Alex headshot

AlBlue’s Blog

Macs, Modularity and More

Apple shifts to Intel: what is all the fuss about?

2005, mac

If Apple is good at one thing, it’s marketing. Marketing and hype. Good at two things; marketing, hype and excellent design. Good at three things … I’ll come in again.

Certainly, leaked news information is a good way of whipping up suspense for an otherwise dull WWDC event, and the news item at sparked off a frenzy of blogs and entries on Slashdot about the affair. In fact, pretty much all of this boils down to the one release from the Wall Street Journal, which then set off the article. Given that these cite ‘sources’, it’s fairly likely that they are citing each other as well as the single source; and everything that has snowballed since is based on these two as well…

Firstly, Satan tells me he has misplaced his skates so Apple won’t be switching to x86. Even the makers of the x86 architecture realise that it’s a fundamentally bad architecture, but one that we’re stuck with. In fact, most x86 chips actually ‘emulate’ an x86 by decompiling the instructions into faster RISC-esque microcode. You have to laugh at the technical commetators who, once they’ve heard ‘Apple’ and ‘Intel’ in the same sentence, assume that Intel is only associated with x86 chips. They’re a large fabricating plant, and do a lot of other chips; a friend of mine once had a BBC Acorn with an ‘Intel Outside’ sticker, because the keyboard had an intel chip on board.

What makes far more sense is for Intel to muscle in on the PPC business, as has been observed by others. It’s been known for some time that the G5s haven’t delivered the 3GHz barrier for a while, owing to reliability at IBM’s branch. But IBM is putting some serious work into the Cell processor. There is a small possibility that Apple will be able to use these for high-end XServes, but that is a distant future yet. So there’s a small possibility that Apple is looking to Intel as a Motarola-type partner for lower-cost G4/G5 devices.

What’s far more likely in the next stage of evolution is going to be dual-core processors. A PowerBook with a dual-core G4 will be able to outperform a G5 PowerBook, and possibly with less power requirements (almost cetainly less heat). Let’s face it – a G5 generates a lot of heat, and the 64-bit architecture is only really good for systems with huge (i.e. more than 2Gb of memory) processes. Admitedly, the AltiVec has been updated for the G5 as well which will help a small number of applications (e.g. Photoshop; ever wondered why that’s the one used in like-for-like comparisons with Mac and Windows?)

It’s also possible that there will be a new type of device launched at WWDC, like a Video iPod, that uses on-board Intel chipsets. But a Video iPod is more likely to be announced at a consumer-oriented showing, like a major trade fair (Paris Expo, San Francisco Expo), than at a developer conference.

Even El Reg has had its own go at looking at this so-called ‘done deal’ in its piece on Apple shifts to Intel: what is all the fuss about?. It concludes with a rather trite sign-off: “Five years from now, everyone’s going to wonder what all the fuss was about”.

Permit me to refine this: five hours from now (when Steve Jobs’ keynote from WWDC is made available) everyone’s going to wonder what all the fuss was about with the inaccurate stories about switching to x86 :-)