Peek Inside First Intel Macs Reveals Normal Guts

Apple development systems are built of fairly standard Intel components, Apple trackers report, though the finished product may be different.

The Mac public got its first look into Apple Computer Inc.s Intel-based development systems this week, thanks to Web sites such as Think Secret. For those versed in assembling PCs, they look fairly ordinary.

Apple Computer Inc., which said in earlier this month that it would switch to Intel Corp.s processors from PowerPC processors made by IBM and Freescale Semiconductor Inc., is getting the shift underway now by providing systems for software developers to evaluate and test their code on.

The companys first Intel processor Macs will hit the market by June 2006, it has said. It aims to complete the transition by June 2007.

Think Secret, which is well known for scooping Apples plans and more recently for having been served with a lawsuit by the Cupertino, Calif., computer company, posted details and pictures of a development system on Wednesday.

The machine it surveyed is based on a 3.6GHz Pentium 4 and an Intel chip set with built-in graphics, paired with Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger and 1GB of RAM, the site said. The AppleInsider Web site posted similar photos and a similar description on Thursday.

The system described by the two sites—they appear to use an Intel Extreme 915 chip set and a recent-model Pentium 4 processor with Hyper-Threading—are fairly standard and could be found in almost any Windows PC.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read more about how developers first reacted to Apples Intel switch.

This could mean Apple intends to use large portions of off-the-shelf Intel parts for its machines. Doing so would allow it to standardize on a single chip set and to use Intels built-in graphics, in some cases, but maintain the option of using a broader selection of add-in cards for graphics and sound in other models. PC makers often pick one chip set and motherboard per model line in an effort to lower costs and improve support for businesses.

Apple is expected to begin by using Intels Pentium M chip. The chip was originally designed for notebooks, but is now being touted by Intel for small desktops as well.

/zimages/6/28571.gifRead details here about why Apple is expected to incorporate the Pentium M chip from Intel into its new Macs.

Still, the development systems reported on by Think Secret and AppleInsider are pre-production hardware being offered only for testing by developers. As such, they may not reflect much at all about Apples plans, analysts said.

Apple may well customize some parts of its Intel-based machines, possibly in order to help prevent its Mac OS X from running on non-Apple hardware.

"It probably is standard hardware, as its the development platform and time to market is critical. The actual Macs will probably be a bit different. There are persistent rumors that a Trusted Platform Module [or embedded security chip] will be present. That would be one way to guarantee it would run Mac OS X and other PCs wouldnt, but I still suspect we will see some Apple-unique hardware and design," said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research, after viewing Think Secrets report.

The development system ran Windows with few issues, Think Secret reported. But the site was not able get the Apple machines version of Mac OS X to run on a regular PC.

Apple has said it wont offer its operating system for hardware other than its own. But it says it wont stand in the way of its customers running Windows, leading many to believe that Intel-based Macs will be able to be set up to run both operating systems. Meanwhile, sources have told that Microsoft Corp. would support Windows on Intel-based Macs, if possible.

Although it has made clear its plans to transition to Intel, Apple has also said it would release at least one more generation of its Power Mac desktops with the G5 chip, otherwise known as IBMs PowerPC 970FX.

The company, which recently dropped its single-processor Power Mac G5, is expected to switch to a dual-core version of the PowerPC chip, dubbed 970MP.

Apple has been offering the Intel-based machines as part of a special $999 developer kit, available via its Web site. The machines must ultimately be returned, the company says.

An Apple spokesperson confirmed that the developer system previewed on these sites, part of its Developer Transition Kit, is based on a single-core 3.6GHz Pentium 4.

This configuration doesnt necessarily reflect on Apples computer design plans for the future, the spokesperson said, but she declined to give any details on what future Intel-based Macs will look like.

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