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Mactels On The Horizon


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NOTE: This is an old blog entry from over two years ago. :)

 

Holy crap! Apple is switching to Intel processors! Didn't see that one coming, and even with all the reliable rumors that were coming out a few days before Apple's yearly World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) where the official announcement was made, I still found it hard to believe. Intel! While there really aren't too many choices out there for CPUs that Apple can use to build computers, one thing the Apple community seems to pride itself on is that Macs are not based on "inferior" Intel processors.

 

This is probably one of the biggest changes Apple has ever undertaken and one that has many ramifications for Apple down the road. I have little doubt that hackers will figure out how get OS X to run on commodity Intel boxes, like the ones you can get from Dell for a few hundred dollars, or put together yourself using parts bought online or at your favorite screwdriver shop. When this happens, it will allow anyone to test OS X and get a taste of the kool-aid that Mac users have been drinking for several years now. Will it cause people to switch? Some, maybe, but then, what will "switching" mean? Buying an Intel-based Macintosh, when they can already run OS X on their existing Intel box?

 

It's always possible that Apple will be able to lock down OS X pretty tightly to their new Intel-based computers. And I don't doubt that they'll try. So this may stop the average person from running OS X alongside their Windows desktop. But it's unlikely to stop the hackers and those who have an insatiable desire to try out OS X but don't want to pay the high price of admission (although, admittedly, that price has come down since the release of the Mac Mini).

 

I've been using Macs now full-time for nearly two-years, having purchased a G5 shortly after they were available. I have owned Macs in the past (and have some older machines, such as a G4 PowerMac), but until OS X came along, I didn't use them very seriously. These days, I'm able to run just about everything I need on the Mac, and am happier doing so. The exceptions are things like my EPROM programmer, which requires a Windows application. Pretty much the only other thing I use PCs for is for games, one of the weakest aspects of the Macintosh. Some companies, such as Blizzard, are good about releasing Mac versions of their games (for instance,World of Warcraft, which comes in a hybrid Windows/OS X package), but most others don't regard the Mac as a serious games market.

 

I've always liked the design of Motorola's and the Power PC consortium's chips over Intel's designs, and I'm sure many Macheads feel the same. But I'm also willing to accept that IBM, following in the footsteps of Motorola, made promises to Apple that they simply could not deliver on, and Apple would be hurting soon if they did not act. Their Powerbook line is already suffering from Apple's inability to shoehorn a G5 into laptop form, and with the powerful and power-miserly Pentium M, the Powerbooks are already looking long in the tooth. My guess (although more obvious than anything else) is that Apple will first use Intel parts to help prop up their aging laptops, as the current G5 desktops are running at 2.7Ghz, which is respectable for the time being.

 

I don't believe this transition will be too difficult for end users, since Apple is making it relatively easy for most apps to be compiled for the Intel version of OS X, and those apps that aren't "fixed" in time can run via Rosetta, which lets PowerPC apps run on Intel boxes, without too severe a performance penalty. However, applications that require machine-specific code to squeeze every ounce of performance out of the machine, such as games, are going to be a big headache for developers. Because these developers will have to ensure their games run properly not just on PowerPC boxes, but also Intel-based Macs. That could mean writing assembly code TWICE, for vastly different chip architectures.

 

However, headaches aside, this could also see game developers taking the Mac more seriously, as less work may need to be done to get a game running on an Intel-based system. We could see games coming out for the Mac that require an Intel-based Mac. What would be ideal is for Microsoft to port DirectX to OS X. If this happened, it would be a huge boon for gamers using Macs. I'm not going to hold my breath, but makes me wonder if Microsoft has already done this for their Xbox 360 development systems, which run on dual CPU PowerMac G5s (since the Xbox 360 itself is built around a three-core PowerPC part). Again, could be very interesting to see what evolves over time.

 

While some Mac users have taken this switch over to Intel fairly negatively, I'm mostly indifferent. I'm fairly confident that Apple has carefully thought this through, even with Steve Jobs' visibly rash demeanor. If this change means we'll get faster Macs on a more frequent basis, and especially more powerful Mac laptops, I'm all for it. If it also means that down the road more games will be ported to the Mac, even better. And ideally, if I can run Windows apps (through something like Virtual PC) at "native" speed (as opposed to the snail's pace that Virtual PC runs at now), I'll be thrilled.

