;-)

        Like

    • Omgenius. Add in a built-in mic and projector and it could be a standalone device!

      Like

  8. No. Not any time soon. It made sense to move from PPC to Intel because Intel chips were far more powerful and could handle the overhead of running old PPC code on them too in the form of Rosetta.

    ARM does NOT have the horsepower to even compete with the slowest Intel CPU in any currently shipping Mac. The only area they’re competitive are power consumption because that’s their main area of focus due to being a mobile chip. It’ll take a good deal more time before ARM can beat Intel in terms of performance:watt at the level the Mac line up is at.

    I don’t see them ever moving Macs to ARM, I simply see iOS replacing the Mac OS along with the Mac line up. Why move your desktop OS to ARM when you already have a mobile OS running on it that will in time supersede the desktop anyway? It seems silly.

    Oh, and don’t conflate “testing” with “this is going to happen”. Apple test pretty much everything, this is how they know what to eventually go with.

    Like

    • The Corei7 is such an immensely power processor that moving to an Apple Ax processor would be an insane step backward. Plus, Apple would become even more dependent on Samsung to provide processor chips, if this story were true.

      Like

  9. Jim Phong says:

    So Tim Cook really wants to kill Apple, uh ?
    If this rumor was true then it would become a huge mess. Even Apple SoC can’t match Intel CPU performance, at all.
    And breaking all the OSX compatibility to switch to ARM now would be just plain insane.

    Like

    • irelandjnr says:

      Talk about jumping to conclusions. How’s about the launch a Retina 12″ MacBook Air for $999 and keep the existing lineup beside it. I’d bet the average consumer would often choose no fan and longer battery life over performance, but they’d have an option not to.

      Like

      • irelandjnr says:

        ARM based for that new model I was implying.

        Like

      • rahhbriley says:

        He jumps to hating on Tim Cook nearly instantly, nearly all the time. Just ignore him. He’s accused Cook of being a corporate spy…just so you know what you’re working with here. Not worth your time engaging.

        Like

      • patstar5 says:

        Microsoft has the surface pro 3 coming out, looks like a worthy competitor too macbook air. I wonder what I should choose for college next year, mac or pc?

        Like

  10. ARM is destined for death. Intel is so much more powerful, they already have smartphone chips ready that beat ARM hands down.
    The only thing that would make sense is a combination of multicore (say 64 core) chip to run background processes at a very low energy impact and a second 4 core Intel processor to do tasks that actually require processing power.

    Like

  11. patstar5 says:

    No! Apple have you lost all sense! That would make all applications available for os x now incompatible with the new version. Probably couldn’t restore from time machine backup with intel machine. If they do this apple loses me forever. Wonder how long my intel core 2 duo mid 2010 macbook pro will be supported. Windows RT is horrible, os x rt will be horrible too.

    Like

  12. oscar2267 says:

    While not expected until 2016a t the earliest, AMD has their K12 architecture which combines x86 and ARM. So Apple wouldn’t need to leave x86 so abruptly until ARM catches up in performance.

    Like

  13. AMD has announced a new FX line architecture for 2015 to eliminate the shortcomings of the Bulldozer/Piledriver/Steamroller line.

    Excavator based APUs arrive later this year with GPGPUs in them that dwarf Intel’s capabilties.

    GCN 2.0 AMD GPGPUs are coming this Fall with drastic power reductions and a leap in performance. OpenCL 2 compliant and more.

    If Apple wants to say goodbye to Intel while being x86 64 bit compliant, 2015 is the year Intel loses out to AMD for Apple boxes.

    AMD and it’s marriage with ARM 64bit coming this year and 2015 for Opteron and FX/APU lines will be big.

    Intel has already delayed its next release CPU/iGPU by 1 year.

    Apple isn’t dumping x86_64 for ARM based 64 SoC on the Macbook, Mac Mini, iMac or Mac Pro lines. They will wait and see if AMD hits their targets and how Intel responds. They have options.

    Like

  14. BRITISH HUMOUR

    On a crowded train, travelling somewhere in Europe, a U.S. Marine walked the entire length of the train looking for a seat before realizing that the only seat available was currently occupied by a well-dressed, middle-aged French woman’s poodle.

    The weary Marine asked, “Ma’am, may I have that seat?”
    The French woman just sniffed, and said to no one in particular, “Americans are so rude. My little Fifi is using that seat.”
    The Marine walked the entire length of the train again, and discovered that the only seat available was in fact the one currently being occupied by the poodle.
    Trudging tiredly back, the marine arrived once more before the French woman and said, “Please Ma’am, may I sit down? I’m very tired?”
    She snorted, “Not only are you Americans rude, you are also arrogant. Why should I care if you are tired?”
    This time, the Marine didn’t say a word, but simply picked up the little dog, tossed it out the train window,
    then sat down.
    The woman shrieked, “Someone, defend my honour! This American needs to be put in his place!”
    An English gentleman sitting nearby spoke up, “Sir, you Americans seem to have a penchant for doing the wrong thing.

    You hold your fork in the wrong hand, and you drive your cars on the wrong side of the road. And now, sir, you seem to have thrown the wrong bitch out the window.”

    Like

  15. Add a $170 Clamcase to your iPad and you essentially have a touchscreen laptop!

    Like

  16. drtyrell969 says:

    Cuz trackpads have REALLY caught on haven’t they? Or maybe the complete and utter opposite.

    Like