According to a new report from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman and Ian King, Apple is developing a new ARM-based chip for Macs that would take on more of the low power mode functionality that’s currently being handled by Intel processors.

This upcoming piece of silicon may first become available in a next-generation MacBook Pro planned for later this year. Among other things, it would help improve battery life.

Most fans are unaware that the new MacBook Pro sports a custom ARM-based authentication chip designed by Apple, called T1, because the company has chosen not to actively market its significance.

T1 contains a Secure Enclave which has its own encrypted memory and is tasked with handling Touch ID fingerprint verification and driving Touch Bar independently from the main Intel chip, in a manner that strengthens user security.

So, what’s this new chip about?

Internally codenamed “T310,” it reportedly went into development last year. While similar to the T1 authentication silicon, it’s said to be a new part independent from T1. Built on ARM Holdings Plc. technology, it will work alongside an Intel processor.

The plan calls for leveraging the new chip for macOS’s low-power mode functions, collectively known under the umbrella term Power Nap.

Enabled in macOS’s Energy Saver preference pane, Power Nap lets your Mac perform various functions while it’s sleeping that don’t require much power. For example, Power Nap periodically checks for new email, backs up your Mac using Time Machine and retrieves refreshed iCloud content like contacts, calendars and photos.

Currently, Power Nap uses little battery life while run on the Intel chip.

However, one of Bloomberg’s sources said the new ARM-based silicon could conserve even more power and would also take on the additional responsibilities handled by other parts of the system, including storage and wireless components.

ARM Holdings Plc. is a UK-based fabless semiconductor maker which licenses its own CPU designs to interested device makers. Apple’s been using ARM’s off-the-shelf CPU blueprints in iOS gadgets, without modifications, up until iPhone 5s.

iPhone 5s, driven by the A7 chip, marked the arrival of Apple’s first 64-bit mobile chip with a fully customized CPU core compatible with the ARMv7 instructions set.

The S1 and S2 processors inside Apple Watches also run ARM-based CPU cores.

Bloomberg in 2012 said Apple was exploring ways to replace Intel processors in Macs with a version of mobile chips used in iPhones and iPads. That report speculated Apple-designed chips would replace Intel’s in entry-level Mac notebooks in 2017.

“Apple engineers have grown confident that the chip designs used for its mobile devices will one day be powerful enough to run its desktops and laptops,” that report claimed.

Whether or not that chip would be ready for prime time soon remains to be seen.

No matter how you look at it, it really is no secret that Intel’s unimpressive roadmap and extended research and development periods have hurt Apple’s ability to deliver annual Mac upgrades like it’s been doing so punctually with iPhones for a decade now.

As a matter of fact, Intel recently abandoned its “tick-tock” approach where process technology improvements (tick) were followed the next year by significant chip architecture overhauls (tock). The chip maker now backs new semiconductor architectures with an optimization period because, you know, extending the life of Moore’s Law is no longer feasible.

“We expect to lengthen the amount of time we will utilize our 14-nanometer and our next generation 10-nanometer process technologies, further optimizing our products and process technologies while meeting the yearly market cadence for product introductions,” Intel said in its 10-K filing.

Aside from making possible even thinner and smaller Mac notebooks with longer battery life, ditching Intel chips for Apple-designed ones would allow the company to fully control its silicon destiny and, most importantly, refresh Macs on an annual basis.

However, as today’s report states, Apple has “no near-term plans to completely abandon Intel chips” for use in its laptops and desktops.

Source: Bloomberg

  • Naif

    I think A10 is powerful enough to be co-prossesor especially if Apple decide to run IOS apps on macOS like what google did with chromebooks , and touch display could come finally to MacBooks ..

  • rockdude094

    Imagine if all the iPhone apps can run on the mac

    • Ah yes, I can see myself now in front of a 27″ 5k iMac, running games optimized for a 5″ screen and upscaled into into pixel oblivion. #theDream

      • rockdude094

        At least the iPad apps would look half decent

    • 5723alex .

      If Chromebook laptops can run Android apps, Macs can run iPhone apps.

  • From what I understand, isn’t the touch bar on the MacBook Pro running a modified version of WatchOS on its own chipset? I would assume that this means every MacBook Pro (with touch bar) is already shipping with an ARM based processor designed to work in tandem with the Intel chip.

    This makes me wonder if it will truly get yet another ARM processor added to it or if they will be extending the current one (that powers the touch bar and its OS) to run offloaded tasks.

    • Smanny

      There is nothing stopping Apple in the long run from running all of its iOS apps on its app store on Macs, especially in the long run. I know Swift is suppose to bridge the gap for developers. So a 100% Swift app could run on both iOS devices and OS/X devices. However most iOS developers have not adopted to using Swift yet, and still code iOS apps using the original methods. This means that the vast majority of the apps on Apples app store are compiled and optimized to run on only Apples ARM based Ax SoCs.

      Unlike the new Chromebooks can now run both Chrome OS with web apps, but now they can run the millions of apps on Google’s play store as well. Microsoft is really trying to push its developers lately to make Universal apps. Its an agnostic future.

      • Hey Smanny,

        That’s partially true. The thing that some people forget is that phones have a lot of stuff built into them that laptops don’t. Touch screens being the most noticeable, followed by rear facing cameras, barometers, 16-axis gyroscopic sensors, pressure sensitive screens, the motion co-processors etc. There would need to be a lot of hardware ported over as well and the laptops fundamentally changed to support this otherwise you’d end up with an odd mix of apps that work and apps that don’t. I can’t imagine playing super monkey ball on my iMac for instance by tilting my iMac left and right to steer 😛

        While some apps would work out of the box so to speak (probably iPad apps mostly) they would need optimizations for keyboard, mouse and hardware and the second you start to build optimized versions of your apps for desktops you are back to where we are now.

        iOS is optimized for hand held devices with a finger input whereas desktop apps are optimized for a keyboard and mouse on a stationary device. So until someone can come up with some interface that bridges both systems perfectly I doubt apple will opt for this as it sacrifices two “great” experiences for a lesser experience.

        One thing I would like to see however would be universal app purchases that would allow users who purchase a desktop or iOS app get full access to the other.

        Anyways, just some thoughts.
        -John