As we draw closer to the release of Apple’s first ARM based Macs it is interesting to watch various people speculate about the future – I generally avoid the clickbait in favour of Snazzy Labs, Rene Richie which have a more measured tone in terms of forecasting where they think Apple will go.
Although there is a lot of speculation about the performance of the SoC, the question is whether we’re going to see software vendors make use of the various parts of the SoC (Neural Engine processor, CPU and GPU) through frameworks provided (Metal, Metal Performance Shaders etc) or whether they use the CPU as a dumping ground resulting in customers getting a subpar experience (see Adobe drag their feet every step of the way when it comes to adopting new technology). There is a certain amount that Apple can do in terms of ensuring that various parts of the operating system’s frameworks are tapping into the underlying hardware but there is a limit particularly if software vendors are writing multiplatform software and need to utilise multi-platform frameworks such as Qt.
What has also happened recently was the announcement by nVidia to buy ARM from SoftBank (link). It’ll be interesting to see how it all turns out but given that it would provide nVidia with a CPU of their own, it will provide them with the opportunity to make use of ARM based SoCs for cloud servers and maybe even open up the possibility of ARM based laptops, desktops, workstations in the mainstream. Regarding how this impacts Apple – it doesn’t as Apple has a licence which gives them access to the ARM ISA but the design of the SoC itself is up to Apple to build from the ground up (vs. licencing a design from ARM as with the case of Samsung’s upcoming Exynos which will revert to standard CPU designs straight from ARM).
It will be interesting to see whether long term we might even see console vendors like Microsoft and Sony look into using ARM based nVidia SoC’s with nVidia GPU particularly if it means they can get improved performance but at a lower cost per unit which can either be passed on as savings to customers the ability to develop consoles beyond consoles – imagine a XBox running a stripped down modernised version of Windows where you boot up and choose between ‘gaming mode’ and ‘desktop mode’ – where a student could purchase an XBox, hook up a screen, mouse and keyboard, and have a games machine and computer that they can use for study all in one.