Intel-based Macs: When Apple went to the dark side

“As some consider the implications of 14 years of OS X, what about over nine years of Intel Inside? It also boggles the mind, especially considering how Intel and Microsoft were once regarded as one humongous competitor,” Gene Steinberg writes for The Tech Night Owl. “The term ‘WinTel’ was the common reference to a Windows PC with Intel parts, although AMD processors were also used.”

“As we entered the 21st century, Apple had long since settled in on the PowerPC. The Intel Pentium ran hot and was underpowered for its processor speeds, which ranged up to 4GHz,” Steinberg writes. “In those days, it was common for Apple to stage bake-offs between a Mac with PowerPC against an Intel-based PC with a much higher clock speed. Running such benchmarks as Adobe Photoshop rendering functions, the Mac was almost invariably considerably faster. At the time, with Apple’s testing protocols at hand, I ran the very same tests and achieved comparable results. So when people complained that Apple was faking it, I was able to say that I knew the tests were genuine.”

“But the situation changed for the worse. Freescale Semiconductor, spun off from Motorola, along with IBM, decided to focus more on building chips for embedded markets. Sales to Apple were relatively few and thus improvements to the PowerPC were few and far between. Despite protests to the contrary, Macs really began to fall behind in absolute performance, particularly on PowerBooks,” Steinberg writes. “The first Intel-based Macs were announced at the Macworld Expo in January 2006, and, by summer, the migration was over, way ahead of schedule.”

Much more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: We went back to reread what we wrote back in June 2005 when Apple announced the switch to Intel. Here are a couple of snippets:

• Oh, so one could buy a Mac and run both Windows and Mac OS X or buy a Dell and only be able to run Windows. Muahahahahah! So, can anyone explain why would anyone in their right mind would buy a Dell or any other Wintel box assembler’s kit again? This is shaping up to become a “license Mac OS X or die” problem for the Dells of the world. But, what if Steve Jobs doesn’t feel like licensing Mac OS X? Checkmate. Is it too early to suggest that Michael Dell shut down the company and give the money back to shareholders?

Wait until Wall Street figures this one out.MacDailyNews Take, June 8, 2005

• These Intel-based Macs will help expand Mac market share, if average people can be made to understand that the machines can run both Windows and Mac operating systems natively. Remember, it’s a good bet most of these average people (we’re probably talking somewhere around 70-80% of personal computer consumers) don’t even know what an operating system is; they think Windows is a personal computer; you know, the ones who think the “blue e” is the “Internet.” For most people, Macs will become the “2 for the price of 1″ computer. Even for the nearly illiterate personal computer buyers, with a little Apple-supplied education via marketing, it would make little sense to buy a limited Windows-only machine from the box assemblers like Dell, Gateway, etc. Give them their “Windows Insecurity Blanket” upfront and they’ll throw it away themselves after they realize how tattered and threadbare it is in comparison it to Apple’s Mac OS X.

The only question left would be: now how do we get them to boot into Mac OS X instead of Windows? The best answer for Apple would be to have the machines always boot up into Mac OS X and allow a “Virtual-PC-like” way to run Windows and Windows apps (but, natively, with no emulation speed hit, thanks to the Intel processor).

One more thing… don’t overlook the enterprise ramifications. It may just get a whole lot easier to justify Apple Macs at work. — SteveJack, MacDailyNews, June 10, 2005

30 Comments

  1. The problem with Power PC RISC chips was not the basic technology (RISC vs x86 CISC). IBM and Motorola- later Freescale- were not able or willing to spend the money to cycle through generations of R&D as fast as chipzilla. Intel leveraged it’s huge scale to afford rapid generational iterations.

    Apple had the choice of falling behind or getting on board. At that time they did not have the money to do what they are doing today.

    By the way, the ARM chips running iOS devices are based upon RISC technology similar to the PPC chips. The basic concept is sound.

      1. Correct, doesn’t it seem like a waste? The CISC layer is such wasted space and processor cycles and is only there because of Windows. Perhaps someday it can be ditched.

        1. The CISC translation layer is trivial compared to everything else now packed in Intel processors. SSE, AVX and GPUs provide powerful capabilities that are generally overlooked when comparing Intel processors to ARM processors.

  2. It would be stupid for Intel, not to accommodate every single one of Apple’s needs.

    This is why we have the 12″ MacBook. Intel could have provided the CPU for the iPhone, but they screwed up. They regret it. From where I sit, it’s not Intel controlling Apple. It’s Apple controls Intel, much the way Microsoft did.

    1. Here’s the problem with that: Apple buys only a fraction of the chipsets Intel makes, and most of the chipsets shipped to Apple are not exclusive units. If Apple was to pay a premium for custom chips, fine, Intel would be foolish not to cater to a premium paying customer. But it would be foolish for Intel to pander to a customer that is currently buying all the same stuff as any other PC assembler.

      Also, I’m not sure that Apple is headed in hardware development direction with a bright future. As Jason Snell pointed out in MacWorld, there is a limit to the value of making things stupid thin, and Apple’s really close to it. So if Apple keeps pushing their component makers to make everything thinner at the expense of compatibility, performance, user customization, repairability, etc, then Intel would be foolish to follow Apple over the cliff.

      I like the fact that Apple uses standard Intel hardware, because it’s state of the art and compatible with all common desktop software. If Apple was to screw up that relationship or make Macs incompatible with other software platforms via efficient virtualization, then Macs would very quickly lose their appeal. For me, Macs have already started losing their appeal because the latest versions of OS X have had more problems than ever. “It just works” no longer applies to Macs, and it never applied to iOS at all. One would have to be a willfully ignorant fanboy not to see this.

