Plot Twist: After Mocking Apple, Now Intel Wants to Build Its M1 Chips

Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger Credit: Intel
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Sometimes you just can’t even make this stuff up. It seems that after several weeks of bashing away at Apple’s new M1 silicon, Intel is now courting the Mac maker in hopes of becoming the new manufacturing partner for its legendary ARM-based chips.

There’s no doubt that Intel has been all but completely pwned by Apple’s new M1 chips — and that’s just the beginning. In fact, as recent events have shown, it seems like the once-reigning king of CPUs has been so blindsided that it’s not quite sure what to do about it.

First came a series of dubious benchmarks that tried to spin Intel’s new 11th-gen “Tiger Lake” processors in the best possible light, with figures that clearly revealed that the chipmaker was tilting the scales in its favour, and probably even pointedly ignoring any data that didn’t make its chips look better. Former Macworld editor Jason Snell called it out as a series of explicitly “M1-unfriendly benchmarks” that included a “not-so-faint whiff of desperation” on Intel’s part.

Not surprisingly, however, this was followed by a somewhat ludicrous ad campaign that made Intel look like a jilted lover responding to a bad breakup. For example, the ads promoted Intel-equipped PCs while putting down Macs for features like USB-C ports that have been around on Intel-based Macs for at least five years.

Then, if that wasn’t enough grasping at straws, Intel took the next leap, hiring the legendary “I’m a Mac” actor Justin Long to play for its team instead. Late in the 2000s, Long became one of the faces of the “Mac-vs-PC” debate over the course of four years and 66 commercials where he represented the Mac side against a stodgier PC character, delightfully played by John Hodgman.

To add insult to injury, however, Intel’s attempts to turn the tables on Apple with this move have been going over like a lead balloon. The new commercials have all the charm of an unbaked potato, lacking any of the humour, wit, and charm that made the original Apple campaign so endearing.

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em…

In a rapid shift that makes Mark Zuckerberg’s recent Facebook course reversal look tame, Intel seems to have decided that maybe there’s still a chance to salvage something of its relationship with Apple after all. If it can’t design the chip for the future of Apple’s Mac lineup, it seems to be thinking maybe it can at least get in some of the action by manufacturing it.

The surprising about-face came as part of an announcement by Intel’s newly minted CEO, Pat Gelsinger, regarding Intel’s plans to spin off a separate “Intel Foundry Services” business, with two new chip factories in Arizona.

While investors have been telling Intel for some time that it needs to make some significant changes, suggesting that, like Apple, it outsource its chip manufacturing to companies like TSMC, it looks like Intel has decided to go in the exact opposite direction. Not only will it continue to manufacture its own chips, but it’s also going to try to compete with TSMC by wooing other chip design companies to do business with Intel instead.

In discussing Intel’s new initiative, Gelsinger specifically said that the company intends to pursue Apple as a possible customer for its new foundry service, which could ironically lead to Apple’s future Macs actually using Intel-made chips.

Of course, that’s merely a technicality, and there’s no evidence suggesting that Apple would be interested in such a deal. Further, even if Intel can convince Apple to get on board, the chances are Apple would be looking to diversify its supply chain rather than switch away from TSMC.

By all reports, Apple is happy with its Taiwanese fabricator, however, it also typically likes to avoid having all of its eggs in one basket.

That said, TSMC has generally been well ahead of the curve in developing the kind of leading-edge chip manufacturing processes that make Apple’s A-series, and now M-series, chips so insanely powerful. It’s not clear if Intel is going to be in a position to match that kind of technological advantage.

At the end of the day, however, Apple is known for its pragmatism, so it’s unlikely that Intel’s recent marketing stunts will get in the way of whatever is best for its own chip manufacturing needs. After all, Apple and Intel have been in business together for 15 years, with Intel chips having been used in everything from the Mac Pro to the iPhone. In fact, a good chunk of Apple’s chip engineering team is made up of Intel’s remnants, so there’s no reason to believe the two companies can’t continue to enjoy a healthy relationship.

Maybe it would also put a stop to Intel’s silly campaign against Apple Silicon. At least we can certainly hope so.

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