As Apple's fortunes have risen with the runaway success of its ARM-powered iDevices, the opposite has happened to Intel and Advanced Micro Devices. But at this week's Worldwide Developer Conference, a funny thing happened – with no new iPhone or iPad announced, all the hardware spoils went to the two standard-bearers for x86.
As expected, Apple rolled out new MacBook Air laptops powered by Intel's fourth-generation Core processors, also known as Haswell. That wasn't a huge surprise, but Apple didn't really change much else from the previous generation of 11in and 13in MacBook Airs – they're not slimmer or lighter than their predecessors, nor do they have a higher resolution display, for example.
The new laptops do have faster solid state drives (SSDs) and add support for 802.11ac Wi-Fi. Those are nice additions, but hardly game changers. Of course, the new units also provide users with impressively longer battery life – Apple is promising up to 12 hours, a huge upgrade from the 7 hours offered in the previous generation of MacBook Airs.
That last improvement, already Apple's main selling point for the new MacBook Airs, appears to be largely due to the increased efficiency provided by Intel's power-stretching combo of a 1.3GHz Core i5 dual-core Haswell CPU and next-gen HD 5000 integrated graphics.
"The biggest improvement Apple made with their MacBook Airs is the inclusion of Haswell. As expected, this adds 30 to 40 per cent improvements in battery life and improved graphics," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst for Moor Insights & Strategy.
In other words, the main reason to get one of the new MacBook Airs is to get Haswell, which my colleague Joel Santo Domingo expects will produce equivalent performance to the 2012 line-up of MacBook Airs which employed faster but more power-hungry Intel chips. And until Apple updates its MacBook Pro line-up with Intel's latest mobile chipset, this is the only way Mac loyalists will be to enjoy the benefits of Haswell.
So let's go ahead and call that a feather in Intel's cap, even though Moorhead was a bit sanguine about the on-board graphics in the new MacBook Airs.
"While the graphics are an improvement over its predecessor, it doesn't even come close to the high end discrete graphics from AMD and Nvidia," he said.
Meanwhile, Intel's bitter but battered rival AMD gets to join in the cap-feathering with the new Mac Pro, which Apple said it will start selling later this year.
Unlike the new MacBook Airs, we don't know precisely which chips will go inside Apple's long-awaited, visually arresting, cleverly constructed professional workstations. But Apple has stated that they'll feature a pair of "state-of-the-art AMD FirePro workstation-class GPUs with up to 6GB of dedicated VRAM," to go along with Intel's next crop of Xeon E5 CPUs.
On the Intel side of things, the new Mac Pros will be getting Xeon E5s with up to 12 CPU cores and 256-bit floating point performance on a board featuring PCIe 3.0 and up to 40Gbs of chip-to-chip throughput. The chip giant will also be rolling out Thunderbolt 2 for Apple's upcoming workstations, serving up 20Gbs of throughput with its new I/O interface, or double the capacity of first-generation Thunderbolt.
AMD, meanwhile, has held off Nvidia for a second successive generation of Mac Pros. According to Apple, the dual-GPU solution provided by the chip maker delivers up to 7 teraflops of graphics processing power, more than doubling the 2.7 teraflops provided by the Radeon HD 5770 GPUs that come standard with the current generation of Mac Pros.
"With all that power, you'll be able to do things like seamlessly edit full resolution 4K video while simultaneously rendering effects in the background – and still have enough power to connect up to three high resolution 4K displays," Apple said.
Moorhead called the Mac Pro "the biggest surprise of the show."
"On paper, it looks like a real beast with its 12-core Xeon processor and dual-card AMD FirePro graphics, plus PCIe flash memory. The cylindrical design is incredibly small, and its shape could enable some very interesting cooling solutions – very important to workstations," the analyst said.
And with all that pride-of-place given by Apple to silicon provided by Intel and AMD, maybe, just maybe, PCs and the x86-based chips that power them aren't as endangered as we've been led to believe.