Former Intel Engineer Says Apple Plotted Divorce Because of Skylake

Posted on June 25, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Apple, Hardware, Mobile with 17 Comments

A former Intel engineer is claiming that Apple began plotting its divorce from Intel when the chipmaker released its buggy Skylake chipset. As you may recall, Skylake was a contributing factor in what I called “Surfacegate,” when Microsoft released the incredibly unreliable Surface Book (first-generation) and Surface Pro 4 and then spent several months ignoring complaints and not fixing the problem.

“The quality assurance of Skylake was more than a problem,” former Intel principal engineer François Piednoël claims. “It was abnormally bad. We were getting way too much citing for little things inside Skylake. Basically, our buddies at Apple became the number one filer of problems in the architecture. And that went really, really bad. When your customer starts finding almost as [many] bugs as you found yourself, you’re not [h]eading into the right place.”

I can back up some of this story: Having spoken to acquaintances at several PC makers in the wake of Surfacegate, I learned two things: That while all Intel chips ship with problems, Skylake was unusually buggy, and that Microsoft, as a new and inexperienced PC maker at the time, didn’t understand the gravity of the situation and had assumed in the past that it was easy for PC makers to overcome these problems. So while experienced PC makers like Dell, HP, and Lenovo were able to work around the problems with Skylake and customer impact was minimal to non-existent, Microsoft had no idea what it was doing. And it fumbled the response badly.

That Apple was the biggest complainer about bugs in Skylake shouldn’t surprise anyone: Apple is detail-focused, and I could see these kinds of problems being unacceptable to the company.

“For me, this is the inflection point,” Piednoël continues. “This is where the Apple guys who were always contemplating to switch, they went and looked at it and said: ‘Well, [now] we’ve probably got to do it.’ Basically the bad quality assurance of Skylake is responsible for them to actually go away from the platform.”

Tagged with

Join the discussion!

BECOME A THURROTT MEMBER:

Don't have a login but want to join the conversation? Become a Thurrott Premium or Basic User to participate

Register
Comments (19)

19 responses to “Former Intel Engineer Says Apple Plotted Divorce Because of Skylake”

  1. lezmaka

    Also probably didn't help that most everything Intel has released since Skylake have been nothing but minor updates to Skylake.

  2. Aurand

    For several years Apple seemed like they didn’t really care about the Mac anymore. Switching to their own processors was probably the reason. They were developing the new hardware and cared a lot less about releasing new machines built around a processor they knew was going away.

  3. Winner

    Companies that get too complacent get burned.


    Microsoft lost the mobile wars

    Intel losing the processor wars

    • ontariopundit

      In reply to Winner:

      "Intel losing the processor wars"


      Losing? Lost!


      If Apple were paying itself fair market value for its own A series of chips what kind of revenue would it generate? And, how many hundreds of millions, if not billions of 'processors' do MediaTek and Qualcomm manufacturer annually?


      On the desktop Intel may be king. But, in the larger computing world it seems Intel has been marginalized and failed to properly service the mobile market.

  4. systembuilder

    I wouldn't be surprised to see Google Cloud switch too. They have been frustrated by meager advances in Xeon hardware since 2010. Intel has really rested on its laurels, hiring mostly marketing people, not engineeers.

    • Saarek

      In reply to systembuilder:

      This seems reminiscent of the Pentium 4 cock-up. Intel let the marketing department call the shots and they became also rans for years whilst AMD were on top form. Luckily for them market inertia kept them in the top spot even though they did not deserve it. This time around though they might find themselves in a lot more trouble for fumbling so badly for so many years.

  5. Rares Macovei

    I remember Microsoft, being the first on the market with Skylake, by more than 6 to 8 months vs every other OEM.


    Apple didn't ship a Skylake based device until 1.5-2 years later.


    Called it since I noticed th Skylake issues myself, în 2015, when I got a Surface Pro 4.

  6. madthinus

    It is never a single thing, but that might have caused them to look harder at their own efforts. The real sting is the relative pedestrian performance improvements that Intel made the last 5 years since Skylake.


