Apple On Intel?

by Tom Bridge

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Now, I don't want to go alarming people, but I think we may be coming up on a fairly large moment here. ZDNet is reporting that Apple will switch to Intel chips on Monday at WWDC. This is the sort of earthshaking news that caused one Slashdot reader to adequately describe the situation in the terms of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and others:

Mayor: What do you mean, "biblical"?
Dr Ray Stantz: What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor, real wrath-of-God type stuff.
Dr. Peter Venkman: Exactly.
Dr Ray Stantz: Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies. Rivers and seas boiling.
Dr. Egon Spengler: Forty years of darkness. Earthquakes, volcanoes...
Winston Zeddemore: The dead rising from the grave.
Dr. Peter Venkman: Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together - mass hysteria.

Of course, when the original rumor hit the wires last month, John Gruber was there to take it all apart and look it in detail. His best argument, and perhaps the most compelling negative here is:

No, the obvious problem with this idea is marketing: the minute Apple announces they’re moving to x86 processors, sales of current hardware dry up. Who’s going to spend $3000 for a deprecated CPU architecture?

Apple is still a public company. Apple still needs to make money hand over fist. Apple wants to keep their stock price high. Personally, as a shareholder, I'm glad this is hitting on the weekend when the markets are closed, this is the sort of wacky story that would either cause my stock to plummet or skyrocket depending on how folks are interpretting the rumors.

If Apple does this, and doesn't do it with such crystalline clarity that explains why people will continue to buy Apple CPUs over the next year until an Intel switch would occur, why Apple is making such a monumental leap over the Springfield Gorge on a skateboard, and the timing for such a decision, this is going to be a horrific event for Apple in the PR marketplace, on the floor of the stock exchange and in the hearts and minds of every Apple fanatic.

These are the times that try mens' souls. Or, at least make you think a little harder than usual. Or something on that order. That being said, I trust Apple to do the right thing. They know they can't get by entirely on iPods for a full business year until the new hardware is ready.

Intel? Big Blue? What's your thinking?


2005-06-04 08:32:08
Shock & awe?
If any of this news has even a shred of truth to it, for the average consumer, they won't care less.

In fact, for the average consumer, they probably won't even understand.

For the likes of everyone coming to this website and reading this article, then there's much more to consider.

Personally, if Apple are to move to Intel, I think if anyone can pull this off, Apple can.

Let's not forget the transition from 680x0 to 6xx and then from OS 9 to OS X.

Both daring feats of software & hardware ingenuity of the highest order.

However, for Apple to move to Intel at this stage is a curiously bad time.

I'd say that the PowerPC platform is very much on the ascension, what with the Cell chip causing such a stir and all three major console makers moving to PowerPC, with Intel left very much out on the periphery of things.

So why Apple would want to move to such a fundamentally different architecture like Intel over a more gradual but still fraught transition to the likes of Cell or a derivative thereof is a mystery to me.

I just don't see this move sitting well with the likes of Adobe as well as the other major ISV's who are the ones responsible for making this move work.

Clearly, there's no technical reason to stop such a move. With enough time, money and will, there's nothing to stop them.

I just think it's the least practical option Apple have right now...

2005-06-04 09:37:40
Apple on Intel?
I agree completely with all the reasons why not. If true I would expect a new line of hardware with a derivative of OS X that could not run without Apple branded PC hardware. That way they could keep the expansion within Apple's strengths, and keep the PowerPC Mac line. I think the leaks are continuing wishful thinking of those stuck in the PC universe. It makes little sense except to those waiting for G5 Powerbooks! I would guess that, if true, Apple has a new device, not a desktop in mind.
2005-06-04 09:41:04
Apple on Intel?
I almost wonder if there's a Tablet coming based on an ARM or other Intel platform.

Or, this is all a giant molehunt inside apple.

2005-06-04 10:13:06
Definitely Not Good Short Term
I agree with you. This will decimate Mac sales for the next two years. No one that doesn't have to is going to buy a technological dead-end. I was thinking about getting an iBook with the next revision, but if they're moving to Intel chips, I'll buy the cheapest used iBook that'll do what I need and wait for the dust to settle.

