Intel may have just lost the performance crown for microprocessors for PCs. Against a backdrop of positivity for AMD these days, the new AMD RYZEN 7 1800X just set a new world record score for Cinebench, a respected CPU performance benchmark.
Yet, the story isn’t really about sheer performance but that AMD’s new chip line delivers stunning performance per watt compared to Intel’s i7. And that’s where this gets interesting for Apple. You see, for more than a half a decade now Apple’s design philosophy for devices has shifted to being more about economy of energy consumption over maximum performance.
This is where there seems to be better alignment. AMD’s new chip is extremely Apple-esque.
The Apple-Esqueness of RYZEN 7
The new RYZEN 7 chip lineup includes three new chips: the 1800X, 1700X, and 1700. They roughly compete with Intel’s i7 line including the i7-6900K, i7-6800K, and i7-7700K, respectively. While all three deliver similar performance, according to AMD, they do so at much smaller wattages.
Apple’s designs are all about thinness, lightness and long battery life and thus they prefer microprocessor selections based on energy requirements rather than shear performance. But AMD’s new RYZEN 7 chips excel in exactly this area, outclassing Intel’s i7’s in “power per watt” and beating their pants in price too. This could be a game-changer.
The 1800X and 1700X both have TDP’s (thermal design points) of 95W (watts) compared to 140W for their i7 competition. That’s more than a 30% savings in power draw. But the big kicker is the cost at the high end. The RYZEN 7 1800X is just $499 per chip compared to $1,089 for Intel. While the mid-range and lower end (1700) models save less money the lower range unit, in particular, delivers twice the cores (8), twice the threads (16), and is also 30% less in energy consumption.
These are big advantages even if independent third-party tests show the performance is slightly less than what AMD is touting. What matters these days for Apple is designing around minimal TDPs.
Preserving the “Conserving Energy” Apple Ethos
A Forbes article about the new Macbook Pro noted that Apple is designing for the needs of conserving energy and less about performance. “Here’s how Apple deftly puts it in their ad copy,” writes Brooke Crothers, ” ‘Intel processors deliver pro-level processing performance while conserving energy.’ ”
But where is this “pro-level” performance? Apple’s new Macbook Pro really isn’t particularly faster than the model it replaced. As the Forbes article points out, Apple seriously traded down wattage in the latest update, going from a 28W 5th-gen “Broadwell” part to a 15W 6th-gen “Skylake” part in the entry model.
Some have suggested Apple would at some point use its own A-series (ARM-based) processors in future Macs, since they are the ultimate in performance per watt. But such a direction would have serious consequences for macOS and its developers, forcing them to make another microprocessor architecture change. If Apple’s power envelope constraints are truly that important, than why not consider AMD’s new RYZEN 7 chips?
Take a look at today’s current iMac 5K model. It uses an Intel 14nm “Skylake” 4-core i7-6700K processor with a TDP of 91W. Based on the iMac’s actual frequency (Apple regularly dials them down) the TDP is possibly low 80’s W range. But AMD’s RYZEN 7 1700 is at 65W already and has 8 cores.
An Apple and AMD Get-Together?
For Apple to go with AMD after years of embracing Intel seems questionable. The prestige of “Intel-inside” and the benefits of working with the industry leader seem locked in. But on the flip-side Apple’s own PC rivals could gain notable advantages and ruin the Cupertino company’s ability to drop those famous marketing bombs about thinnest and lightest and battery life.
What would Apple do without those marketing bullet points?
The PC market is also rebounding and growing in areas that are typically Apple’s turf, like high-end personal computers and more expensive laptops. It should be said too that Apple chose AMD’s new Polaris graphics over Nvidia’s goods in the latest new Macbook Pro because it was simply a good fit for Apple’s thin design. And Canalys analyst Daniel Matte stated for Forbes that “Apple’s desires probably informed AMD’s [Polaris] roadmap.”
Apple has been about thin design and tight TDPs for a long time now. Is it possible that when AMD decided to work from a clean state four years ago that they began the RYZEN line with the possibility of wooing Apple at some point in the future? Wouldn’t getting Apple be a huge win for them?
It certainly would. Whether Apple is tempted to explore a new dancing partner, however, is anyone’s best guess.