Will Apple switch to Intel?

Will Apple switch to Intel?

Summary: So why would Apple be talking to Intel? Assuming the conversation has been about primarysystem CPUs I can think of three possible reasons:

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TOPICS: Apple
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There's a report, apparently in today's Wall Street Journal but summarized on the Mac Observer and by Reuters, to the effect that Apple has been negotiating use of Intel CPUs. As part of the report, there's speculation that Apple could abandon the PowerPC for Pentium and the usual less than astute observations that this could bring down Apple's prices while improving the Mac's performance.

There is reason to believe that Apple would talk to Intel and may have some news to announce soon, but there's no truth anywhere in the assumptions most of these "journalists" are making about Apple's motivation.

First, if you compare equivalent systems, Apple's products are cheaper than Dell's. Try it for yourself, go to Apple's on line store and pick a standard configuration laptop, desktop, or server and then build the nearest equivalent you can using Dell's on-line pricing. What you'll find may surprise you: Dell's low end products are cheaper, but by the time you add components to gain comparability they cost more -and that's true right across the line with Apple's high-end product a good $1,500 less than Dell's nearest comparable workstation.

Second, when you compare performance, it's important to remember that the operating system and applications environment count too. Mac OS X does a lot more than Windows/XP, but needs more system resources to do it. If, therefore, you want to make a reasonable guess about the relative performance of Mac OS X and Windows XP on the same 3.5Ghz P4 box, you need to first level the software playing field. That's relatively easy: just look at grid-style super computers where everybody uses whatever Unix is optimal for their hardware and runs the same applications. Compare, for example, performance at the Virginia Tech machine made up from Apple's X-serves to the NCSA machine in Illinois made up from Dual Xeon Dell servers and what you find is that the Apple boxes contribute 30% more bang per box than the Dells do.

There's a double bottom line here: Apples to Apples, Macs are cheaper than PCs, and their processors are faster too.

So why would Apple be talking to Intel? Assuming the conversation has been about primary system CPUs, I can think of three possible reasons:

  1. Due diligence. If Apple is about to make a CPU decision - whether that's simply the renewal of a major contract or a major change doesn't really matter- they have an obligation to their customers and shareholders to carefully check out the competition.
  2. With the goal of assessing the costs and consequences of adopting the Itanium. Apple has a serious problem with IBM -a company that has not met its CPU supply obligations to Apple and has all but announced its intention to take Apple down roughly ten seconds after Steve Jobs eventually retires. Right now, if Apple sticks with the dual core and later 970 architecture they'll find themselves behind the performance eight ball with respect to Microsoft's XBox -for which IBM developed the CPU. Converting to the forthcoming IBM Cell processor isn't a winner either. Not only does this continue an uncomfortable relationship, but it involves tremendous technical change and traps Apple into running MacOS X on the same basic box IBM and Toshiba are prepping for an assault on Wintel's Asian markets. The Itanium hasn't been a winner, but is actually quite a reasonable CPU design with some potential to give IBM and the PowerPC a run for their money. It's certainly significantly faster and more secure than x86. I think Apple's adoption of the Itanium highly unlikely, but Apple's people would be remiss if they didn't consider it.
  3. As part of someone's takeover of Freescale Semiconductor. I don't know what rights, if any, Motorola's spin-off retained on the PowerPC, but if Freescale has any rights at all it has to be a tremendously attractive takeover target for both Apple and Intel. For Apple because it might offer a way of balancing IBM's market power, and for Intel because Microsoft's new relationship with IBM threatens to leave it the odd man out in the next generation PC processor wars.

Oh and the right answer? For the record, my belief is that Apple's best route out of its strategic CPU dilemma is UltraSPARC. I haven't seen BSD on Niagara (Sun's 8-core, 32-thread, 65-watt SMP chip), but if the Solaris systems now in lab and user test are any indication, this could be a winner. Individual processes run more slowly on Niagara than on, say, the UltraSPARC IV, but more of them run in parallel and the power benefit should be enormously attractive to Apple -and the software barrier to SPARC is much lower than it is to either Itanium or Cell.

Topic: Apple

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53 comments
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  • Unbelieveable disinformation

    Wow, I just spent 5 minutes on apple store and dell store and I could not find a dell pc for more than 950$ to match apple offering. More than that I could not even choose equivalent components, dell does not offer 64mb graphic cards or 8x dvd burner or 1.8ghz cpu I had to settle for more! In fact I could have bought 2 computers (with monitors) with better components and faster cpu for the price of a mac.
    patrick.shea
    • I Agree

      Not only are Dell prices better than Apples?: they are better by far. Also, a better comparison between server hardware would have been between HP with AMD Opterons (which I believe MS has converted a number of its web sites over to), and Apple servers.

      As for Apple taking the x86 route? I?m not holding my breath. Apple is Apple; and Apple just has to do things differently. However, who knows? Maybe Apple will in fact switch CPUs.
      P. Douglas
    • Dell doesn't offer anything even comparable, really.

      Show me where Dell offers a desktop system with 128-bit vector processors in the CPU?

      They don't. You have to buy Itanium or dual-processor to get the kind of performance out of an x86-architectured box that I get [i]even out of my ancient Mac G4[/i].

      Seriously--I've got a relatively new Athlon 64 3200+ and my 5-year-old G4 is every bit as fast on the stuff that you [i]want[/i] a high-perf desktop for: multimedia. Don't even talk about the G5--it's no contest.
      Yen_z
      • Look At The Benchmarks

        [url= http://www.barefeats.com/macvpc.html]This benchmark[/url] shows that overall, Intel and AMD processors are better than the processors used in the Mac - where all the processors have comparable (GHz) speed. [url= http://www.barefeats.com/mac2pc.html]This benchmark[/url] shows that PC systems optimized for 3D graphics, tends to trounce Mac systems optimized for 3D graphics.
        P. Douglas
        • Uh . . . The first benchmark . . .

