Bad Chips and the Future of Mac Silicon

Yesterday we received news of a flaw with Intel chips that is, overall, terrible news. Early estimates are that repairing the vulnerability will require fixes in software and could slow down chip performance.

For years now, people have been talking about Apple moving its ARM-based chips to the Mac. At first, the idea seemed ridiculous, but as the ARM chips have improved and Intel has missed several ship deadlines, the idea is at least worth thinking about.

It seems to me there are at least a few conflicting priorities at Apple around this decision. On the one hand, designing its own chip and getting rid of reliance on Intel is right up Apple’s alley. They love controlling the whole widget and making their own silicon for their mobile devices worked out brilliantly.

On the flip side, I don’t think Apple wants to spend the resources necessary to switch the Mac off of the Intel chips. Like it or not, the Mac does not have the priority at Apple that it used to. I’m sure there are a lot of people that don’t want to put effort into changing the underlying Mac processor. 

All that said, if Intel indeed did drop the ball here, it is precisely problems like this that would result in an eventual ARM Mac. This will be a fun story to follow going forward.

Future Chips and Hardware

Intel recently announced its 2018/2019 CPU, called Icy Lake. AnandTech explains the new chip in detail. To summarize, Intel is putting the hammer down on making their chips smaller and faster. I’m sure Apple and other competing chip designers/manufacturers are taking note.

As I was growing up with computers, CPU improvements were all about speed. Computers didn’t change the way they looked so much as they got a lot faster … often. I can’t help but feel that as 10nm chips become “the thing”, the speed improvements will end up taking a back seat to the ways these new chips liberate hardware manufacturers to rethink the kinds of hardware we can put these small, fast chips in. Future chips are not about getting faster (although they will get faster) so much as they are about further evolving the idea of what a computer is. I can hardly wait.