Exclusive: Apple MacBook Air with AMD processor dead

The story of how things almost happened

Apple Inc.In one of those ‘could have been a contender’ moments, SemiAccurate has learned that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) had a Llano based MacBook Air on the verge of production. That was canceled last spring or so, but it was really really close to production.

If you are wondering why the Air wasn’t really revamped much this last time, it is because you are looking at plan B. Plan A was basically a low power Llano in an Air shell, and that would have been a really tasty machine. Instead of awful graphics with questionable drivers, you would get many times the GPU power but lose a bit of CPU power. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t make that tradeoff. (Note: Anyone not employed by Intel that is….)

If you recall last spring, Intel announced Apple was happy with them again. This was taken by many to mean that Intel sent bags of cash to Cupertino so big that they had no choice but to stuff the offices that were meant to hold ARM CPU engineers with wads of used $20 bills. Not so, sources indicate that ARM CPUs are still on tap as soon as the 64-bit chips show up, this one was about kicking AMD out of the Air.

Actually, Intel didn’t do any kicking here, they didn’t win as much as AMD dropped the ball on both feet, then kicked it over their own goal line. If you recall, the company can’t make Llano parts, and the premium versions that Apple always scoops up are in particularly short supply. Binned lower voltage premium versions are probably rarer than a tech site that links and credits properly. OK, maybe not that rare, but rare enough that Apple would probably have been severely constrained on supply.

Multiple sources tell SemiAccurate that supply was only one of the reasons that Apple declined to run with the Llano Air, but in retrospect, it was a really wise choice. AMD would have had to pull a Dell and shift already thin supplies to Apple, likely preferentially, and burn, well, everyone else. This leads to a lose/lose/lose situation, and AMD has a history of not calling those well. That said, supply shortfalls generally don’t have winners on any side.

So, Apple went back to Intel, Intel jumps up and down and declares this a victory, and people read in to it that ARM is out of the picture. While the Llano MacBook Air is not much more than a historical footnote now, the public spin does not appear to be the way things happened on any side. ARM still is in place, Intel graphics are still years away from being passable, and there are still repercussions to this deal falling through. More on that later.S|A

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Charlie Demerjian

Roving engine of chaos and snide remarks at SemiAccurate
Charlie Demerjian is the founder of Stone Arch Networking Services and SemiAccurate.com. SemiAccurate.com is a technology news site; addressing hardware design, software selection, customization, securing and maintenance, with over one million views per month. He is a technologist and analyst specializing in semiconductors, system and network architecture. As head writer of SemiAccurate.com, he regularly advises writers, analysts, and industry executives on technical matters and long lead industry trends. Charlie is also available through Guidepoint and Mosaic. FullyAccurate