Despite Intel Migration, a Mac is Still a Mac

Datamation columnist John Welch says it's important to distinguish between the emotional impact and the real world impact.
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On Monday, June 6, (a bit of irony in the timing) Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer, announced that they will be migrating the Mac to Intel. This is a statement that, within the Mac community, had the impact of a rather large asteroid... one moving at almost light speed.

However, it is important to distinguish between the emotional impact and the real world impact.

That the emotional impact is huge, there can be no denying. Apple has always made much of the fact that they ''thought different''. They didn't dance to Intel's tune. They went their own way. In 1994, they went with the PowerPC (PPC), and for 11 years they stayed with that architecture -- the 601/603/603e/603ev/604/604e/G3/G4/G5. But it hasn't been a perfect relationship between Apple and Motorola/IBM.

Speed always has been an issue. Yes, there are many learned, and correct, opinions on the Instructions Per Cycle (IPC) superiority of the PPC architecture, particularly with Altivec. For a long time, PPC CPUs ran cooler. PPC had a more elegant and forgiving Instruction Set Architecture, (ISA). But not everyone gets that Altivec can have a 40 percent efficiency advantage over SSE2/SIMD. Everyone does get that 3.2 GHZ is faster than 2.7GHz, and that hurt Apple.

In the last two years, it's become obvious that while the G5 is a great chip, IBM just doesn't have the interest in doing the work to make it the chip Apple wants. No notebook version, minor speed increases. To be fair, of late, Intel hasn't been blinding the world with speed increases either. In fact, they've kind of gotten out of the ''clock speed is all'' business.

But there's another fact to consider, and its an important one. Neither IBM nor Motorola consider general purpose CPUs to be their primary business, or even a primary business.

Motorola is all about embedded microchips. Cell phones, radios, satellites, your car... that sort of thing. IBM, and more specifically IBM Microelectronics, is a bit split. They care a great deal about the high-end server CPUs, for their z/iSeries servers. However, a Mac built on a POWER chipset would increase your home utility needs to where you would be classified as a utility. So that does not do Apple a lot of good. The low-end for IBM is the Xbox/PS3 market. Well, the Xbox 360 is, from what I've heard, liquid-cooled. No laptop love there. Both the PS3 and the Xbox 360 are running different CPUs than Apple anyway, and that's radically different in the case of the PS3. As well, in the game console market, CPU upgrades only happen with new versions of the console. So that's a new version every three to four years or so, which is a far cry from Apple wanting new toys every six months, if not more often.

So for Motorola and IBM, Apple is a partner that makes them a little money, but causes them a lot of work and pain.

Intel, however, is different. (Ah, the irony in this transition is everywhere).

While Intel has a good sideline in embedded chips (the 486 that runs Airport base stations is proof of that), and they have a good server chip in the Itanium2, their primary business is in 'desktop' CPUs. They make their bread and butter in the exact spot that Apple lives. More importantly, they recently announced that they are focusing future research and CPUs on the Pentium Mobile design.

Where has Apple been hurt the most by IBM's lack of desire? Mobile computing. So with Intel, not only do they have a partner focusing on the precise area they care most about, and not only do they have a partner who is used to the needs of consumer computing, (indeed, they defined much of it), but for the first time in Apple's history, their CPUs are going to be made by a company for whom making CPUs is a primary function.

So we get an idea of why this is good for Apple. Intel does this for a living, they're quite good at it, and they care deeply about this arena.

Continue on to the next page to read about how this move will benefit Intel and what IT administrators need to think about.


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