Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
Apple had plans to release a family of OS X-based laptops with 64-bit processors similar to those found in Chromebooks before its acquisition of chipmaker P.A. Semi in 2008, according to a blog post from a former Apple engineer.
The deal was ultimately acquired by IBM for its semiconductor division in 2009, and the result was P.A. Semi's Stratus processor, an ARM-based chip that went into low-power devices like radios and electronic billboards in smart phones and tablets.
The post, dated February 13 and written by former Apple engineer John Cooke, provides new insight into Apple's nascent plans for a next-generation Mac line that would focus on a small number of Core Series chips. But it also sheds some light on the ties between what is now IBM, which developed the Stratus processor in the beginning of the 20th century, and Apple, which saw the P.A. Semi integration as a future automotive chip for its increasingly scientific gadgets.
Apple still uses a subset of Core Series chips in Mac laptops. While all Core series applications can run on certain Core Series chips in laptop models, Intel's 4th-generation Core processors are the most popular solution among Apple's laptop lineup. Intel supplied Apple with the Core i3, i5 and i7 processors for Mac laptops as of last year, while using its own P.A. Semi chips for desktops.
Cooke, a former Intel engineer and consultant who worked with P.A. Semi, posted the blog post on Daring Fireball, a site popular with Apple insiders that explores what's next for Apple. Cooke worked at P.A. Semi for five years before switching his focus to Apple's automotive division, including two years as an associate consultant with Apple's research lab.
"Basically, the current Core i3-power architecture was built at Apple in P.A. Semi (the technical team that was sold to IBM), and I am still familiar with its development," Cooke wrote. "It was the current architecture that drove the introduction of the MacBook Air in 2008, as well as the Mac Pro that came out in 2009."
Cooke also clarified a separate rumor that Apple is trying to release ARM-based Macs. Apple has made clear that it wants to use ARM-based chips for its future Macs, but the company says there are a number of engineering challenges that would stand in the way of releasing products running on the chips. Cooke wrote that the company is currently in talks with manufacturing partners about implementing ARM-based chips, and that systems based on those chips may start showing up as early as next year.
"Makers of ARM-based chips are keen to get Apple on board because the company's access to advanced chip technologies could advance the performance of ARM devices," Cooke wrote. "Apple could start by using ARM CPUs in its MacBook Air computers and the MacBook Pro with Retina Display as 2014 nears, but I could see them starting with ARM-based chips for iPhones and iPads."
In a statement, a Samsung representative declined to comment on Apple's plans. Google, which owns Android, would not comment on Apple's usage of the Google chipmaker's manufacturing plant or technology.
CNET has reached out to Apple for comment.
For Apple to move ahead with using ARM chips in Macs, it would have to overcome two significant hurdles. The first would be opening up its Mountain View, Calif., development platform to ARM, which would likely require an alteration to the programming tools in iOS. Cooke's post also hints that Apple may not want to allow an additional supplier into its ecosystem because of the "creative tension" it creates. Cooke writes that Apple doesn't want to fall behind the "mavericks" in the industry, and neither does IBM. The question then becomes whether Apple would be able to work with additional manufacturers if it is using its own in-house chip designs.
Apple could also wind up turning to Intel for its chip designs after IBM pulls out of the family of Core products. Cooke also details how Apple started testing and even sampling its own custom chips between 2006 and 2010.
To build Apple's own mobile processors and license the designs, the company reportedly hired Cameron McIntyre, a former Intel technician, to help design its next-generation processors at P.A. Semi.
The real question is whether Apple can build an equally high-performing and low-power Core Series architecture that would set a new standard in processors for notebooks, netbooks and tablets.