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Apple with Pentium Inside?

June 4th, 2005

Everyone was wondering what big announcement Steve Jobs will be making at the WWDC scheduled to start on Monday. Will it be hardware, software, a new gadget, or nothing except a status report on existing product? Will the PowerBook line finally get a G5 or at least a multi-core G4? Will there be a new video iPod? A new home media center?

Well, C-Net now claims to know the big news, and everyone is reasonably shocked by it: Apple, they say, is abandoning IBM and is switching to Intel’s chips for future Macs. While rumors of this nature were reported recently, no one gave them any credence. After all, we’ve been hearing Apple-Intel rumors for quite some time now, a few years at least, and no one took it seriously. But C-Net isn’t your common rumor site; they have a reputation for good reporting. Even so, most people are still holding back belief until Stevo makes an official announcement at the World Wide Developer’s Conference.

According to the report, Apple will switch its Mac Mini to Intel by mid-2006, and will have the PowerMac line on Intel chips by mid-2007. Concerns include the possible loss of software developer support and customer attrition that could come with a switch to a different chip architecture. However, Mac OS X runs on Unix BSD, which is not altogether incompatible with Intel’s architecture. And Intel seems to have interest; note this interview by the IDG News Service with Intel VP Anand Chandrasekher:

IDGNS: The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Intel has been trying to get Apple to use its processors. Has Intel been talking with Apple?

Chandrasekher: We always talk to Apple. Apple is a design win that we’ve coveted for 20 years and we continue to covet them as a design win. We will never give up on Apple.

IDGNS: What would you be willing to do in order to win Apple’s business?

Chandrasekher: Well, nothing unnatural that we wouldn’t do for other design wins. It’s got to make sense from a business standpoint. We would do what makes economic sense. If we can do that and still get the design win, we’d do it.

What people don’t seem to be assuming much is how much Intel would customize chips to be used in Macs. Some people are talking as if the Mac will somehow use off-the-shelf Wintel chips, allowing for easy cloning by other hardware manufacturers. While this is an option, I hardly believe that Jobs will go that route; he has seen the hardware as proprietary for far too long, basing too much of Apple’s business on that paradigm to simply open wide the doors to mass cloning of Macs. I am almost certain that if the Intel rumor is true, then the chipmaker will be producing a specific line of chips, probably including necessary changes to accommodate PPC and pre-PPC architectures, perhaps allowing for some emulation as when Apple switched over from Motorola’s 680×0 line to the PPC.

An interesting effect of such a switch would be the relative equalization of CPU speed when comparing Macs and Windows PCs–we might even hear the term “Mactel” in comparison with “Wintel.” It would certainly make for a more notable contrast between the two operating systems, even if Intel makes some modifications to suit Apple’s needs. And it would bring Apple one step closer to the eventual possibility of making the hardware non-proprietery, opening the doors to direct competition with Microsoft, should it be possible that the Mac OS would run on any PC box, or even if AMD were left out in the cold. It will be interesting to see how much Intel will do for Apple.

Certainly, Apple has not had the greatest luck with chip manufacturers; both Motorola and now IBM have left Apple hanging in the wind when it comes to updating the product lines and delivering on promised goods. The PowerBook line, for example, has been languishing in the G4 backwaters for far too long–the main reason I have not bought a new ‘Book despite the relatively slow performance of my 800 MHz machine. New PowerBooks at present only have double the processor speed, despite my current machine being 3 years old. I am holding out for a significant upgrade to the line before buying a new one, hoping for either a multi-core G4 or some form of G5, possibly liquid-cooled (even if it is thicker and heavier than the present line–I can live with that). This news about Intel, if true, might even be an indication that IBM has completely let Apple down and will not be able to supply them with and big new products at all–which could set back a big PowerBook upgrade for a few years, possibly.

But, as I said, it’s not set in stone, not confirmed yet. We’ll see what The Steve has to say. Maybe it’s true, or maybe C-Net got snookered. Maybe even if it is true, there will still be a multi-core/G5 PowerBook anyway. Or maybe nothing at all will happen.

Stay tuned.

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  1. Wataru Tenga
    June 4th, 2005 at 15:37 | #1

    You are the first person I know of to suggest a special Intel chip just for Apple. I think it’s much more likely Apple will port the OS to Intel’s existing architecture.

    Did you see this blog entry?



  2. Wataru Tenga
    June 4th, 2005 at 16:26 | #2

    The story is also being confirmed by Microsoft blogger Scoble:


    He claims to have talked to people on the inside who know for certain.

    I wonder if Apple will make special Intel machines that run only Mac OS, and will prevent the OS from running on ordinary PCs. Or are they completely switching over to a software (plus iPod) company?

    The deal breaker with IBM was no doubt their inability to make a cool enough G5 for laptops. But what happened to the superfast IBM copper chips everyone was crowing about a year or so back?

    By the way, I think it would be cool to run both Mac and Windows software on a generic PC.


  3. Luis
    June 4th, 2005 at 17:38 | #3

    Wataru: Interesting, but I don’t think there’s anything conclusive here that says Intel won’t tailor chips specifically for the Mac. After all, they do exactly that for Windows–why should the Mac settle for being a tag-along? IBM did it for the Mac as well. And as I noted, the Intel VP said that they’d be willing to make certain changes, to a certain degree, to accommodate the Mac.

    Furthermore, even though the second blogger says that Apple is “ready to go” on existing Intel chips, then why are they planning to wait 1-2 years to make the switch? Maybe they’ve done fundamental proof-of-concept experiments on the basic system on Intel chips to show that no major issue arise, but will want Intel to make specific changes to allow for backwards compatibility and specific Mac needs.

