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Apple Seriously Considered Switching to AMD in 2011 MacBook Air

In an upcoming profile of AMD, Forbes reports that the company's Llano family of Fusion combination CPU-GPU systems was under consideration by Apple to be used as the brains behind the MacBook Air for its 2011 revision. AMD lost out to Intel, however, as the necessary parts were late in being delivered to Apple and had unacceptably high failure rates.
AMD struggled with its new fabless model while trying to crank out “fusion” processors that combined a CPU and a GPU in a single part. On paper the idea was promising. A notebook processor dubbed “Llano” got a close look from Apple for an update to the ultralight MacBook Air, scheduled for launch in mid-2011.

But AMD couldn’t get early working samples of Llano to Apple on time, one former employee says. Several former AMD employees disagree on just how close AMD came. “We had it,” one says. But too many of the Llano parts were faulty. AMD lost the deal.
The company reportedly also pitched Apple on using its Brazos family of Fusion systems in the Apple TV, but Apple proved to be uninterested in the proposal.

Forbes' Brian Caulfield has more on AMD's efforts to lure Apple in a separate article in which he talks further about yield issues on the Fusion chips planned for the MacBook Air.

The claim echoes a November report from SemiAccurate alleging that AMD's Fusion platform was Apple's "Plan A" for the 2011 MacBook Air and that such machines were "on the verge of production" before Apple ultimately decided to stick with Intel.

Apple had been struggling with chip options in its small portables for several years as licensing issues prevented graphics companies such as NVIDIA from developing integrated graphics solutions for Intel's latest processors. With Apple being forced to choose between slower Core 2 Duo processors paired with fast NVIDIA graphics and faster Intel Core i-series processors hampered by slow integrated graphics from Intel, Apple opted to continue using the aging Core 2 Duo processors for much longer than it would have otherwise liked.

Improvements in Intel's integrated graphics did allow Apple to transition to significantly improved Core i5 and i7 processor in the current generation of MacBook Air models, but it seems that Apple was also weighing AMD's offerings as it sought to work its way out of the constraints of Intel's graphics issues.

Related roundup: MacBook Air

Top Rated Comments

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33 months ago

Not AMD please!

I've seen videos of people removing the CPU fan on an Intel processor and cause the computer to crash. I've seen videos of people removing the CPU fan on an AMD processor keep chugging along.
Rating: 40 Votes
33 months ago
if it works better fine by me. AMD is underrated.
Rating: 33 Votes
33 months ago
While there's probably some truth to how Apple tested AMD chips in MBAs and whatnot, I doubt they were even really considering it. Why? Thunderbolt.

They advertised Thunderbolt heavily with the MBP and iMac months before the MBA launched. So why would they produce a line of computers that weren't compatible? That couldn't use the iMac's target display mode? That wouldn't work with a TBD?

So unless AMD had a related technology, I'm guessing we would have seen it come with the MBP and iMac first, long before the MBA.
Rating: 26 Votes
33 months ago
Not AMD please!
Rating: 23 Votes
33 months ago
AMD's CPUs are horrible... I thought Apple cared about power usage. Intel has done quite a bit of work on that, plus, AMD's implementation of Turboboost is pretty bad...
Rating: 17 Votes
33 months ago

I can't imagine Apple would do anything so stupid as to switch to AMD to power the macbook air's.

The macbook airs suck for any kind of serious work anyway. Power users running intense photoshop documents or anything of the likes arent going to be running out to buy a macbook air.

The MBA is really geared for basic use like sending photos of your cat to grandma or typing a document in MS Word for your university paper. And in that regards, the AMD cpus are more than capable.
Rating: 12 Votes
33 months ago

I've seen videos of people removing the CPU fan on an Intel processor and cause the computer to crash. I've seen videos of people removing the CPU fan on an AMD processor keep chugging along.

Actually I saw the exact opposite :(
Rating: 12 Votes
33 months ago

Not AMD please!

Reading all these negative comments about AMD is hilarious. Its kind of like reading the negative comments from apple fanboys in regards to flash or android or windows or samsung or google.. or basically anything non-apple.

If it doesnt have an apple logo or isnt apple endorsed, it must suck.
Rating: 11 Votes
33 months ago
Back in the early 2000's AMD would have been an excellent choice. Intel CPU's used to run crazy hot and yet somehow managed to deliver less performance that AMD CPU's running at 2/3 the clock speed.

This has all changed in the last 4 years or so.

As someone who loved AMD CPU's from about 2000-2008, I would never choose one today over Intel's Sandy Bridge line of CPU's.

There is just no escaping that fact that Intel is currently producing the superior processors at the moment, and while they continue to do so, AMD is a poor choice in my opinion.

Graphics wise yes it does muddy up the issue somewhat, but we are talking about Macbook Air's here, is graphics performance even worth discussing?
Rating: 10 Votes
33 months ago

If graphics performance is even a concern, who cares its on a 22nm die and can be overclocked to hell and back.

I'd agree, but there are several problems:

1) Mac users are generally noobs without a clue on how to overclock, swap hard drives, flash roms, etc. Development for such fine-tuning computer savvy people would be limited on the mac side.
2) GPU Drivers for OS X? I've never seen a single overclocking utility for any graphics card on a mac.
3) Overclocking still works best in Windows.
4) Anyone actually buying a mac to play games or do 3D work in OS X is crazy. Windows runs OS X into the pavement in this area, especially in gaming.
5) Graphics cards have always sucked hard on every macintosh computer and any 3rd party upgrade for the Mac (in this case, the mac pro, because apple doesnt believe in choice for iMac users) has always been expensive and to make matters worse, the offerings have usually been obsolete last generation.

Thats not to say I wouldnt like to see better gpu support for macs. If I could play Half Life 2 ep. 2, portal or other games at 1920 x 1200, 4X FSAA and maximum settings getting a constant (and minimum) 60fps, I'd be real happy.

But the reality is this: gaming and graphics cards are a complete pathetic JOKE in OS X. And anyone who disagrees is in denial.
Rating: 10 Votes

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