First of all, let’s make something clear. Apple has not said that it will make a netbook, and any mini-laptop the company does release will probably look very different from the Asus Eee PCs and MSI Winds of the world. Because Apple doesn’t do cheap. I think it’s more likely that Apple would release an oversized iPod for $599  than that the company will release a cheap and undersized MacBook for that price.

Now, with that out of the way, Computer World has an interesting article discussing what type of CPU an Apple tablet or mini-laptop could use. The verdict? ARM isn’t out of the running. We already know that ARM is working on chips that combine low power with decent performance. And when I say low power, I mean as little as 1/10th the power consumed by an Intel Atom processor, while providing comparable performance.

Computer World speculates that Apple could choose ARM because the chips are cheaper, lower powered, and more customizable than Intel processor. There’s also a picture of an Apple product that looks a bit like a MacBook Air on an ARM product roadmap, but it’s not at all clear that this actually means anything. ARM may just be saying that their chips could be used in computers from manufacturers like Apple.

What do you think? If Apple were to develop a low cost tablet or netbook, would you want to see it run an ARM processor? Intel? Something else altogether?

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11 replies on “Could apple be working on an ARM-powered netbook?”

  1. That ARM video proves that the new ARM chip can render web pages at reasonable speed. It DOES NOT prove that at an equivalent frequency that ARM chip would be quicker than the Atom. For all we know speeding it up wouldn’t change anything, as the web server delivering the page is loaded down or throttled per page. Or whatever.

    Anyway, the video shows a pretty simple demo. Can the chip handle “HD” flash video in order to render Hulu? Unproven. Can it play HD content off the disk? Unproven. Etc. We’ll just have to take ARM’s word for it. The fact that the iPhone and iPod touch still don’t handle Flash video might give all of us pause, but of course this is a future part we’re talking about, so who knows?

    Personally, I’ll take ARM’s word for it. We’ll see when stuff starts to come out. Does seem like a possibility though. I suspect if Apple does go down this path though that it will mean a “locked down” device though, more like an iPhone/iPod touch an an Apple laptop/desktop that can run any software you like.

    1. The cortex-A8 core is available to any who license it. . .
      The TI OMAP processor (which uses it) is very much alive and well. . .
      The future is here.

      Before you can view HULU, you will have to port Flash to the chip.
      Start here to catch up on current progress:

      Compile and install on a Beagle-Board ( and tell
      us how well you can play HULU and HD DVDs.
      The Beagle uses what might well be a representative example
      of any netbook styled processor.

  2. Not to be rude or anything but guys, how many times do we need to be reminded that trying to predict Apple product specs is like betting on horseracing, only less accurate? I was one of the loudest guys out there before the much ballyhooed October press date but only to say what would be good not what would happen. Sorry to be the wet blanket here but, c’mon, let it go. We simply don’t know at all and until the very moment that devices show up in stores, we won’t.

  3. The downside: if they make it a big iPod, they’ll probably give it that OS and lock it down to allow only software they approve through their own store. I’ll pass on the walled garden thing, thanks.

    The interesting thing is that they might integrate 3G, require a data plan, and subsidize the heck out of it.

    It might be a good candidate for loading up an ARM distro on, but if they make it subsidized and tied to 3G, they might not let you. Then again, people hacked iPhones, so why not these?

    Of course, all of this is nothing but pure speculation at this point.

  4. I can see two reasons to give some credibility to this;

    First, Apple engineers are good thinking outside the box and maybe they’re not first doing something, but they’re first to do it the way it’s meant to be. NETBOOKS need more battery life. Currently only top of the life netbooks with a 6 cell battery deliver +5h of work and that’s the minimum battery a sub-3pounds device should have.

    Using an ARM CPU would make this task something really easy. Now, combine this with an amazing OS based on Mac OS X and you’ll have a device that may be underpowered compared to Atom netbooks but is able to do as much as these thanks to an optimized OS, without mentioning an AMAZING battery life.

    Once explored a first reason from a technology perspective, let’s look at an economical reason. An ARM processor costs at least 25 bucks less than an Atom chip; and a custom board should costs say, 5 less than an Atom board. Also, a smaller battery should shave some aditional cost. Based on the price of actual netbooks like the MSI Wind, the BOM of an Apple netbook should be around US$ 300. As is usual with the Apple tax, the rumored price of US$ 599 for an Apple netbook make sense, giving them a 85-90% profit.

    So, an ARM powered Apple netbook makes a lot of sense to me.

  5. The closest thing to a netbook that Apple will do is to add to the iPhone a keyboard, I heard from a fanboy I know that netbooks ‘doesn’t make sense’, ‘they’re too small to be a laptop and too big to be a PDA’, or ‘For that price I could get an iPhone and much better ‘features”. Stupid brainless dolls.

  6. Well, Apple used RISC processors for years, it would not be a first.
    For an idea of what is being talked about – check the “Convenience Netbook”
    thread on the forums – the posts (and links) about the Beagle.
    That board has a TI processor running the ARM cortex-A8 core with integrated,
    dual channel, graphics processor and a SIMD instruction processor.
    It is an expensive cpu (about 50USD each) but just let someone order a few
    million and TI will find they can make it cheaper. 😉

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