Apple’s Former Mac Chief Believes That PC Makers Will Be Forced to Switch to ARM

Image: ARM

In a recent Medium post, former Apple executive Jean-Louis Gassée discussed the company’s switch to ARM-based chips and the performance of its first in-house silicon for Macs: the A12Z. Based on its early performance – which is quite impressive, apparently – Gassée is pitching the idea that Microsoft, Intel, and other PC giants will inevitably be compelled to ditch x86 due to the increasing viability and presence of ARM architecture, as prompted by Apple’s recent push.

“According to Geekbench tests, A12Z performance matches or exceeds my MacBook Pro,” Gassee points out. “Apple doesn’t disclose the TDP for the A12Z processor, but we can rely on an indirect number, the iPad Pro’s 18W power adapter output. This gives us an idea of what to expect from Apple Silicon in future Macs: Significantly lower TDP without losing processing power.”

“Next, throughput. Given what we see with today’s A12Z, one can’t imagine tomorrow’s Apple Silicon Macs providing less than a 25% throughput advantage against corresponding x86 PCs,” he continued. “Admittedly, these are speculative, broad strokes assumption for Apple Silicon Macs — think faster, svelter laptops actually lasting 10 hours on a battery charge.”

Having teased Apple silicon performance and its native support of popular software (e.g., Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop), Gassée goes on to explain how the PC industry will be affected. Evidently, the transition would be spearheaded by Microsoft, which has actually been experimenting with ARM SoCs since 2012 – in fact, it even released an ARM-based Surface Pro last year.

“Specifically, what are Dell, HP, Asus, and others going to do if Apple offers materially better laptops and desktops and Microsoft continues to improve Windows on ARM Surface devices?,” Gassée questioned. “In order to compete, PC manufacturers will have to follow suit, they’ll ‘go ARM’ because, all defensive rhetoric aside, Apple and Microsoft will have made the x86 architecture feel like what it actually is: old.”

Finally, Gassée suggests that Intel would be forced to embrace ARM due to the dissolution of the Intel/Windows duopoly, which is responsible for x86’s high margins. “The x86 commands high margins not because of the chip, but because of the Intel/Windows duopoly, meaning that, all other things being equal, chips not running Windows get lower margins than an x86 CPU,” he says. “Now, that union, that advantage is about to disappear. Intel will face ARM-based SoCs running Windows on ARM with applications, in PC-like quantities, at lower prices.”

“This leaves Intel with one path: if you can’t beat them, join them. Intel will re-take an ARM license (it sold its ARM-based XScale business to Marvell in 2006) and come up with a competitive ARM SoC offering for PC OEMs. Margins will inevitably suffer as the ARM-based SoC field is filled with sharp competitors such as Qualcomm and Nvidia, sure to be joined by arch-enemy AMD and others, all ushering in a new era of PCs.”

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