Earlier this week, after years of rumours, Apple finally announced its third major CPU transition for the Mac by moving away from Intel to custom-designed Apple processors. But now that the dust has settled, a lot of people are asking why.
On a broader level, the reasons are clear: Not only does switching to custom CPUs that are designed in-house give Apple more control over the specs and features that go into the chips that power its computers, by cutting out another third-party supplier, it also means Apple stands to take home a bigger share of sales revenue. However, those justifications ring just as true today as they would have five, 10, or 15 years ago, so was there a more specific moment that really pushed Apple to break away from Intel?
Well according to former Intel principal engineer François Piednoël, it seems Intel’s line of Skylake processors is to blame. Marketed at Intel’s line of 6th-gen Core processors, in a recent video posted to YouTube, Piednoël says the quality assurance for Intel’s Skylake processors was “more than a problem, it was abnormally bad.”
Piednoël went on to say “Basically our buddies at Apple became the number one filer of problems in the architecture,” before adding “When your customer starts finding almost as much bugs as you found yourself, you’re not leading into the right place.”
So while there was always a certain crowd within Apple pushing for Apple to make its own chips for the make, apparently it wasn’t until after Apple faced countless issues with Intel’s Skylake processors that the company began to seriously make plans to develop and transition to custom-designed CPUs.
“For me, this is the inflection point. This is where the Apple guys that were always contemplating to switch, they went and looked at it and said: ‘Well, we’ve probably got to do it.’”
Piednoël then concluded by saying “Basically the bad quality assurance of Skylake is responsible for [Apple] to force themselves to actually go away from [Intel’s] platform. If [Apple] didn’t have this reason where they were actually doubtful that this could be delivered, [Apple] would have carried on with no problems.”
As for the cause of Skylake’s poor quality assurance, Piednoël attributes that to a shakeup in leadership and general mismanagement that led to critical engineers leaving the team and poor planning during that period.
While Piednoël’s account sounds incredibly damning, one of the main reasons he shared his story is that he believes Intel is still a great company and that shareholders should know what happened so that the company can learn and avoid mistakes like this in the future. And with Apple planning to fully transition away from Intel over the next two years and AMD breathing down Intel’s neck, Intel could probably use some good advice.