Apple’s 64-bit A7 SoC: A Step Toward A-Series Powered MacBooks? – The ‘Book Mystique

There’s been some puzzlement expressed as to the raison d’être for the iPhone 5s getting a 64-bit Apple in house designed ARMv8-based A7 system-on-chip. While in theory, 64-bit CPU architecture potentially offers substantial performance advantages over 32-bit, in practical terms the boost is supposed to be predicated on 64-bit architecture being able to address greater than the 4 GB of system RAM that is 32-bit’s upper limit, but we’re pretty certain that neither the iPhone 5s nor any other Apple i-device has 4GB of RAM. That said, the iPhone 5s is proving to provide a substantial real world performance improvement (Apple claims up to 2x faster CPU and graphics performance with the A7 compared with the A6 chip, which presumably is partly attributable to the A7’s 64-bit support, so perhaps skepticism has been overstatedly pessimistic in that regard.

ZNet’s Simon Bisson notes report that developers who wish to continue supporting iOS 6 will need to build their apps in 32-bit only. But Apple has promised that next month, changes will be made that will allow developers to support 32-bit on iOS 6 and both 32- and 64-bit on iOS 7 with a single binary.

However, aside from the iPhone (and presumably soon the iPad 5 as well) getting a shot of rabbit elixir from the A7, iOS 7 also incorporates 64-bit support, and that will facilitate porting 64-bit OS X apps to the iOS. There are also of course the marketing advantage and bragging rights to building the first 64-bit smartphone.

On the downside, 64-bit apps can be expected to be somewhat porkier, eating into precious storage capacity on 16 and 32 GB SSDs. I understand that 32-bit applications could suffer diminished speed running on 64-bit machines.

The iPad should arguably benefit even more in practical terms from 64-bit than the iPhone, presuming that the 5th-generation 9.7-inch iPad expected to debut next month gets A7 silicon. Easier porting of OS X software to the iOS looms larger in importance for tablets than it does for handsets.

But I think another impetus behind the move to 64-bit for iOS devices is the realization that platform convergence is the future of personal computing, and that not only tablets and laptop computers, but an open-ended array of hybrid devices combining qualities of both are inevitable, which means the iOS will loom larger and larger in importance compared with OS X, with more and more features and functionality crossing over. Microsoft is already negotiating this route with Windows 8/8.1 and the Surface Pro Tablet PC. Apple’s mobile and desktop operating systems are still distinct and separate entities, but for how long?

ZNet’s Simon Bisson notes that since ARMv8 can be used to build “desktop-grade” processors, could we see Apple stepping back from Intel to its own ARM-based Macintosh hardware? He notes that “It’s certainly easier to use ARMv8 to emulate x86, and x64, instructions, so Apple could deliver an ARM OS X that could run existing code in a VM, with new ARM compiled code running in its own sandboxes. And that could be a very, very interesting tomorrow.”

AppleDailyReport’s Dennis Sellers notes that at Apple’s Sept. 10 iPhone 5s/5c announcement, company spokespersons described the A7 SoC as .forward thinking,” and as having a “desktop-class architecture.” He suggests that “the company may be looking (and thinking) forward to A8 (or A9 or A10) powered desktops and laptops.” Sellers observes that it’s not hard to imagine Mac laptops and Mac minis using descendants of Apple’s A7 SoC silicon in the near future, and to envision Apple’s entire OS X and iOS product line-up eventually becoming ARM-based.

At the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in San Francisco earlier this month, the company’s new CEO Brian Krzanich and President Renee James spoke about resetting Intel’s course toward clear emphasis on mobile computing, launching a new family of low-power systems-on-a-chip (SoC), codenamed “Bay Trail,” that they say will fuel a wave of powerful and energy efficient tablets, 2 in 1s and other mobile devices to market for both consumers and business users in the fourth quarter of this year from OEMs including AAVA, Acer, ASUS, Dell, Lenovo and Toshiba.

The “Bay Trail” family of processors is based on Intel’s low-power microarchitecture “Silvermont,” announced in May 2013. The Intel Atom Z3000 Processor Series (“Bay Trail-T”) is the company’s first mobile multi-core SoC and its most powerful offering to date for tablets and other mobile devices. The flexibility of Silvermont microarchitecture allows for variants of the SoC to serve multiple market segments, including new Intel Pentium and Celeron processors (“Bay Trail”-M and -D) for entry 2 in 1s, laptops, desktops and all-in-one systems.

Intel says it will introduce 64-bit support for tablets in early 2014, and that devices built on this version of the Bay Trail SoC will offer enterprise-class applications and security, and with Intel Identity Protection Technology (IPT) with PKI, will not require a VPN password when used with systems optimized for IPT and PKI, and that the “Bay Trail M” line of SoCs will power a variety of innovative 2 in 1 devices in addition to notebooks enabled with touch capabilities, and enable manufacturers to offer them at lower price points.

Samsung has also hinted strongly that its next smartphone will feature a 64-bit processor, with the company’s mobile business chief and co-CEO Shin Jong-kyun telling the Korea Times’ Kim Yoo-chul: “Not in the shortest time. But yes, our next smartphones will have 64-bit processing functionality.”

Clearly, convergence is the way the world is going and the future is unfolding, and Apple is hardly premature in getting 64- bit A-Series silicon into real world use in order to remain out in front, as it now is with the iPhone 5s in smartphones. Apple has no hybrid, convertible, 2 in 1, or touchscreen laptop devices at this point, but with platform convergence, I think it’s inevitable that they will, which may prove to be the most important advantage of upgrading its hardware and software to 64-bit support today.

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