Blog Post

Apple’s new 64-bit chip is too much for a smartphone, but great for a MacBook

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

Apple’s(s aapl) chip designers have been working overtime with the introduction of the first 64-bit chip for a smartphone in the A7 and a brand new sensor processing chip dubbed the M7 as part of its iPhone 5s launch. These chips make the iPhone 5s incredibly advanced, but they also hint at Apple’s future plans.

For chip nerds the idea of 64-bit chip inside a smartphone is overkill. The benefits of a 64-bit chip is that is can take advantage of 4 gigabytes of addressable RAM, but most smartphones are barely hitting 2 or 3 GB of RAM today. Plus, the operating system has to be tweaked to run on a 64-bit chip. So it’s not a stretch to guess that the A7 will eventually show up in MacBooks where a 64-bit chip makes more sense. Apple has already ported OS X to the ARM architecture, which means it could run on the A7 if it’s powerful enough — or a next generation version of the same chip. Currently MacBook Airs are running Intel’s(s intc) latest Haswell chips and the rest are on third-generation Core i5/i7 chips.

As for the M7, it’s a new type of processor that will gather sensor data from the accelerometer, compass and gyroscopes and then feed relevant information to the A7. That will take some of the burden off the application processor, but more importantly it will be an integral component to any sort of wearable device that can’t claim access to such a powerful CPU. My hunch is you will see the M7 in wearable designs wedded to a much lower-power chip.

Does anyone want an iWatch?

17 Responses to “Apple’s new 64-bit chip is too much for a smartphone, but great for a MacBook”

  1. From this two-year-old slide:

    shows that 64-bit ARMv8 would have better performance per Watt than Sandy Bridge (on FPGA!), but after two years Intel introduce Haswell so the Gap might be smaller? so I my guess would be in the near future if the cost to manufacture 8-core ARMv8 is similar to quad-core x86… it would make sense to make ARM-based MacBooks.

  2. Jonny Bilal

    Agree wit most of the comments here. The author is clueless about what a 64bit architechture offers. Memory addresses are a complete sideshow with 32bit versions of lunux/windows others easily able to workaround this. Multicore CPU’s (with seperate instruction/memory pointers) mean each process can address a seperate block of 4Gb (ish).

    64bit architechture “could” allow faster shifting of data around memory, and to storage as a basic optimisation. However, without a complete picture of storage specs, bus speeds, and whether the A7 will be a full 64bit CPU, it is impossible to speculate on any of this. I found this article hoping to find this level of information.

    Instead, I find an article written by an author who is a little bit out of their depth on the subject matter – which is fine, but please dont tell the world “chip nerds” think this is a bad idea. Since those with some level of CPU expertise, are probably holding off comment until the specs are known.

  3. David McCormack

    A few technical clarifications:

    1. The Intel chips already in the MacBook are already 64-bit so a move to the A7 would not offer any gain there. Better battery life perhaps, but poorer performance.

    2. A 64-bit processor can address a heck of a lot more than 4GB of memory – 16 exbibytes to be exact, which is roughly 4,000,000,000 times more than 4GB.

    3. As another commenter has noted, the ability to address more memory is only part of the advantage to a 64-bit CPU. I once rewrote a low-level date conversion routine to take advantage of 64-bit division and spectacularly improved the performance of a data-logging application.

  4. The writer is clueless. 64 bit. OSX has been 64 bit for years. 4 GB of RAM is adressable with 32 bits. Hello… iPad is an iOS device and so when A7 is brought to iPad it will be 64 bit ARM. Apple will not be moving OSX to ARM. What a bunch of misinformation. Now every idiot with a keyboard is a journalist.

  5. Do I want an iWatch? You mean a TV set as in watching? I’ve read about that misunderstanding.

    Lets ignore Samsung marketing their watch to the very people who want the largest screen possible so they can instead look at it through the smallest screen possible. That level of disconnect leapfrogs ignorance straight over to stupidity.

    A wrist device from Apple, and I’m an Apple person, must add something that I don’t want to be without. I’ve heard nothing that would make me want such a thing but I’ll have to wait and see. An Apple watch with the same functionality as the Samsung watch, no thank you. It has to add something I don’t already have that I need or delights me. No one has yet to bring that forward and I can’t imagine what it could be.

  6. It also allows the chip to manipulate 64-bit data as the native data size. This means the ALU can do math on larger numbers at the same speed, or it can do twice as many 32-bit word ops per second with carefully written code. It has a direct impact on performance. Memory addressing is a sideshow issue, and it doesn’t even matter. With PAE (physical address extensions), Linux can address 64GB of RAM on a 32-bit chip, regardless of how incompetent Windows is (being limited to 3.5GB for compatibility reasons that shouldn’t even be a problem).

      • Walt French

        The benchmarks show not too much a difference. Meanwhile, neither the A6 nor the A7 was used, and the tuning of the tests to work best on the chips appears to have been minimal.

        IOW, the tests may have nothing to do with the Apple CPUs.

        The Apple design would’ve started YEARS ago, and who knows what they had up their sleeves that hasn’t yet come out. Apple claims the chip is about twice as fast as its predecessor; it’ll be interesting to see how. I suspect a better CPU-memory interface, and/or more processor registers, get most of the credit. Possibly, re-writing the iOS routines (gradients; motion/zooming; etc) will allow it to run a lot faster, and that’d help all apps.

        Still, as this article correctly says, there’s no obvious reason why iOS7 or any existing iOS product, needs a 64-bit architecture. But on the other hand, even with this chip twice as fast as its predecessor, it’s woefully underpowered for what I expect from my (3-year-old) MacBook.

        So I suspect the hardware and the software are a bit out of synch with each other. Bet we see some software enhancements down the road — my money’s on Siri — that make 64-bitness a killer enhancement.

  7. H. Murchison

    RAM addressing is not the sole benefit of 64-bit computing. On the desktop many 64-bit processors have more registers and higher computational needs can see a nice benefit from 64-bit as well.

    Though I think the most likely reason for moving to 64-bit in mobile “today” is getting developers to start compiling to 64-bit across desktop and mobile platforms.

  8. Dan Villiom Podlaski Christiansen

    The limit of a 32-bit adress space is 4GB and not 32GB. Whether 64-bit computing has any benefits on machines with less RAM than that depends on the OS and architecture in question. We’ll see…