Apple should drop Intel for AMD

Rumor has it that Apple is planning to produce its own CPUs and GPUs for Macs. Those T2 processors we have today are just a tiny first step—the big leap is to take something like the A12X and build a MacBook around it. It makes sense from the perspective of both power-to-performance ratio and a cost-to-performance ratio. Perhaps more importantly, it puts Apple fully in control of its whole platform, and allows the company to innovate in ways it can’t when it cedes the very heart of its computers to other companies.

For these reasons and more, I think it makes sense to begin transitioning macOS to ARM and for Apple to produce computers with its own CPUs and GPUs inside. But that transition will take years. While that’s going on, Apple should kick Intel to the curb and go all-in with AMD.

Better performance, lower power

The consumer chips AMD will ship this year—new third-generation Ryzen chips based on the Zen 2 core and the Ryzen Threadripper high-end desktop and workstation chips with the same technology—are going to do more than give Intel a run for its money. The current generation of these chips already meet or beat Intel in nearly all tasks except for high-end gaming. And let’s face it, as much as I love Mac games, gaming is just not a strong market for the Mac.

We’ve only had small sneak peeks at the new 7nm products AMD is shipping this year, but the company is crushing it. During its CES keynote, AMD showed an early engineering sample of the new third-generation Ryzen chip, running at a reduced speed. Even so, it beat out a Core i9-9900K in a Cinebench test. That’s an impressive feat, considering that both chips had the same 8 cores and 16 threads.

But when AMD’s Lisa Su held up the Ryzen chip that was demonstrated, the layout was conspicuous. It looks like there is deliberate room left for a second 8-core, 16-thread “chiplet,” which makes me think that the company played it close to the vest in showing only its 8-core version. If AMD can match or beat Intel core-for-core, and can ship a 16-core, 32-thread regular ­desktop CPU, they’re almost certainly going to take the overall performance crown, despite the improvements Intel will make this year.

ryzen 3rd gen ces AMD

Hmm…looks like they’re leaving room for anotehr 8 cores and 16 threads on there.

AMD’s CES demo was significant in another way, too. The third-generation Ryzen test system used about 25 percent less overall power than the Intel system. If the final chip is clocked a bit higher, that gap may narrow, but it’s a huge deal that AMD is matching or exceeding Intel’s performance with early silicon at significantly lower power draw.

Now scale that up to a third-generation Threadripper chip, a perfect match for the upcoming Mac Pro. Just as with the first two Threadripper generations, we can expect those to be similar to AMD’s Epyc server chip line, which means we’re looking at up to 64 cores and 128 threads.

ces threadripper AMD

Already, the iMac Pro would be better off with 2nd-gen Threadripper inside. Imagine the leap the 3rd-gen verison would bring.

Can you imagine a Mac Pro shipping near the end of this year with up to 64 cores and 128 threads, with per-core performance on par with Intel’s latest and greatest?