January 11, 2006

New Macs...

Mac fans are very happy with the new Intel Macs announced at MacWorld yesterday. New Powerbooks and iMacs running Intel dual-core chips. Awesome, and awesomely fast footwork by Apple for shifting an entire platform.

One little caveat. Tom Yager points out that the performance boost announced is somewhat bogus:

..Apple uses SPEC*_rate2000 tests as a foundation for claims that Intel-based Macs outperform PowerPC G4 and G5 by a factor of 2 to 5. Well, yeah. A dual-core anything outperforms a single-core anything else by a factor of 2 to 5 in benchmark tests that make use of multiple threads or processes, tests crafted specifically for the purpose of stressing SMP-based systems. It's murky marketing, and the sad part is that Apple didn't have to resort to it to make Apple's PowerPC-to-Intel switch look like a smart one. Mac users have no choice, and users also know more or less what to expect performance-wise....

I'm sure the new machines are faster, but real-world software will only get a "factor of 2 to 5 boost" if it is designed to use dual-core chips. Games or high-end graphics apps will likely be able to do that soon, because it's worth money. The extra speed is something people will pay for, or switch to a competitor for. But Ma and Pa Average-user will see a more modest performance boost.

But the really important point is that Apple has solved its biggest hardware problem. As Steven den Beste pointed out years ago, Apple, as it seemed, could never solve its chip frustrations, because Apple was not a big enough part of IBM's or Motorola's business to justify the necessary investment...

...Steve Jobs is dancing as fast as he can; he's doing what he can to mitigate the damage. But in the long run the only solution, besides praying that Motorola suddenly passes a miracle, is to abandon the PPC and switch to something else which is more competitive, from a source which will do a better job of keeping up. (And short of going x86, it's difficult to conceive at this point of just who that might be.) But if it's a different and incompatible architecture, such a switch is going to take a very long time and be very painful. It took at least ten years to ultimately make the cutover from 68K to PPC; it surely would take at least five to do it again to something else...
Well, they did switch to x86. And obviously it's not going to take 5 years. The trick was that Apple has been pushing its developers hard to move to its own development platform, X-Code, rather than using CodeWarrior. And secretly it's been readying X-Code to easily produce "dual binaries," programs that run natively on both old and new chips. So most programs created with X-Code will make the move easily. Unfortunately that doesn't include MS Office and Photoshop. But Office will probably be tolerable running in emulation. And Photoshop is probably scrambling to switch, since the Mac is too big in graphics for them to ignore.

Posted by John Weidner at January 11, 2006 9:24 AM
Weblog by John Weidner