It is surprising why the latest source code for the default compiler in Apple’s Xcode developer tools shows support for Marvell’s quad-core, ARM-based Armada XP processor. As we know, Marvell is targeting the processor for low-power cloud computing applications. This was inadvertently discovered by a developer who works on a low-level ARM assembly coding for security products.
While we cannot posit any definite answer, we can try to make a few educated guesses why something like this would be done. Having optional support for the Armada XP is something fascinating.
First, we think Apple could be considering the Marvell for the iPad 3, along with next-generation iOS devices. Since it is possible that NVIDIA may have its “Kal-El” quad-core Tegra 3 processors next year to run Android-based mobile devices with impressive processing power akin to a desktop, Marvell’s Armada processors will be able to approximate a similar kind of performance.
Second, the Marvell is a good choice for a processor that is low powered and enhances batterly life, perfect for the MacBook Air. While gossip seems to suggest that a move to ARM for the Mac Air, the performance based on the watts used of the processor is not that attractive. Also, sticking with Intel would mean that there would be no need for Apple to convince app developers to recompile their software.
Maybe Apple would be using the Marvell chip in prototypes of future iOS device designs for testing purposes. Think about it. An Armada XP-powered prototype logic board would also allow iOS or Mac OS X software engineers to test performance tuning. Meanwhile, Apple’s hardware design team could continue testing a possible quad-core ARM design. The reals reason is to ensure that it remains competitive in the mobile device market, when circumstances demand it to be.