The Null Device

Posts matching tags 'intel'


Another casualty of Apple's move to Intel: FireWire 800. Apparently Intel's chipsets don't support it, so the new Macs don't either, and that massive FW800 hard disk you bought at a premium suddenly doesn't look quite so futureproof. Perhaps FW800 will reemerge when Intel pull their finger out and revamp their chip sets, or perhaps it has officially been declared stillborn, with the future of Apple's hardware platforms to be decided at WinHEC conferences from now on, along with all the other PC manufacturers.

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Apparently another casualty of Apple's move to Intel is OpenFirmware; the standardised, portable, FORTH-based firmware used on PowerPC Macs has been replaced by Intel's proprietary, architecture-specific EFI (originally designed for the next generation of Windows machines). Which further locks Apple into one vendor (unless, of course, they further redesign their platform), and relegates OpenFirmware to the graveyard of cool technologies, alongside the likes of NeWS, Open Look, and numerous non-PC architectures.

And it's increasingly looking like the main architectural difference between the new Intel-based Macs and, say, Dells or Sony Vaios, could be the key in the DRM chip which authenticates it as an Apple, allowing MacOS X to run on it.

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Apple have unveiled their new Intel-based PowerBook-class machine; of course, they can't call it the PowerBook, though one would think they could have come up with a better name than MacBook Pro. The new machine also has a new power connector, rendering your collection of Apple power adapters redundant, and only one FireWire port, doing away with FireWire 800. The PCMCIA slot also seems to have been replaced with something called ExpressCard/34.

All in all, it doesn't look too bad; the lack of FireWire/800 is perhaps a concern (they're not planning on getting rid of FireWire altogether and making it more like a legacy PC, I hope; I wonder whether it still has Target Disk Mode), and it's probably not worth getting one for music or video just yet, until all the plug-ins one uses have been recompiled for Intel (as emulation of CPU-intensive PPC code will certainly be very slow).

I wonder whether, in a few years' time, Jobs will announce that the new version of MacOS (perhaps MacOS 12?) will be based on the Windows Vista kernel, licensed from Microsoft, rather than Mach/BSD, giving Macintosh-quality design on top of improved PC compabilility and access to Hollywood-standard DRM?

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It's official; Apple are moving to an Intel Pentium architecture, and will phase out the PowerPC by 2007.

Steve Jobs says that a reason for the move is that Intel chips now offer much more power per watt than PowerPC chips. Which sounds strange, given that Intel chips are encrusted with legacy backward-compatibility baggage dating back to the IBM PC, whereas the PowerPC platform is free of such constraints. Though perhaps, because of Intel's far greater market share, enough was invested in getting around this.

Jobs also revealed that MacOS X had been built internally for Intel platforms for the past five years (which is plausible, given that NeXTSTEP, on which it is based, was sold for Intel machines). Which goes some way towards explaining the somewhat backward choice of architectures: i.e., it's inertia.

Of course, this does not make it any less of a missed opportunity to provide a computing platform on a new, unencumbered architecture. Especially given the PowerPC-like nature of the Sony/IBM Cell CPU, which would (if reports are correct) have been an immensely desirable platform for a new era. (Who knows; perhaps whoever owns the Amiga can resurrect it as a Cell workstation?) And as far as x86 chips go, AMD would have probably been a better choice than Intel. Unless, of course, it's the DRM issue again, and Jobs needs to have a black iron prison in place that the MPAA will sign off on.

And so, the last major bastion of diversity in the world of computers falls to the x86 monoculture, and Apple becomes just another PC manufacturer, albeit one with its own OS. Perhaps in five years' time they'll give up on that as well and switch to providing a Cocoa layer over Windows too? After all, it'd save them a lot of hassle.

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Everybody, it seems, is now saying that Apple are about to dump the PowerPC architecture, and move to Intel. I'm hoping that it doesn't happen; technically, the main advantage of the Intel architecture (which includes AMD and other third-party processors) is backward compatibility with MS-DOS and Windows; for this, the CPUs pay a price in extra transistor count, power consumption and performance, which other platforms (such as, say, the PowerPC) do not incur. Given that Apple machines don't run Windows, there would be little point to doing this, unless to take advantage of these chips being cheaper due to their being manufactured in larger volumes. Given that Sony's PowerPC-based Cell architecture is on the horizon and promises to revolutionise computing, Apple jumping to Intel boxes sounds like a dead end.

Meanwhile, Alec Muffett speculates that the "Intel architecture" Apple might adopt may not be IA64 but rather the XScale, an unrelated architecture based on the ARM, and used in power-efficient devices such as Palm handhelds and Nintendo DSs. On one hand, it would be cool to see a Mac mini (or even a Mac Micro) based on an ARM chipset, drawing about as much current as a nightlight and offering a usable Macintosh-flavoured web-browsing/word-processing/communications/media-playing machine. OTOH, does the ARM architecture actually scale up to the higher ends of the performance spectrum? Would an ARM-compiled version of Photoshop or ProTools be able to run efficiently on tomorrow's high-end Macs?

And WIRED reckons that Apple's switch to Intel will be in order to add Intel's DRM technology to their hardware; i.e., doubly crippling their platform to please Big Copyright.

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Via Slashdot, a piece on how Intel Pentia are microcode upgradeable. The details are kept secret at this stage, though once someone cracks them this could lead to a new generation of viruses/trojans which irrevocably turn CPUs into expensive keyrings.

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