Apple move to Intel not suprising

by Jack Richins

I’ve seen some people really suprised by Apples move to Intel. I was suprised it took so long. But given the trouble of switching to OS X, they probably didn’t think they could convince people to switch to both OS X and x86 at the same time.

To start with – some history. OS X has little to nothing in common with OS 9. It was basically the NeXT operating system with a Mac OS 9 compatibility layer. What was NeXT running on at the time Apple purchased it? x86. Not PowerPC.

Second – the PowerPC has no future as a desktop or laptop CPU. IBM had no plans for the G5 that would allow it to run with low enough power consumption or heat dissipation to run in a laptop.

And the Pentium M is looking quite awesome these days for laptop owners. I can see Apple showing off a 1 inch thick, 12" screen, < 2 lbs. PowerBook running a Pentium M in 2 years that could out perform one of todays 2 GHz PowerMac G5. Even with a G4, such a PowerBook would be at least 1 lbs heavier just for the battery, probably .5 inch thicker for heat dissipation, and not nearly as attractive.

And the future PowerPC chips being used by the PS3, Xbox 360, and Nintendo’s Revolution had all kinds of customizations that would not benefits a desktop CPU. Take the PS3’s Cell – the SPE’s in it are pretty much wasted on a desktop unless you spend all day watching DVDs. They weren’t likely to be used by Photoshop filters. Similarly, the Xbox 360’s PowerPC had tweaks to get data to the GPU more quickly. That might be useable – but not as important other general purpose CPU enhancements.

Further, these game devices would be selling lots more units than Apple can hope to sell in the near future. Apple doesn’t have much to bargain with in order to convince IBM to spend engineering dollars on changes that only benefit it’s desktop boxes.

Meanwhile, any change Microsoft convinces Intel to make most certainly would also benefit Apple. By moving to Intel, Apple in worst case has as good a CPU as Microsoft. So if they are confident their software really is beter, they are in good shape to show it. Virtual PC and such emulation programs would certainly get a speed boost and compatibility boost as well, improving the switching store.

Now the danger is that OS X isn’t really that much faster than Windows and moving to x86 would expose this. But regardless of the truth of that statement, I’m postivie Steve Jobs doesn’t believe this even for a second and I doubt anyone at Apple would even suggest such a thing to Steve. Of course 2007 should allow Apple to Apple comparisons like never before :).

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