I just had an idea. There’s some rumours that $AAPL is about to introduce a 12″ fanless, retina MacBook Air. Could this be the first non-$INTC MacBook? A MacBook Air that uses an Apple designed and fabbed, ARM ISA chip? 

“Kou says that Apple is working on an ultra slim 12-inch MacBook Air with some updated specifications. The new Air is said to be thinner than the current model, have no fan, and to feature a track pad with no buttons. A higher resolution display is also tipped, presumably of Retina quality.”

From <http://www.slashgear.com/12-inch-macbook-air-retina-rumors-surface-for-late-2014-launch-10324626/>

Why would Apple want to use a non-Intel chip?

The single biggest item in an MacBook Air’s Bill of Materials (BOM) is the CPU. Replacing the CPU will allow Apple to compete in the $500-700 laptop space while retaining margins.

Also there is now not that much to differentiate between a MacBook Air (13″) and a MacBook Pro (13″) in terms of weight and size. What is a logical evolution of the MacBook Air line? Especially if we assume that the Pro will slim down further, reaching or exceeding Air size?

The MacBook Air is defined by small, light, portable compute… it makes sense to drop the fan, slim down even more etc. This to me suggests a move to either an Intel Atom or an Apple designed & fabbed, ARM ISA chip, perhaps an ‘X8’ desktop chip instead of the A8 mobile.

Moving to an Atom would allow Apple to go fanless, reduce size, maintain battery life (even with a shrink in battery capacity, size and weight) while retaining compatibility with the x86/x64 binaries & drivers. But this can be replicated by others. Acer/Sony/Google or even a newly invigorated MSFT could make an Atom based laptop. They’ve kind of done this already – in the form of netbooks – though I think the timing wasn’t quite right – simply because the Atom’s of last year simply did not have the oomph to make it. Apple owns the OS and the hardware (apart from the CPU). Why not continue backward integration and take over the CPU too?

I’ve always been wondering why Apple, with it’s huge cash pile, doesn’t simply buy out INTC (or AMD) and the only answer I’ve been able to come up with is that Apple’s making its own fab. If you believe the semi-accurate news published by semiaccurate.com – then there’s reason to believe that Apple’s busy making its own fabs.

Napkin Math

MacBook Air current generation (mid-2013) retail price: $999 ($1099 for 13″ model with same CPU).

Intel Core i5-4250U, Tray: $315,  http://ark.intel.com/products/75028/

Apple A7, Tray: $20 (estimated)

Intel Atom E3827, Tray: $41

The Core i5 has a 15W TDP; 1.3 Ghz clock (turbo to 2.6Ghz); 2 cores, 4 threads. Sunspider 250ms.

The Apple A7 has a 2W TDP; 1.3Ghz clock; 2 cores, 2 threads. Sunspider 397 ms.

http://cpuboss.com/cpus/Intel-Core-i5-4250U-vs-Apple-A7

It’s not looking all that different! Esp. when you take into account that the A8 will be twice as fast (think Tegra K1) – i.e – a Sunspider score of 200ms maybe?

Any evidence at all?

Apple’s been calling the A7 a ‘desktop’ class chip. If the A8 is twice as fast, in a similar power envelope…. 

Thoughts

Assuming I’m not waaay off the mark: Will Apple upscale iOS or downscale OSX? Will it make:

  • A netbook : with downscaled OS X (+Atom)
  • A chromebook : with a whole new OS, i.e. not iOS and not OSX
  • Something entirely different: an upscaled iOS (with better keyboard integration?)

I think it’s a Chromebook – that’s the model that seems to be gaining traction (evidence: MSFTs anti-chromebook ads). Netbooks are dead, everyone knows that.

An `AirBook’ implies a new OS. Which lends a little more credibility to the idea of a new CPU …

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