Chicago (IL) - AppleInsider recently ran a story that got us scratching our heads. Apparently, Apple’s upcoming notebooks will not transition to Intel’s Centrino 2 (Montevina) chipset. It could be business as usual or it could be another sign of Apple’s growing purchasing power that enables the company to milk Intel. Sources however suggest that Apple could be returning to custom chipset design to differentiate its products from the competition.
Apple Insider cites people "familiar with these plans" that claim a "trio of redesigned" notebooks will not adopt Montevina and the new "new wave of Macs may have little or nothing to do with Intel at all."
This statement is somewhat surprising, as most Mac announcements over the past two years were all about Intel. Apple transitioned its higher-end notebooks and iMacs quickly to a new Intel platform (Santa Rosa) and we know of at least two "special SKU" processors that were made available to Apple only. So is it business as usual and these new notebooks are just lower-end models (read: not Macbook Pro) that won’t get the privilege of running Centrino 2? Perhaps. Your guess is as good as ours.
However, there is no doubt that Apple has become an important partner for Intel, one of the very few exclusive key customers Intel still has. And we do know from Intel sources that Apple receives special treatment for that privilege (according to our sources, Apple never negotiated or even asked AMD to buy the green team’s processors.)
While it would be a bit of an exaggeration to put Apple on the same level as Dell or HP, Intel obviously has some reason to address special requests from Apple - and Apple could be taking advantage of this situation. The key advantage of Intel’s Centrino platform, even the heavily modified Apple Centrino (which excludes Intel’s wireless chipset) is the promise that it works out of the box and no validation is required (in contrast, for example, to an AMD mobile platform, which uses components from multiple vendors).
Moving towards an Nvidia or AMD/ATI chipset solution certainly could improve Apple’s negotiation position to drive Intel prices lower. The validation advantage is somewhat minor for Apple, since the company does not offer a wide variety of notebooks anyway. And we have no doubt that both Nvidia and AMD would go to great length to extend the existing GPU relationships with Apple.
What makes these rumors interesting, provided they are on target, is the fact that the chipset provider Apple chooses would have to have a licensing agreement with Intel to develop, manufacture and supply an Intel-compatible product. And that list is rather short. AppleInsider suggests that Apple could actually have such a license and may be returning to custom-designed chipsets, which of course, brings up PA Semi, a mobile CPU developer recently acquired by Intel.
In the end, there is not enough information to come to a reasonable conclusion what Apple may be planning. We do know however, that Apple is always good for a surprise.