 

I'm optimistic that this will be a good change for Apple in the long term, but it'll be a bumpy road for several years while Apple phases out their PowerPC-based computers. Since it'll be a while before we can even buy Intel-based Macs, I'm not going to spend much time worrying about it. And I don't have any legacy Mac applications I need to worry about porting to Intel OS X, so I won't lose any sleep over that.

 

I'm just along for the ride.

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I pretty much echo your assessment of this move. Although, as a 15-year Mac user, I'm still in shock over the announcement, but I am looking forward to being able to pick up some cheap G5 hardware this fall.

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I pretty much echo your assessment of this move.  Although, as a 15-year Mac user, I'm still in shock over the announcement, but I am looking forward to being able to pick up some cheap G5 hardware this fall.

Yeah, it'll be interesting to see what additional PowerPC-based Macs Apple releases and what happens to the price of used G5 machines, especially once Apple actually announces machines based on Intel CPUs. You never know, the hardcore Mac fans may drive up the price of these machines, defiant to the end that they'll never use an Intel-based Macintosh!

 

..Al

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Interesting. I hadn't heard about this. I'm going to take the plunge myself soon with one of those Mac Mini's. I wonder if the hacking community will open up the mac user groups a bit. If they hack OS X to run on a PC, I wonder if we'll see more games getting 'unofficial' mac ports, like so many do to Linux. I think you guys are right about it being a good, long term move. Using a widely used, mass produced chipset might knock the prices down across the whole range of their products as well. Be interesting to see what happens.

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So what's your take on Boot Camp?

I think it's great that Apple has come forth with their own, official solution to boot Windows on the new Intel-based Macs. Also, if you haven't seen it, Parallels has released a beta of their OS X client that allows you to run pretty much any Intel-based operating system (Windows, Linux, OS/2, BSD, you name it) inside of OS X. With the new virtualization hardware built into the Core Duo chips, Windows runs at pretty much native speed within OS X:

 

http://www.parallels.com/en/products/workstation/mac/

 

Boot Camp and Parallels are two excellent reasons for me to pick up an Intel-based Mac so I can get rid of the two Windows PCs I keep around. I leave one on 24/7 and connect to it with Microsoft's Remote Desktop Connection for OS X (lets you control any Windows machines running Terminal Server). I then have another machine in my office that I only fire up when I need to program chips or play games. It's loud, so I only turn it on when I need to. That's why there's a machine downstairs, so I don't have to hear it (the Macs I have are much quieter than my PCs).

 

The Mac Mini with the Core Duo processor is interesting, but it has a weak video chipset so would not be good for playing games. The iMac is more appealing from that perspective, but it's more expensive and I don't really like computers with integrated displays. My primary computer is a 2.0 Ghz PowerMac G5 and it would be nice to replace it with an Intel-based machine, but I don't think those will be out until the summer or fall (probably will be announced ag WWDC).

 

At any rate, I think many people who have been sitting on the fence because they still need to run some Windows apps will now pick up a Mac since there are now viable solutions to that problem.

 

..Al

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I miss a few programs from my OS/2 days - could be fun to run them again.

 

I forsee a MacBook of some sort in my future as my Thinkpad from 99 is on its last legs. While I'd like a Pro, I'm waiting to see what the iBook becomes before I make my final decision as the budget isn't there for the Pro.

 

I find it interesting that it doesn't support OS X as a Guest. That could be useful in the future for programmers to test code on different versions of OS X.

 

Is your eprom burner USB based?

 

I got my iMac G5 instead of a PowerMac as I didn't have the money for it. While it's been a nice system, I think I'd have to agree on not having the integrated display for my next desktop system. One of the main things I notice is the fans even though they're "quieter" than a desktop, they don't seem to be as they're 2 feet in directly in front of me instead of off to the side under the desk.

 

Very true - I've seen a lot of comments from people that want to get a Mac now that they can run Windows when needed.

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This is hardly anything new. Apple has been offering Intel based Macs for a while now but I guess now they are phasing out PPCs entirely? What a shame.

 

Tthe writing has been on the wall for some time since many updates to long time programs have left PPCs in the dust. The most annoying for me was Adobe Premier.

 

I'm not very happy about that from an audio/video standpoint. I better start collecting some G5s and end of run G4s for parts.

 

BTW: My PPCs run Windows XP just fine with Virtual PC. Not as fast as needed for some things but plenty useful for most mundane stuff. Besides, there is virtually no reason to "need" to run windows anymore. My mac does just fine thankyouverymuch.

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Sorry, this is an old entry from 2005. I was testing something earlier today which caused this entry to get bumped back to the top with the current date. ;)

 

..Al

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