Five Misconceptions Regarding The So-Called Apple-Intel Deal


Regardless of what transpires this Monday, here are five common mistakes that I've seen repeated all over the Internet:

  • "My PC will be able to run Mac OS X" - as I posted earlier, a Mac will always be a Mac regardless of whatever CPU it has inside - and it's not just a matter of someone hacking a BIOS chip to get it working, or of creating clones (we've left the old IBM clone wars far behind, and Apple isn't likely to let something like that happen).
  • Macs will be able to run Windows - You're kidding me, right? Actually, the Xbox360 developer kit is, to all intents and purposes, a Mac running Windows - a resurrected PowerPC build of NT, atop a G5-specific HAL. And although an Intel-based Mac would run things like VMware more easily, I don't see Microsoft going for it.
  • It's all about CPU prices - I would need to get some raw figures for the actual parts costs of Macs plus die yields, and I'm reasonably confident that the PowerPC chip is one of the most expensive single parts on, say, an iBook, but I would find it hard to assume that Intel CPUs are substantially cheaper, especially since CPU die cost is not the whole story - every modern Intel CPU requires a menagerie of associated controllers that only makes it seem that the CPU is cheaper, but when you buy a PC motherboard you're actually buying an Intel reference design, or bits thereof.
  • Intel CPUs are superior anyway - Balderdash. As anyone with an unbiased view on computer architectures is likely to tell you, Intel or PowerPCs are not better or worse than each other - they're different, and raw clock speed is meaningless (as are, incidentally, application-specific benchmarks). And remember that Intel went out and licensed ARM technology - they know their limits. I don't buy the "mobile device"/laptop angle, either, it makes no sense.
  • Emulation could help in the transition - This one has been doing the rounds lately, and echoes the way the old 680x0-to-PowerPC migration took place. Actually, PowerPC emulation on an Intel CPU (as well as the opposite) is a major pain, and would require substantially faster machines (as in "four years into the future" faster). Bottom line: any sort of real transition would require developers to recompile their applications (which is trivial if they use Xcode, but not necessarily otherwise).

Anyway, we'll just have to wait for the media blitz to see who gets egg on their face - or, more likely still, postpone this argument another year...

My personal bet? I think that if Apple is going to do anything in this field, it will snub IBM (who has apparently been acting up of late) and license PowerPC technology to Intel, enabling them to benefit from high-volume manufacturing:

Intel gets a crack at the game console market (remember, all the new game consoles use PowerPCs, and they will most certainly outsell PCs), and Apple gets more - and yes, cheaper - PPC chips.

But I'm not holding my breath - whatever the outcome, all I need is Mac OS X and a terminal prompt, the hardware itself is largely irrelevant.