Amazon and Apple are shifting away from Intel chips

For nearly a decade, proponents of the chip technology that powers cell phones have pledged to revolutionize the PC market. For the most part, they made little headway.

Now that seems to be changing finally, in a potential shift of power over the direction of the computer industry.

The change is being driven by Apple and Amazon, two tech giants that are reducing their dependence on the Intel chip technology that has long dominated most personal computers and larger server systems. Instead, companies are increasingly relying on indigenous chips that are designed using technology licensed by Britain’s Arm company for smartphones and other consumer products.

Apple launched a missile last month when it introduced Mac computers that first use its Arm-based chips. In June, Amazon’s cloud computing business began marketing a new computing service based on its own arm-based chips, to tell customers that the service was faster and a fifth cheaper than Intel-based offerings.


On Tuesday, Amazon unveiled another computing service for companies based on the same chips. He also discussed the gains made by users of a service that was introduced in June, such as Snap, the maker of the messaging app Snapchat. Amazon added that Twitter plans to start using the technology as part of an expanded relationship between companies.

“The bigger the customer, the more motivated they are,” said Peter DeSantis, who oversees the computing infrastructure for Amazon Web Services.

Actions by Apple and Amazon are causing ripple effects across the $ 400 billion semiconductor industry. Their moves suggest that key decisions in chips may increasingly shift from suppliers of silicon, where strength has long existed, to user chips with the resources to make their own ingredients. For computer users, the movements may lead to more technology options, faster computing speeds, and lower costs.

“Everyone loves, cool, all of Apple, Amazon and the others are in it,” said Keith Kressen, senior vice president at Qualcomm, a large supplier of arm-based chips. “This is really going to happen.”

Intel became a dominant force in computing in the 1990s, emerging as the largest supplier of processors for personal computers and later exploiting their mass manufacturing to create low-priced chips for servers. But the company did not make chips for smartphones, which became very popular starting in 2007.


Insert the arm. The 30-year-old company, which Nvidia recently agreed to buy from SoftBank for $ 40 billion, introduced chips that use less power than Intel processors. This difference – which means cell phones may charge the battery all day, rather than just a few hours – has attracted cell phone chip makers, such as Qualcomm.

In the past decade, some Arm technology backers have also begun to say that such chips can be used outside of cell phones. Companies like Broadcom and Qualcomm have begun designing arm-based chips for data centers to cut the growing power bills of Intel processors. They later abandoned the costly effort, in part because clients demanded faster computing.

In PCs, Microsoft has also talked about Arm, with little success. While the software giant has worked with Qualcomm to market an Arm-based version of Windows and laptops that use the operating system, sales have been minimal, largely due to a lack of software built for the laptops, market researchers said.

Then came Apple’s move. The company, which previously designed Arm-based chipsets for phones and tablets, said in June that it would gradually switch from the Intel processors it has used in Mac computers since 2005. Apple said its first chip designed for the Mac, the M1, offered twice the performance of a chip. Intel is comparable to using a quarter of the power.

ImageApple chip dedicated to the new Mac OS M1.
Apple’s Mac Chip, New M1.Credit … EPA, via Shutterstock
“Every Mac with the M1 will be transformed into an entirely different product class,” Johnny Srouji, Apple’s senior vice president of hardware technologies, said at an online event last month to introduce the new Macs.

Intel said it shouldn’t count. It continues to produce faster x86 versions, and many customers don’t want to rewrite the programs they’re running on.


“Intel is building on more than 20 years of the x86-based ecosystem,” said Lisa Spielman, Vice President, Intel Corporation. “We guarantee software compatibility and high performance, which are important requirements for both consumers and data center customers.”


Amazon also continues to expand its use of Intel chips for some functions. It announced a plan Tuesday to run Intel-powered Mac mini computers in its data centers to help programmers develop software for Apple systems without using Apple hardware.

Renee Haas, head of Arm’s flagship product group, said Arm is enjoying an increasingly competitive edge in computing. He said Arm has made major changes to improve the computing performance of each processor core, or the individual compute motors placed on each piece of silicon.

Mr DeSantis of Amazon said the cloud-style computing routines can also exploit a lot of relatively simple cores and special-purpose circuits. He said that the Arm-based Graviton2 chip has 64 such cores compared to the most powerful 24 cores on Intel server chips. This helps with simultaneous computing tasks, such as presenting web pages to different people.

Ampere, a Santa Clara, California startup, has developed an 80-core Arm server chip and expects to launch a 128-core version next year. Ampere CEO Renee James said its clients and investors include the software giant Oracle, which plans to offer a cloud computing service based on Ampere chips.

“Arm is” real with Amazon, “said Mrs. James.” Their competitors will follow suit. ”

Gerrard Williams III, CEO of Nuvia, another startup promoting arm-based chips, said Arm supporters have also benefited as Intel lost the lead in pushing for manufacturing innovations that make chips do more for less. Chip manufacturers such as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company and Samsung Electronics can now bundle more functions on each silicon chip, which means Arm chip designers who use them can realize the benefits of speed.

Change appears in many forms of computing. In laptops, research firm Gartner predicts that reactions from new competitors from Apple will push arm-based computers to 13.5 percent of the market by 2024, up from 1.1 percent this year.


Chromebooks, simple and less expensive laptops designed for web use, are also increasingly using arm-based chips. Arm-based laptops and related systems based on Google Chrome accounted for about 11 percent of sales in the third quarter, up from about 4 percent the year before, according to IDC.

Software remains a question mark, as the most popular programs are designed for Intel-based systems. But even that is starting to change, as software makers such as Adobe move to support Arm-based Macs and Windows. For now, both Apple and Microsoft have created technology to help run current software on Arm-based systems.

Some customers of Arm-based computing service from Amazon said they found it faster and cheaper than using a similar service based on Intel chips. Don MacAskill, CEO of SmugMug, which runs its own photo site and the popular Flickr site, said computing functions such as searching through billions of photos run 10 to 20 percent faster than Amazon services with Intel or compatible chips. He also said SmugMug saved 38 percent of computing costs.

He said, “That’s big, and I see it directly in my net worth.”

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