Intel and AMD, Could They Follow in Apple’s Footsteps and Move to ARM?

With the arrival of the ARM architecture to Apple devices, many questions have been raised in the industry. Those from Cupertino try to show that you can have a complete ecosystem independent of the x86 architecture we are used to and we have already seen that, in terms of performance, they can compete to some extent. In this article we are going to make the assumption that both Intel and AMD wanted to follow in Apple’s footsteps and switch to ARM, what would they have to give up and what would they need to carry out the transition ?

While ARM seeks efficiency, a balance between consumption and performance based on using fewer processing stages but cores with lower speed and with specific tasks, x86 bases its design on “raw power”, so Intel and AMD opt for complex cores but on a large scale: in the same space as ARM there are many fewer cores, but much more powerful and versatile.

Intel and AMD

Can Intel and AMD aspire to an ARM ecosystem?

Before entering to assess whether Intel and AMD can develop an ARM ecosystem, we must understand how what they currently have works. The x86 architecture is based on CISC, with very extensive sets of instructions that serve to solve very complex operations, that is, they have enormous versatility to perform any operation with the same kernel. ARM, for its part, uses RISC, with single-cycle instructions that are only capable of performing certain specific tasks, so it is necessary to incorporate many and varied cores to do the same.

Put more simply, if Intel and AMD want to be able to have what they have now but using ARM architecture instead of x86 in their processors, they would have to completely change the internal design of these to integrate a large number of cores, many more than until now; These cores would be low-power and at lower speeds than what they have now, but they would also be much simpler and each of them arranged to perform certain sets of specific operations.

Therefore, the first thing they would have to give up would be their own processor designs and “go through the box” to integrate ARM designs that, remember, does not manufacture processors but only designs and sells the right to use them to third-party manufacturers , which in this case would be AMD and Intel. This would necessarily imply a reduction of income at the beginning, but it would also suppose an enormous saving of costs of R&D and design reason why in the long term everything indicates that it would be profitable economically speaking.

Both Intel and AMD are already doing their “first steps” using this ARM architecture in some areas, such as processors for smartphones and servers, but they have not yet touched it at the consumer level as Apple has done.

Is a transition at the software level feasible?

Things change when we talk about firmware and software. The internal code of the processors has a great weight in terms of their performance, and they would have to start from scratch in this regard, just as they would have to start from scratch in terms of software.

However, this would be a very small part if we compare it with the software ecosystem of any PC; operating systems need to be programmed and optimized largely for each of the architectures, especially if good performance is to be achieved. This means that both at the operating system level and any program that runs on it would have to be completely rewritten or, at least, ported. In this regard, it must be said that it is easier to program for ARM than for x86 given the simplicity with which its cores work, but it would still be a huge work.

Intel Foveros

In other words, if AMD and Intel decided to switch to ARM, it would ruin many software companies, as they would be forced to follow in their footsteps and reprogram their software to adapt to the new architecture. It is not impossible, but it would imply dedicating a lot of resources to it, and we cannot rule out that the big software companies pressure Intel and AMD not to take such a step.

So will we see AMD and Intel processors with ARM architecture?

Only they know it, but everything indicates that at least in the short and medium term it is something that we are not going to see. The fact that the ARM cores have simple instructions compared to the x86 architecture would cause too many changes, a complete restructuring of both Intel and AMD and the software companies, and this is something that cannot be done overnight. tomorrow. Could it happen in the future? Yes, certainly because it is something viable. Apple has already demonstrated that you can have a fully functional ARM-based ecosystem, although we have also seen that, with current technology, they are not capable of delivering the performance that the x86 architecture has.

We would be facing a paradigm in which consumption and efficiency would obviously prevail since ARM processors consume much less than x86, although many more cores are needed to be able to do the same tasks. But, in the world in which we live in which, in addition to efficiency, raw performance prevails, it seems difficult for consumers to want to give it up in pursuit of lower consumption. Therefore, everything indicates that this potential transition is not exactly a focus in which Intel and AMD are investing time and resources today.