Accelerated Intel Roadmaps Spur New Mac Speculation

The latest developments in Intel processors used to draw yawns and smirks from the editors of major Macintosh Web sites. But now they are eagerly speculating how the Intel's chip designs will shape future Apple products.

For the first time, talk about new Intel processors is raising the pulses of editors at Mac-centric Web sites.

This is a major change from the years when Apple Computers Macintosh computers were powered by PowerPC chips from Freescale Semiconductor and IBM. In those days Mac sites downplayed advances made by Intel—but no more.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced just a year ago that Apples transition to Intel would be complete by June 2007, but the changeover began earlier than expected.

In January 2006, Apple unveiled the iMac Core Duo consumer all-in-one and the MacBook Pro notebook.

Recently, with Intels push to accelerate the launch of a its Core 2 Duo for desktops and notebooks and its "Woodcrest" Xeon server chips, speculation has also begun accelerating about which upcoming Intel chip set could find its way into the last of the PowerPC-powered Mac lineup.

Apples Xserve server product is a hot target for many of the rumors. Introduced in the spring of 2002, the 1U rack-mountable server was powered by one or two PowerPC G4 processors.

In January 2004, Apple moved the unit to the PowerPC G5 Xserve. Since then, however, the product has remained stagnant aside from a speed bump, from 2.0 to 2.3GHz.

The Mac rumor site Think Secret, without citing sources, predicted that the June arrival of Woodcrest could mean new, Xeon-powered Xserves by July. Intel has said that Woodcrest, the first of three new chips to arrive, will hit the market in June.

The stated focus for the new server chip is performance per watt: increasing computational power while reducing energy consumption and heat production, attendees at this springs Intel Developer Forum were told.

/zimages/6/28571.gifTo read more about Intels push for energy efficiency in its new chip architecture, click here.

Intel representatives have said that Woodcrest should offer up to an 80 percent performance advantage while using up to 35 percent less power than a 2.8GHz Xeon DP.

The Woodcrest chip, expected to run at speeds approaching 3GHz on launch, will be available in three variations. A 65-watt mainstream version and an 80-watt will be followed later by a 40-watt low-power chip.

This could serve Apple well in the Xserve, which was originally designed around the low-heat PowerPC G4, with a wattage that ranged from approximately 15 to 26 watts depending on load. However, PowerPC G4 and G5 development, at least in terms of megahertz, stalled.

The higher performance of the new Intel chips, leading to a performance-per-watt gain would also dovetail with Jobs public statements that the metric was the chief reason why Apple chose to switch to Intel processors.

Intels desktop and mobile Core 2 Duo chips, which include both the desktop processor code-named "Conroe" and the notebook chip dubbed "Merom," are also on the way.

The new chips, which are due in July and August, respectively, and offer dual-cores not unlike the present Core Duo family used in Apples iMac, MacBook and MacBook Pro families, are expected to find their way into the machines as well.

The Web site AppleInsider has posted the speculation that Core 2 Duo-equipped MacBook Pros could make their way into the channel in time for this falls shopping season.

All Core 2 Duo processors will boast 1066MHz front-side bus support and have 2MB or 4MB of shared cache memory. The top model will clock in at 2.66GHz.

Though some rumors would have the next generation of Power Mac desktops also using the Woodcrest server chip, most prognosticators expect Apples pro desktop line to be powered by something from the Core 2 Duo line, or perhaps the Core 2 Extreme.

The choice could hinge on many factors, from total heat output, to pricing on the parts, or simply to provide differentiation among Apples usual three-tier product lineup.

An early production sample of the higher-performing Core 2 Extreme running at 2.93GHz, which is targeted at high-performance computers, was benchmarked by ExtremeTech as showing marked improvements over previous generations of comparable Intel chips.

However, the "Extreme" moniker here signifies only an increased clock speed and an unlocked multiplier to distinguish it from the non-extreme Core 2 Duos.

/zimages/6/28571.gifCheck out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis on Apple in the enterprise.