What Is Apple Thinking

Today (6/6/05) AppleComputer announced that they are in fact changing from using IBM PowerPc 970 processors. They aren't moving to another PPC vendor, nor are they moving to a new PPC architecture.

They are switching to IntelCorporation x86 chips. (Official press release: http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2005/jun/06intel.html)

But, this move seems to make little sense in the long-term. The PowerPc architecture has proven time and time again to be superior in many ways, both from a usability standpoint and from a performance standpoint. Apple also loses the AltiVec, which is responsible for much of the high-end performance characteristics of their boxes.

What could Apple be thinking?

Word is that any further increase in clock speed for the G5 line requires an exponential increase in power requirements, making them unsuitable for the PowerBook line. Quite a surprise, since the PowerPc has historically had a better power/performance ratio than Intel's chips. Of course, Apple is fortunate that MacOsxIsUnixBased and that NextStep aka CocoaFramework has been kept compatible with the Intel architecture. Otherwise, they wouldn't even have the option to switch.

A couple of possibilities come to mind:

Plus, I'm curious in what way you think the processor architecture (PowerPC vs Intel) affects usability. Unless you're an assembly-language programmer, I can't think of any way that this has any impact on the end user. The reasons Apple generally wins on usability have nothing to do with the processor per se. Instead, it's because:

About the only thing the user notices that the CPU might affect is the power/noise issue; PowerPcs have historically consumed less power so don't need fans that sound like Indy cars.


Well, I know that Apple has enjoyed a profitable relationship with scientific computing institutions. Simply put, for scientific computing there isn't much that beats a mac. It's usable, easy to maintain, and packs a whallop when you code specifically for it. I know my company made a choice based almost solely on performance.

Since Apple has found a lot of surprising instances where things reduce to altivec problems (searching your email, for example), I can't help but think that this means some tasks on MacOS X will run more slowly than on the G5 counterparts. Unless, of course, Intel has some piece of comparable technology, a whole new processor targeted for workstations. -- DaveFayram Let's not forget the marketing angle: Apple has been getting beaten-up silly over the years when people realize they can get a Dell with a Celeron running at 2 GHz for about 20% of the price of a G5 running at 2 GHz. Never mind what the processing power actually is. People just see that clockspeed number. -- AndyPierce

Actually, this is just Apple returning to their roots.

Their first widespread success, the AppleIi, ran on a 6502 processor - a LittleEndian machine. (The only place endian-ness mattered on the 6502, an 8-bit machine, was in the load/store instructions which encoded the target address - a 16-bit number - in the opcode. It was LSB first, MSB second).

With the Macintosh, they went with the MotorolaSixtyEightKay, a BigEndian machine. Later they switched to the PowerPc; while the PPC is capable of running in either endian mode, the PowerMac used it in BigEndian mode (which was the native mode of the PPC).

Now, with the forthcoming switch to the LittleEndian i32 architecture; they've come full circle. One wonders if this will mean the eventual DeathOfBigEndian?...
Given the relative stagnation of the Macintosh line since the switch, this is looking less like a way for Apple to compete in the larger PersonalComputer market, and more like a way for them to gracefully stop making computers altogether and concentrate on the more profitable iPad and iPhone.

Or become one-in-the-same. A "Macintosh" will merely be an iPad with a keyboard plugged into it.

Or not. The keyboard will be wireless.


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