    Steve Jobs spoke of the 5 year roadmap when the announced the switch to Intel. Since Skylake, Intel's roadmap has been delayed, shifted reinvented many times as designs for 10nm never got further than designs. Intel was stuck with Skylake. All the improvements that they made on paper with newer cores and architecture was just designs. They could not be manufactured. The 10nm process was specified as a 2.7x density improvement over 14nm. Intel could not make that work. All the designs had that 2.7x density factored into their design. It is a mess that has set them back years. 11th gen is the first time we are going to see a post Skylake design. Early engineer samples indicate that Intel has something good coming.


    Apple must have felt helpless watching the train wreck the last 5 years and reliving their Power PC days as they saw no improvement from IBM as that company scaled their efforts back. So they did what they did with the iPhone, they took matters in their own hands. They have access to the best manufacturing available at TSMC. ARM themselves have been delivering improved core aimed at higher computing needs. Apple is also not shy to build Co-processors, so I would not be surprised to see general compute cores and a whole slue of dedicated silicon to drive specific workloads.


    Interesting to me is to see how Intel and AMD responds. How x86 chips looks in the future. Will we see more big and small core designs or will we see more added cores/dedicated functions added to the chip like the dedicated video co-processor like Quick-sync from almost a decade ago. AMD's chiplet designs is clearly heading this way.

  7. eric_rasmussen

    One thing I like about Intel is that nearly three quarters of their chips are manufactured at their own fabs here in the U.S.. Everyone else seems to use TSMC, which is fine, except that China will very likely take over Taiwan on the next year similar to how they took back Hong Kong this year. Given China's track record, I would not trust a single thing manufactured under the strict control of the Communist Party of China.


    Intel's 7nm chips will be manufactured in Arizona.

    • behindmyscreen

      In reply to Eric_Rasmussen:

      erm.....they took back Hong Kong in 2000.

    • Paul Thurrott

      Also, there is zero percent chance you don't use multiple products that were made in China every single day. Probably 100s of them.
    • Paul Thurrott

      Sadly, that explains why Intel's chips are so expensive and why it can't quickly adjust manufacturing to meet demand on the fly. Also, let's leave the geopolitics out of it. The problem isn't China or its government, it's that tech companies, starting with Apple, put all their eggs in this one least-expensive basket. So the lesson learned isn't "leave China" (let alone "screw China, they're different from the system I randomly grew up in," which is a tough message given what's happening in the world right now), it's to have multiple geographically diverse locations so that you are never caught flat-footed when something pad---earthquak, pandemic, political change, whatever---happens in that exact one place you rely on for everything. Kind of makes you think of how the Internet works, when you think about it, or cloud services specifically.
    • red.radar

      In reply to Eric_Rasmussen:

      We have treaties in place to protect Taiwan. Such action would receive massive global backlash. Hong Kong was already recognized as part of China.


      No evidence of sneak circuits exist as engineers would be able to see the lithography modifications from their hardware synthesis and design tools. Its pretty easy to spot.


      no need to spread the FUD


  8. jimchamplin

    In other words, they’ve had macOS running on A-series CPUs for several years now. This was simply the time that it was ready for public use. By the time the shipping products are out, they’ll have months more to refine the new platform further.


    Someone at Intel is seething right now. Someone at Qualcomm should be busting butt to actually design and build a competitive CPU...


    But we’ll see how that goes.

  9. bleduc

    One aspect I haven't heard people talk about is that since Apple will control the hardware, software, compilers, and such, they will be able to make custom changes to the CPU architecture. It looks like with an ARM Flexible License Apple would be free to change the architecture (such as adding new instructions) that would improve performance and efficiency. Of course, this could all be patented IP to keep Apple ahead of the field.


    This is more about Apple being free to change anything they need to instead of the more limiting talk of Intel to ARM.

  10. hal9000

    I think that Skylake might have been a contributing factor, but not the main factor.

    The main factor is the iOS/iPad ecosystem. We all have seen how powerful the Apple chips got, and what the iPad pro can do is impressive. Most importantly, this is where most developers and most of the apps are (just compare the mac app store to the mobile variant).

    Being able to run those apps natively on macOS is key, and certainly more important than being able to run Windows apps. This might have made sense 15 years ago, but by now almost everything is available for the mac.

    In fact, as I transitioned to the mac last year, I got all my familiar stuff to work.

    By owning the platform, Apple will be able to achive what Microsoft envisioned with the UWP (and miserably failed).

Leave a Reply