On the other hand, getting Intel to make better/faster PowerPC clones would be a clever move if it could be done.

2005-06-04 10:51:19
It would be horrific for the Mac User
It would be a horrific change for the current Mac Users to change from a PowerPC based Mac to an Intel based Mac.

The primary reason is that users will have to get new versions of all their applications. Having a large software investment is what keeps people loyal to a particular platform. This is why Apple's switcher campaign failed. It's not just the hardware, but also the software you have to transition. Software transitions take the most time.

The reason that the transition from Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X was so smooth was that Mac OS X could run Mac OS 9 applications well in a compatibility layer. Thus, for most people, it was a nearly seemless transition. Users could continue to use their existing Mac OS 9 applications and gradually, over the years, transition to Mac OS X versions.

The reason that the transition from the Motorola 68040 CPU to the PowerPC CPU was so smooth was that the PowerPC CPU was powerful enough to emulate the 68040 very well - as fast as the 68040 could run. Thus the transition in architecture was seemless. People could run their current 68040 based software on new Macs and gradually transition to pure PowerPC applications over the years.

The switch from PowerPC to Intel x86 CPUs would be extremely difficult. Intel x86 CPUs CANNOT emulate PowerPC CPUs so that they can run at the same speed as on the PowerPC. This is because the x86 CPUs are not powerful enough to do so. The x86 CPUs have about the same power as the PowerPC CPUs.

Thus, users switching from PowerPC to x86 CPUs will not be able to run their existing software - their existing software INVESTMENT on the new machines. They will have to INVEST more money to get upgrades for their software. A user's software collection is not only expensive to replicate in a new computer, but it may cost as much or more than the computer itself. And, the software collection is what is transferred to new computers.

A switch from PowerPC to Apple, requiring users to buy or upgrade to new versions of their software would kill existing PowerPC Mac sales, and would make a compelling reason for users to switch to Windows Longhorn when it comes out in 2006-2007. This is exactly the timeframe that Apple would make the transition to Intel. Imagine if Adobe tells their Mac customers to simply use the Windows Longhorn version of Photoshop since it is easier to do this than to transition to an x86 version of Mac OS X.

Note that Windows has compilers that have been highly optimized through the years for the x86 architecture. Mac OS X compilers are just starting to improve on PowerPC. It would take years to optimize them again if you had to move to x86. Mac OS X applications would thus have a huge potential performance hit compared to their Windows versions.

For these reasons, I do not see Apple switching to an x86 architecture for their PowerMacs. It would kill their user existing userbase.

So what can Apple and Intel do safely?
1. A StrongARM/xScale CPU based Gadget - such as a TabletPC specialized for reading eBooks or playing videos or playing music - all of which may be bought at the iTunes Music/Video/Bookstore.
2. Apple and Intel working together on their own PowerPC/Cell based CPU - so that IBM would have some chip foundry competition - particularly since IBM seems stuck with their current PowerPC CPU performance. Note that IBM seemed to have let the current PowerPC 970-version CPUs wither in development since they used so many engineers to work on the Cell processor and Microsoft's Xenion 3-core PowerPC CPU. Note that IBM also makes AMD's Opteron chips in their foundry. It thus seems like IBM isn't paying enough attention to Apple's needs and Apple is thus hurting for it.

2005-06-04 11:15:16
Not x86, but still Intel
Perhaps Intel is going to provide Apple with PowerPC processors. Look at this link to read some compelling arguments for that theory:
2005-06-04 12:44:30
Probably about Laptops
This whole thing is most likely about laptops where IBM hasn't kept up in terms of the chips w/Intel.
This is where Apple makes some of its best profits and a switch to Intel chips makes sense.

My bet is that Apple becomes dual platform with its laptops going Intel while the Powermac stays PPC for the time being.

2005-06-05 03:17:09
Probably about Laptops
Well you were braver than me.

I sort of had that idea, but not knowing enough about the problems of going down that route, I didn't want to say.

I've always felt that if Apple were to produce a tablet Mac, they could certainly be daring and use an Intel processor there.

Re-compile the whole of iLife and keep the thing simple and certainly not equipped enough to run anything more demanding...