I’ve been traveling all week so I didn’t get a chance to post on this subject. Being away has given me a little time to let this sink in instead of just reacting to it on Monday. I don’t really have any answers (after all, who am I anyway) but I came away from this with more questions than answers.I’ve been traveling all week so I didn’t get a chance to post on this subject. Being away has given me a little time to let this sink in instead of just reacting to it on Monday. I don’t really have any answers (after all, who am I anyway) but I came away from this with more questions than answers.
So unless you have been living in a cave, you probably heard that Apple has announced that they will be transitioning to the Intel processor for their products over the next 2 years. By the end of 2007 Apple should have all of their products using Intel processors inside.
I went through a wide range of emotions on this one. I initially started with just complete disbelief. I mean, the rumor sites all tried to warn me in advance, so I knew it was probably going to happen, but it was still strange to hear Steve explaining that the rumors were true. From there I progressed to anger. I mean, what could Apple be thinking?! Intel inside? There would no longer be anything special about our beloved Apple products. They would be no better than Dell anymore. Disappointed was next. Then I watched the keynote again and felt a little better. I moved on to optimistic, which is where I am at now.
Chad Dickerson, the CTO of Infoworld, may have said it best when he yawned and said this is about as important as Coke telling me they have a new sugar supplier. No big deal.
On many levels I agree with that. After all, I still get OS X, and that is the true thing of beauty and engineering anyway. Hopefully OS X will remain as stable and trouble free on the Intel platform as it has on the PPC platform. My PowerBook has been running practically nonstop for longer than I can remember. That says a lot. Hopefully running on the Intel processor will not make it easier for viruses, worms, and buffer underuns to happen. I have really enjoyed not dealing with viruses in the existing Apple world. I’ll assume I will get that same level of comfort in the new Apple world.
So just what do you think happened to force this change? Some are stating that Apple made up 2% of IBM’s processor business. That’s not a lot. A 2% share probably doesn’t have much pull when it comes to a chip manufacturer’s future direction, so Apple may not have had as much say with IBM as Steve felt he did. Maybe it was the fact that no G5 that would work in a laptop was in sight. Maybe the Power roadmap really wasn’t good enough. Maybe the roadmap didn’t show anything for the laptop market for too long. On the other hand, you already read about Steve’s ego. Remember though, a guy in that position needs to have a lot of ego, so maybe Steve was just tired of being embarrassed by IBM not delivering the 3GHz G5 “within a year” like he promised us nearly 2 years ago.
This leads me to one of my many questions. If IBM could not produce the G5 processor running at 3GHz for Apple, how in the world were they able to get 3 of them running at 3.2Ghz in the Xbox360? Maybe it is not the exact processor, I’ll need to check on that one a little more, but I bet it’s awfully close since Microsoft was suppoed to be used the G5 PowerMacs for Xbox 360 ealry game development. Apple has to use liquid cooling for their higher speed PowerMacs, but I don’t remember reading that the Xbox360 used liquid cooling and it is running 3, 3.2GHz processors in the thing. With IBM doing the chip manufacturing for the XBox360, the PS3 from Sony, and the new Nintendo game console, they may have just decided to use more of their resources where they received better return on investment; game consoles. Money makes the world go ’round I guess. I always assumed that if Apple would ever leave IBM it would be for the new Cell processor from Sony. This thing promises to be a monster in terms of performance. I mean, if you really need to go x86, why not go with AMD? They seem to be out engineering Intel at every turn lately.
There have always been rumors that Apple kept a version of OS X running on an Intel processor just in case they needed to go to Plan B. Pretty smart on their part as it looks like Plan B is now Plan A. Maybe Apple will be one of the first to run Intel’s new chip that uses little power and provides dual core. I could see my next PowerBook running a dual core processor in it. As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what I expected to be announced at this years WWDC – a dual core PowerBook. But I expected it would be the dual core G4 from Freescale. Looks like I was wrong on that one, but it could still happen. Remember, Steve said the new Intel chips would start showing up this time in 2006. He also said they still had some great PPC based products shipping before then. I would expect some kind of bump in the PowerBook or iBook line. Dual core would probably happen in the higher end PowerBooks I would think. It is also totally possible that by pre-anouncing this Intel deal so early in the process, Steve has effectively crushed the majority of new sales that Apple will see until products based on the Intel chips come out. It’s a fine line you have to walk when announcing things so you don’t scare your customers away from your currently shipping products.
So through everything I am reading, I am not finding anything about 64 bits. What the heck happened there? It was a huge part of Apple’s “advertising” for OS X, yet it was never mentioned once by Steve at the keynote and I have yet to find mention of it officially from any Apple interview. Do they figure dual core trumps 64 bit? Maybe we really don’t have the memory requirements that 64 bits brings us yet. I’ll assume Apple is way ahead of us on this one and they just aren’t showing all of their cards yet. Time will tell.
But what about the bus? One of the greatest features of the G5 processor is how fast the bus is. The bus runs at half the speed of the processor, so a 2.5GHz PPC processor gets a 1.25 GHz bus. That’s pretty fast. Really fast. That’s how data gets moved around the system behind the scenes. A CPU can run faster and faster but if the bus can’t deliver the data to the CPU fast enough the CPU has to wait. Waiting is bad. The weak link (my opinion) in the Intel design is the bus speed. The fastest servers we run at work have 800MHz buses on them. I am not sure what the fastest bus is on a regular PC you buy for home, but I am seeing a lot of things that still have 400MHz or 533MHz buses. AMD worked around this via multiple buses. In the Intel world, IBM high end xSeries 445 servers get around this by implementing a Level 4 (L4) cache. You may hear L2 and some times L3 cache, but it is rare to hear of L4. IBM has a lot of very talented engineers there that know what they are doing. The Intel bus is a bottleneck. How will Apple deal with that?
Altivec. Altivec is only found in the PPC architecture and is one of the reasons graphics on OS X are smooth like butta. Altivec is no where to be found in the Intel world. How will Apple get around this one?
I guess Apple will get access to a lot of new technology faster hopping in bed with Intel. That may be important later. Plus, they have yet to say they are abandoning the PPC completely. Their XCode 2.1 development tools will help build applications that will run on both architectures with the same build. You’ll hear Steve say that there is just a checkbox for Intel that you need to check to make your application run on the Intel platform. For some I am sure it will be that easy. For others they will need to modify a little bit of code. For others, like Microsoft Office, it will be a ton of code changes. For those that relied heavily on the Altivec technology – good luck. I bet you spend more than the 2 hours the Mathematica guys spent getting their code to work. I hope you guys really do spend the time to get your code working great on the new chips.
Apple has said that they will not put anything in place to stop people from running Windows on their Intel platforms. They have, however, said that OS X will not run on non-Apple hardware, so don’t expect to load OS X on that old Dell you have lying around. My guess, yeah right. It will not take long before someone figures out how to get OS X running on just about any Intel based computer they want to. Apple has been able to enjoy these advanced technologies, such as Altivec and faster bus speeds for a long time now. When people figure out they can dual boot OS X and Windows, Apple may have a big problem on their hands – performance. Without all of those great technologies behind them Apple is going to have to make sure that OS X is fast. Really fast. As fast or faster than Windows. Faster than Longhorn. Benchmarks are going to be much more apples to apples now. No astericks. No footnotes. No excuses.
So I think we’ll be fine in the long run. I’m not ready to sell my stock, but I do expect it to go down for a while. It’ll come back. Apple is on an upswing and I expect them to get better and better. Let’s hope we’ll look back on this as one of the smartest things Apple ever did instead of looking back remembering what a great company Apple was.
I look forward to the future. Don’t panic!