Both Intel and AMD stand to lose one of their biggest customers
Rumor mill: Apple is moving away from Intel CPUs and replacing them with ARM-based solutions of its own, and if a new report is to be believed, Apple may also be moving away from Radeon GPUs in the coming years in the quest for self-sufficiency and total efficiency.
Apple has been hard at work internally to move the Mac away from Intel’s x86 CPUs to custom silicon based on ARM, and the company has promised to reveal the first results of those efforts in a product launch later this year. What they didn’t say is that they may also be planning to do the same for graphics processors, which could leave AMD and Imagination without one of their biggest customers in the near future.
According to a former Intel engineer, the reason why the Cupertino giant started working on custom CPUs was to avoid the quality issues it found with Skylake CPUs. The company also sought to decouple its release schedule from that of Intel, which has been erratic due to a failure to scale all the features of its processors down from 14 nm.
As for GPUs, Apple used to rely on both Nvidia and AMD for their dedicated graphics solutions, but eventually settled for the latter thanks to lower cost and a more open collaboration for driver development. While detailing the transition to Apple silicon, the company didn’t say a word about making dedicated GPUs of its own.
However, according to a report from The China Times, Apple could be ready to launch a Mac with a self-developed GPU sometime in the second half of 2021.
The new GPU — dubbed Lifuka — will reportedly be manufactured using TSMC’s 5nm process node and feature tile-based deferred rendering (TBDR) tech, which is useful for games and professional apps. It’s also said to offer better performance-per-watt when compared to the current AMD solutions used across Mac Pro, iMac, and MacBook Pro products. These devices are aimed at professionals, which means that Apple isn’t just looking at ways to improve integrated graphics on A-series SoCs, but actually developing GPUs that can rival those of Nvidia and AMD.
This comes at an opportune time when TSMC has freed a huge chunk of its capacity that was previously contracted by Huawei. With new US export controls in place, Apple has the opportunity to use that extra capacity to produce its GPUs.
The same Chinese publication claims that Apple may also revive the MacBook 12 with a device code-named “Tonga,” which is supposed to launch later this year with an ARM-based CPU based on the A14 chip that will power the iPhone 12.
All this should be taken with the customary grain of salt, but it looks like Apple’s self-sufficiency plan goes well beyond making its own CPUs and modems. The Cupertino giant has said that it will continue to build Intel-based Macs in the coming years, so it’s safe to assume that AMD GPUs will still have a place in those products. However, it looks like Apple is slowly becoming a competitor for two of its biggest partners.