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Apple 'working on' ARM laptop; bad news for Intel, says analyst

Will Apple come out with a MacBook Air that uses the same kind of chip the iPad does? An analyst claims it's an active project at Apple.

An Apple laptop with an ARM chip inside is an ongoing project inside Apple, an analyst claims.
An Apple laptop with an ARM chip inside is an ongoing project inside Apple, an analyst claims.

Apple is working on a laptop with an internally-designed chip, a project that might pose a serious risk to Intel, an analyst said today in a research note.

"We have numerous datapoints that Apple's processor design group is working on an ARM-based product for its notebook line. Whether or not it goes into production remains to be seen, but it is the highest probability risk to Intel from the ARM camp in the PC market," said Piper Jaffray analyst Gus Richard in a research note today.

U.K.-based ARM provides the basic design for chips that populate most of the world's smartphones and tablets. Apple's A5 chip, used in the iPad 2 and iPhone 4S, is based on the ARM design. And Apple is expected to use an updated A series chip in the upcoming refresh of the iPad.

ARM chips are more power efficient than the Intel chips used in Apple's MacBook Air line but fall short of Intel chips in performance.

This isn't the first time this kind of assertion has surfaced. In May of last year, a chip-centric Web site said that Apple was "dumping" Intel in favor of Apple's internally-designed A series chips for future MacBook Air products.

Piper Jaffray's statement is more circumspect, however, because it states that the Apple notebook project will not necessarily come to fruition in a commercial product.

And it's not clear if Piper Jaffray's note jibes with--or contradicts--comments from Apple CEO Tim Cook to a Citigroup analyst last week. Cook said that Apple would be satisfied with expanding the iPad line to meet the need for a notebook-like product.

And while Apple's A series of chips, such as the future A6, will inevitably become more powerful, Intel's chips get more power efficient with every generation. For example, Intel's future Haswell processor is expected to be a system-on-a-chip and offer a good balance of power efficiency and performance. For future MacBooks, that could be enough to satisfy Apple.