  4. YouKnowWho
    June 5th, 2005 at 03:43 | #4

    If the Mac OS could run on existing Wintel machines (e.g. instead of Windows Xp), then folks could get a Win Xp computer for X dollars and install the Mac OS for an additional Y dollars to Apple; instead of buying Mac computer for Z dollars. Apple wins if the profit from the (Y * N) + (Z * M) is more than (Z * P); where N is the # of MacOS running on Wintel hardware, M is the # of Mac computers bought when MacOs is capable of running on Wintel, and P is the # of folks that buy a MacOs computer when the MacOs cannot run on Wintel hardware.

    I don’t know what the values of these #’s are, yet if Apple puts MacOs on Wintel hardware, I think they would have had to have studied these #’s and calculate that it was in their best interest to move forward w/ this.

  5. June 5th, 2005 at 07:53 | #5

    I have to agree with Luis on this one, I can’t see Steve Jobs just suddenly saying “Well now that we are with Intel all of our old methods are going out the window!” Jobs is a bright guy, and he knows why his end users are loyal, so he’s not going to do this unless he got intel to agree to a more Mac friendly chip.

  6. Wataru Tenga
    June 5th, 2005 at 09:51 | #6

    The reactions to this rumor (which even the Wall Street Journal is reporting) by users (not just here but in other forums) seem to be divided largely along the usual political lines. Committed Mac users tend to be afraid, while PC users tend to be hopeful. Now, which of those two groups is the larger market?

    Apple has been very successful with the iPod, but that success has not yet translated into a bigger market share for the Mac OS. A big OS share is necessary to attract application developers. What’s keeping the Mac at 2% is the hardware. Good as it is, not very many people are willing to buy hardware just to run the Mac OS. Now, if it could run on a PC…. Suddenly you’d have critical mass. The OS would sell like hotcakes, the applications would follow, and you’d see massive switching to the Mac, or at least dual-OS users.

    Jobs is smart, as Sean suggests; but he would have been even smarter to recognize the above many years earlier, as some of us did.


  7. YouKnowWho
    June 5th, 2005 at 13:11 | #7

    The end user could not tell the difference between the MacOs running on a Pentium and on a G4 processor; except the Pentium hardware is cheaper given the same computing power.

  8. Luis
    June 5th, 2005 at 13:34 | #8

    I think the key idea here is what Job’s paradigm is. Is it hardware or software? Microsoft’s has always been software; Apple’s has always been hardware. Remember, they didn’t even start charging for the OS until much later in the game.

    But there are some signs that Jobs might be changing his paradigm. They started charging for the OS. They started building their own independent Office Suite. And now, possibly, switching to an Intel chipset, which, even if modified, would still be very similar to Wintel chips.

    I still don’t think that (if the rumors are true) the Intel chips for Apple would be identical to Windows’ boxes’ chips; I’m pretty sure they will be differentiated.

    What I’m not so sure of is whether they’ll stay that way. This could be an incremental thing, Apple getting poised and ready to jump at just the right time. Maybe they want to keep the hardware thing going and get established in the Intel box biz before opening things up.

    But the time to take on Microsoft on its own turf has never been better. Microsoft suffers from security woes; even if targeted, Mac OS X is more secure. Microsoft’s OS is years behind the Mac OS. And when Longhorn comes out, there may be backlash from the built-in security that works against the user (Palladium) and possible new rent-not-own paradigms for payment. Perhaps Jobs realized from past “switch” attempts (after all, the Mac Mini succeeds because it depends on people having old Wintel peripherals like monitor, mouse and keyboard) that the only real way to make people switch is to let them use existing hardware.

    I think the scary thing for Apple is letting go of the hardware business. Maybe once they get established to a certain degree as a high-end high-quality PC maker, they’ll be willing to take the leap.

    God knows that if one could put Mac OS X on a Wintel box, Apple’s market share would skyrocket (if they made it easy enough to port third-party software, of course).

  9. June 6th, 2005 at 06:06 | #9

    As a long time PC user (nothing against Macs, but the business world is just to PC driven for me not to be), Longhorn scares the living bejesus out of me.

    And don;t forget everyone…end of 2006! Really…they’ll make that deadline…really…we’re serious…believe us!;)

  10. Luis
    June 6th, 2005 at 10:13 | #10

    Just curious, Sean–what about it is frightening? Palladium, payment plans, wrong direction in system architecture?

  11. Wataru Tenga
    June 6th, 2005 at 10:45 | #11

    Hey, did anyone read this guy in Wired? He talks both about an emulator that could make the move happen, and the motivations for doing so.




  12. Luis
    June 6th, 2005 at 11:03 | #12

    Hey! You beat me to the story by just a few minutes. I just posted a new entry on exactly that link. See the next post.

  13. June 7th, 2005 at 05:31 | #13

    The payment plans are what frightens me. I do not like the concept of “renting” my software. I am sure there will be a break for businesses, but we are a small company with 5 pc desktops, 1 pc laptop and 1 mac (our graphic artist’s comp;) ), so “renting” my software for that many PCs is not a thought I relish.

    And Palladium seems a little too “Big Brother” like for my tastes. Sure it is supposed to protect our privacy…all the while possibly telling all sorts of people we are sharing certain kinds of files. I don’t do p2p sharing, but I still don’t like the idea of anyone looking inside my comp.

    The system architecture is above my head:)

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