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Rumour: AMD for Mac OS X?

AppleInsider has reported that Apple may be holding talks with AMD about the possibility of getting the latter’s chips into a Mac. How believable is this, and what will it mean for both Apple and Intel?

Read on to find out more.

When Apple announced its upgraded Macbook Pros, many were quite surprised that the 13-inch Macbook Pro did not receive the new Core i5/i7 processors sported by the 15-inch and 17-inch varients.

But in hindsight, it was to be expected: Intel had been working hard to prevent Nvidia’s chipsets from being used with their newer processors, which meant that the 13-inch Macbook Pro will have to use Intel’s not-so-spectacular onboard graphics solution instead of the more powerful Nvidia GT320M, thus defeating the purpose of the ‘Pro’ label.

While it might make sense to use an older Core 2 Duo processor which allows for the use of an Nvidia chipset that offers better graphics performance than Intel’s, it does not change the fact that Apple is still caught up in the Intel-Nvidia dispute, and when the time comes for the next refresh, people are going to be expecting to see some Core i5 processors in the new notebooks, and not the old Core 2 Duo.

So where does AMD factor into the equation?

For one, Apple is a company that is always looking choices: it was this mentality which led them to ditch PowerPC for x86 and create the A4 processor for the iPad, among other things. And if Intel’s licensing issues will not allow their processors to run on anything other than Intel chipsets, AMD might very well fill in that void with its less powerful processors but superior onboard graphics solutions in a complete package.

That argument, however might not hold much water as Intel still commands a substantial lead over AMD as far as performance, heat and power consumption are concerned, and Apple will probably not be pleased with having to deal with hotter Macbook Pros that drain battery faster than the more powerful Intel-powered machines.

That being said, an alternative place where AMD might be able to find a new home for its chips would be in Apple’s desktop offerings: being connected into a power outlet means that battery consumption issues immediately becomes moot, and the much larger constrains of the Mac Mini and the iMac means that there is more space for the hotter AMD processors to cool (as opposed to cooking themselves in the small Macbooks).

But even then, it will take more than just petty licensing deals for Apple to make a jump over to AMD: with Apple marketing the Mac as a premium-brand computer, the inclusion of a value-oriented AMD processor may not do any favours for the Mac’s brand image.

Thus, it’s unlikely that Apple will seriously consider putting AMD processors into its machines: in fact, it might even be Apple’s way of trying to keep Intel interested in its products and negotiating for a more flexible (or exclusive) licence scheme for alternative chipsets with its processors. But until we can get more definitive proof that something will come out of the meetings between AMD’s representatives and Apple, this will remain as nothing more than just some juicy rumour in the computing world.

Source: Ars Technica, AppleInsider

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