          I think that you misread those graphs on the first benchmark. They clearly demonstrate that the P4 can not even hold a candle to the G5 and that more expensive Xeons are barely keeping up. I think that you just demonstrated the opposite of what you were intending. :)

          The second benchmark is clearly due to the presence of PCIe in the Intel and AMD systems. This is a simple deficiency in the current Mac platform that will be rectified shortly.
          A/UX
          • You can't be serious

            [i]I think that you misread those graphs on the first benchmark. They clearly demonstrate that the P4 can not even hold a candle to the G5 and that more expensive Xeons are barely keeping up. I think that you just demonstrated the opposite of what you were intending. :)[/i]

            You've got to be kidding. Are you saying when x86 chips win 4 out of 6 times over the Mac in benchmarks tests, that?s an overall win for the Mac? What universe do you guys live in?
            P. Douglas
          • Oversimplification

            If all you are concerned about is barely "winning" some numbers war, then you have missed the point of the article. The machines that "beat" the G5 are in excess of $1,000 more expensive.

            The Dual Xeon 3.4GHz box was bested by the Dual PowerMac G5 in four out of six tests and would cost more than the Mac if purchased from Dell.

            I live in the universe where when something costs less and performs better, you buy it. How about you? :)
            A/UX
          • Excuses, excuses, excuses

            If you look at the bottom of the [url=http://www.barefeats.com/macvpc.html]1st benchmark page[/url] (paragraph 6 under the section ?INSIGHTS and COMMENTS?) you will see where the Dual Opteron 252 system costs $5593; the G5/2.5GHz Power Mac system costs $5079; and the Dual Xeon 3.4GHz costs $4197. The x86 systems that were used in the tests weren't Dells. Further, it may be possible for you find even cheaper comparable x86 systems used in the tests. Therefore your price/performance argument in favor of the Mac doesn't really hold water.

            So what argument will you come up with next? That Macs are prettier than PCs, and this makes up for its performance deficiencies? :-)
            P. Douglas
    • Ah, the old GHz trap

      [i]dell does not offer 64mb graphic cards or 8x dvd burner or 1.8ghz[/i]

      You do realize that these aren't terribly useful specs for comparing systems, don't you? Even Intel have given up on pretending that GHz numbers are useful for comparisons between processor families, even when both families are Intel's.

      For instance, the graphics performance of a Mac is heavily influenced by the fact that the CPU has vector processing capabilities and the system chips have built-in rendering engines. As a result, the video pipeline doesn't benefit as much from the needs-liquid-metal-cooling graphics accelerators as the Intel boxen do -- mainly because they're faster without them.

      And, no, I don't use Macs. Don't like them. That doesn't mean that I can't be fair about the hardware.
      Yagotta B. Kidding
    • Hmmm

      Do you understand what it means to have comparability? The
      laptop I put togather was more expensive than the Powerbook just
      on hardware specs alone. Let's not get into software comparisons.
      cashaww
  • I suspect it's little more than saber rattling.

    Got to keep IBM honest....
    No_Ax_to_Grind
    • lol, you don't want to keep ms honest, why IBM - NT

      nt
      JasonL31
    • exactly

      Apple to IBM - We want cheaper chips!
      DebianDog
    • I agree...

      I agree No_Axe, this is a negotiating tactic and nothing more. Pit IBM against Intel for a better price on IBM chips. It works well unless IBM says, "You're small potatoes. Get stuffed." Playing chicken has its risks as Apple well knows from playing chicken with Microsoft in the past.
      John Le'Brecage
    • Deja Vu

      [b]I suspect it's little more than saber rattling.[/b]

      Doesn't this remind anyone of the recent Dell "defection" to AMD? Same thing.
      Wolfie2K3
  • X-Scale

    2 possibilities -

    1) This could be related to the rumor that Apple is planning on jumping into the PDA market, and may like the Intel X-Scale CPU.

    2) This one is a longshot, BUT they may go with something like the Pentium M for the mini-Mac.
    mackswift_z
    • X-scale... maybe...

      While I believe the X-scale line theory holds water (especially since their are always rumors about the return of the Newton - this makes a whole lot of sense), the Pentium M theory, however, just doesn't float.

      That would require Apple to be running to different versions of OS X (compiled on a per chip basis). And many of the software makers would have to make major changes to their software (software from one mac would be unlikely to work on another)...
      pheible
  • If they do switch

    It would be a perfect time to take on M$ on the Intel platform. The Window's world is rife with viruses, spyware, unreasonable M$ pricing, long delay with Foghorn and o yeah, Windows just plain sucks. Mac is easy to use, easy to maintain. No DLL or registry headaches. Mac OS on Intel certainly wouldn't put M$ out of business, but you would see there numbers drop, just like with Firefox.
    DarthRidiculous
  • MacOS to work on all Intel boxes?

    If linux can run on x86, why not MacOS? Think about Dell selling a Mac for $500! Possible? Absolutely. I tested NeXT OS for Intel back in 1993! I think Apple sees an opening to compete head-on with Microsoft. I maybe wrong, but it's a thought :-)
    douellette
    • Not Exactly

      Macs always had some special bios ROM chips. You need them to run Macs - and they WON'T be included in 'regular" x86 motherboards.

      MacOS = BSD Unix, which runs just fine on x86.
      Roger Ramjet