64-Bit Macs May Outpace Panther

By Matthew Rothenberg  |  Posted 2003-06-09

64-Bit Macs May Outpace Panther

Apple Computer Inc. is nearing the release of desktop systems featuring IBMs 64-bit PowerPC 970 chip, sources report—but a 64-bit version of Mac OS X may lag behind by a month or two.

Sources said that the IBM chip will make its first appearance in a new Power Mac known internally as Q37. However, sources said, Q37 wont ship with a 64-bit version of Mac OS X, limiting OS performance gains in the initial release. Instead, Q37 will launch with a special build train of the current Mac OS X Version 10.2, a k a Jaguar.

This build, code-named Smeagol, will run on the new chip but wont take advantage of many of its key features, including 64-bit support. Sources said Apples goal for Smeagol is to deliver Mac OS X performance at least "on par" with what Jaguar could achieve on Motorola G4 chips running at the same speed; the move will allow Apple to ship the new hardware before Mac OS X 10.3, a k a Panther, can take advantage of all the new processors capabilities.

Even before Panther ships, early adopters of the new Mac system should also apparently be able to take advantage of the new processors fast new front-side bus and cache.

Part of the issue with OS compatibility lies with Mac OS Xs compiler, GCC 3, which lacks scheduling support for the PowerPC 970. Apple and IBM are reportedly working to add 970-specific support to the latest version, GCC 3.3. The development effort is proceeding well, sources report, but the compiler isnt yet ready for full use.

While Smeagol will be built using GCC 3.1, Apple plans to compile Mac OS X 10.3 with GCC 3.3. Apple has said it will show off Panther later in June at the Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, an event which sources said will also mark Apples first discussions of the PowerPC 970; its unclear whether a developer preview will include support for the new chip. Apple does, however, plan to release a 64-bit version of the OS when it ships in September, according to sources.

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Since the PowerPC 970 is backward-compatible with 32-bit code written for the G4, Apple intends to release Smeagol to fill Q37s software bill until Panther ships, sources said.

Apples current plans call for wrapping up development of Smeagol within a month or so of WWDC, suggesting that Q37 may ship by August; however, sources were unable to confirm specifics of Apples release schedule.

Meanwhile, resellers told eWEEK that current models of the Power Mac G4 are becoming constrained in the retail channel, indicating that new pro hardware models are on the way.

eWEEK sources first reported in August 2002 that the Mac maker was working with IBM Microelectronics on the 64-bit PowerPC processor, dubbed the GigaProcessor Ultralite (GPUL). IBM unveiled the chip in October at the annual Microprocessor Forum in San Jose, Calif., at speeds up to 1.8 GHz. Neither Apple nor IBM have commented publicly on whether Apple plans to adopt the chip in its hardware lineup.

The PowerPC 970 shares technology with IBMs Power4 server chip and inherits many of its performance advantages, but is more compact. The chip also supports Vector/SIMD Multimedia Extensions (VMX), a group of 162 instructions that speed data processing and algorithmic-intensive tasks, such as multimedia creation and display.

IBM has said VMX is identical to Motorolas Altivec multimedia acceleration, marketed as Velocity Engine by Apple. Apple and IBM are also reportedly tailoring the chip for a new high-frequency, point-to-point Mac bus dubbed ApplePI, short for Apple Processor Interconnect, that Apple plans to use as a replacement for its current MaxBus.

Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the reports.

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