Scott Alan Miller

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Apple Moves to Intel PC Architecture

Well folks, the rumors are true - at least according to Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Apple has finally decided that it is time to abandon the PowerPC architecture in favour of the more highly supported industry favorite Intel PC architecture. Rumors of this defection have circulated among the industry for several years but few thought that it would ever actually happen.

Apple has long used its PowerPC architecture - designed and delivered through its partner, IBM - to lend it an air of mystique. Supports of the Macintosh have used its unique architecture to argue that it had higher performance than its x86 competition. Apple even managed to convince its loyal masses that processor clock cycles were not an accurate measure of performance. This is absolutely true. But Apple's followers then ignored the fact that Intel and AMD processors were consistently out-performing the IBM processors PER CLOCK CYCLE as well as having higher raw cycle numbers. But now things are changing. Apple has signed a deal with Intel for Intel to provide the next generation processors for Apple's Macintosh line of personal computers.

So what does this mean for the computer world moving forward? The first change that we are likely to see (come June 2006 when these new machines are scheduled to first be available to the public) is a drop in the price of new Macintoshs along with a performance increase. Intel architecture is simply less expensive than PowerPC for the same performance.

Maintenance costs for Macintoshes is also likely to decrease as Apple will now have the large base of "A+" PC Technicians that are already in the market that will be instantly familiar with the architecture. No longer will Mac Techs require specialized hardware knowledge to do their jobs. No longer will normal Mac home users be at a loss for hardware information on their computers.

Perhaps the biggest advantage that will come with the Intel transition is that Apple Macintosh will now be able to emulate Intel machines at blinding speed. Unlike running Virtual PC on a Mac and getting a slow PC, you will be able to run Windows, Linux or another Mac in a virtual machine at near native speeds (you can define "near native" as you see fit - but orders of magnitude faster than previously across disparate architectures.) This will help make the Mac desktop a more useful tool to a greater number of users.

Another large advantage of the Apple move to Intel is that the Machintosh platform will now support dual booting with Windows. This means that a user who currently must maintain two separate computers, one for Mac and one for Windows, and who is unable to meet his or her needs through emulation techniques, will now be able to run both operating system natively on the same computer. For the first time, triple boot machines with Windows, Linux and MacOS will be possible. This is a huge boon to users who have needed to maintain a separate Windows machine for occassional tasks but want to work on Mac most of the time.

Apple will now also be able to manufacture machines of a more reasonable size. Current Mac beheamoths are ridiculously large compared to the generally compact size of most PCs. The G5 (Power 4) process is very large and requires a lot of space for cooling. The Intel platform will allow for smaller sizes and lower heat dissipation.

Apple laptop users will also be happy to know that unlike current IBM processors, Intel is able to make low power consumption, high performance laptop targetted processors. For the last several years, Apple laptop users have had to suffer with only having access to the G4 (Power 3) processor. The G4's performance is similar to the Intel Pentium III for the PC users out there. Apple laptops are generations behind the PC world which is already running on high speed, low power consumption 64-bit laptop processors.

Overall, I think that Apple move to the Intel platform is an incredibly wise one. It is true that the novelty of Macintosh running on PowerPC has been a draw for those of us who find alternative architectures to be interesting for their own sake. But people like me are few and far between. Most users will be extrememly happy with the lower cost and higher performance of the new machines.

I am saddened to hear that Apple chose Intel over AMD as AMD has outperformed Intel in their own architecture now for several years and provides chips at lower cost. However, Apple users are so used to expensive, low performance platforms at this point that the smaller difference between Intel and AMD's implementations of Intel's architecture will be nominal to them.


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