Apples PowerPC-to-x86 Transition in Question

Opinion: Apple is moving forward with its Mactel plans. But which machines will be the first in line for a processor refresh? Consumer or pro? The release of new multicore Power Macs may make some wonder.

With its Wednesday release of new dual-core Power Macs, ranging from 2.0GHz to 2.5GHz, Apple Computer seems happy enough with the PowerPC architecture for now.

This must be particularly true for the quad-2.5GHz version, which is given a status price tag at $3,299.

If I didnt know better, Id say it was full steam ahead with PowerPC.

But I do know better. We all do. And were waiting for the Intel shoe to drop. The "secret double life" of Mac OS X has to come out in the open sometime, and that sometime starts next year.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read more about Apples new dual-core PowerPC-based Power Macs.

Now, Apples OS X for Intel lineup wont arrive at once, though.

Each model will tiptoe on stage, one flamboyant product introduction at a time.

So, naturally, wed all like to know how that will happen. We could plan better if we had the program notes in advance.

Steve, will you please tell us which products will come out first?

There. I asked nicely.

But somehow, I get the feeling that hell answer that question at about the same time that he invites me to meet him for breakfast at Bucks of Woodside.

Meanwhile, I guess well have to rely on inductive reasoning.

We know of two issues that Apple had with IBM and the PowerPC architecture: execution and power consumption.

The execution problem had to do with the fact that the PowerPC roadmap was not unfolding at a pace sufficient to keep up with the x86 camp.

At the time that Intel was introducing a 3.8GHz processor, Apple was able to put out only a 2.7GHz system with PowerPC.

The gap was widening, and rhetoric about total system performance, optimization and tuning could go only so far in bridging it.

In addition, IBM missed on a couple of turns. It was getting embarrassing.

At some point, Apple became convinced that the divergence would only get worse over time.

Also, IBM was preoccupied with serving its gaming customers and perhaps targeting improvements for that market, rather than with Apple, in mind.

The conclusion we could tentatively draw from this set of circumstances is that Apple will bring Intel in at the high-end early on.

Lets hold that thought, though.

The other issue for Apple was power consumption, which may be the more important factor.

IBM was really unable to serve Apples notebook needs at all, most clearly demonstrated by the lack of a G5-based notebook, even now.

Meanwhile, over at Intel, Mooly Edens Israeli mobile processor development group was making some serious power-performance headway optimizing the Pentium M line.

His teams efforts were so successful that even the desktop and server people have taken some pages out of his playbook.

Those Napa generation dual-core Yonah processors, due out early next year, must be looking mighty sweet to Apple at the moment, and theyll only get better over time.

/zimages/5/28571.gifTo read more about Intels power-reduction roadmap, click here.

So, here are my bets: The first fruits of the Apple-Intel partnership will be PowerBooks.

The existing generations teeth are getting really long, yellow and snaggly. Those notebooks could really use a dose of Moolys patented whitener.

Next, maybe three to six months later, will come the Power Mac line, starting at the top and trickling down over a year.

Theres nothing like having a processor company that spends $4 billion to $5 billion a year on R&D to drive your performance roadmap.

A year after the professional products come out, well start seeing Intel chips in the consumer lines, the iBook and the iMac.

All right! Moneys down. Now Im feeling good! Breakfast is on me, Steve.

Roger L. Kay is founder and president of Endpoint Technologies Associates.

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