        1. Mel, what you wrote shows poor reading comprehension

          he/she didn’t wrote “agree with me”.
          he/she wrote “One would have to be a willfully ignorant fanboy not to see this.”

          and i agree that Apple software quality has not been up to the standards I used to take for granted.

          1. I don’t see that at all and I’m not a willfully ignorant fanboy.
            I loves macs and have used them from 1987 and currently I am using a 2013 Mac Pro. I don’t have the issues that other people are seeing and I beat this Mac Pro Hard. It is constantly on doing video compression and I rarely have and issue. It is rock stable steady for me. I am running Yosemite 10.10.2

        2. also note that the prior message from Gollum started out with “It would be stupid for … not to accommodate every single one of Apple’s needs.”

          macuser wrote some insightful reasons why a successful company isn’t going to pander to any one client, even Apple.

          but you let that ridiculous bias pass, Mel.

          hyprocrite much?

  3. What is amazing is that after 9 years of Macs on Intel chips and being able to run Windows natively, PC people are still surprised when a Mac runs Windows.

    We have a MacBook Pro in our office that is set up with Boot Camp so it opens in Windows 7. PC people see that and are stunned that a Mac can run Windows.

    I guess the ignorance that causes people to buy PCs carries over in their ignorance of what computers can run Windows.

      1. Apple has spent 5 years dumbing down OS X and pushing iOS instead.

        Thus, no new hipster has a clue what a Mac can really do. Apple’s Mac advertising for the last 5 years has been rare, uninformative, and entirely superficial. That needs to change if Apple expects to woo more developers onto its best platform.

    1. A friend of mine has a 4 yo iMac running Win7 9he needs the apps for work). The iMac became available when he upgraded to a new iMac.

      I don’t know if his claims are realistic, but he says Win& on his old iMac runs just as fast as on current Windows only PCs. Besides he essentially got the iMac for free.

      As for me, I’d stop using computers altogether if I had to use Windows.

  4. Apple’s move to Intel processors in combination with OS X and its UNIX underpinnings and VMWare are what brought me back into the Apple fold. It was a monumental business decision that made the Mac’s resurgence possible. Many of the systems engineers and software developers I used to work with now sport MacBook Pros. That was unthinkable ten years ago. Only the IT drones, threatened by Apple’s resurrection, cling to their Wintel machines and the computing dark ages.

    1. The only reason our company allows us to order Macs as development machines is because the Intel CPUs let us run all the open source tools and run multiple Linux and even Windows virtual machines at the same time with none of the performance hit that’d happen with emulation.

      The last thing we want is for Macs to leave Intel. Not even on the low-end, because that’s where the majority of unit sales are, and once new non-Intel Macs gain steam, Apple doesn’t use as many Intel CPUs so they can’t demand as many concessions from Intel, prices go up as a result… etc etc.

  5. I could not have bought an iMac without the ability to run windows. On my iMac, running Parrallels and Win 7 is by FAR the best windows machine I’ve ever had. It was expensive but well worth it.

    I mostly use win 7 to run 2D CAD Microstation- it runs flawlessly.

    The only problem I have is minor: sometimes when waking up from sleep, a thumb drive being used for both windows and mac does display the subdirectories correctly. A simple removal and insert solves the problem.

    Last note: Microsation is a 3D CAD program but I rarely to 3D drawings so I can’t say about the performance but it does seem to function correctly. The version I use, uses Open GL and some newer versions use Active X. I understand Active X works under parallels but I don’t know for sure.

    1. I run Win7 + Solidworks 3D CAD on a 2010 MBPro i7 and it runs fine. Normal 3D creation of models between 100-200 megs run OK, but I will upgrade as soon as the new faster CPUs and flash memory hit the street.

      Yup, it slows to a crawl if I open a whole injection molding machine, but there is no reason for me to do that.

  6. Are you kidding – not having to run software “Virtual PC” anyone? was the best thing ever. Boot a Mac with Windoze, run it in a VM (that works 10x better than the virtual stuff) or Linux or or or.
    WE even had tons of execs that would not use “Mac” buy them to run Windoze. Sales for Apple, stock goes up for me. I’ll take it any day.

  7. Most people who know what NeXt was, know that the OS (NeXtSTEP) was ported over to Intel when their hardware sales tanked and they also know that OS X was based on NeXtSTEP. Most people do not know that OS X for Intel was secretly ghosting the development of OS X for PPC. This made the switch a lot less painless.

    Speaking of PPC, one thing that blew me away about the switch from 68K to PPC was so utterly, totally and amazingly seamless. Not only did the software run great but with the more powerful PPC, you didn’t notice any slowdown with the emulator. Rosetta was not bad, either, but the smoothness of the 68K to PPC transition represented one of the most impressive achievements of computing in the 1990’s.

  8. My summary of those bad-old-days is:
    – PowerBooks stalled at 500MHz PPC chips for years.
    – Motorola dropped out of the picture.
    – IBM promised over and over for three full years that they were going to make a new portable PPC chip based on the G5 processor. They NEVER did, not ever.
    – The once famously 2x-faster-than-Intel PPC chips fell behind the speed of Intel chips, which was unforgivable.
    – There was nothing left for Apple to do, knowing IBM was lying, but go Intel. So Apple and Intel made friends.
    – Out came the programming suite for universal applications, both PPC and Intel, and the hardware transition began.
    – In a hurry, Apple went entirely 64-bit Intel CPUs by the end of 2006, leaving Windows boxes languishing in 32-bit CPU legacy hell.
    – Apple made OS X (almost) 100% 64-bit by the end of 2008, while Windows continued to languish in 32-bit legacy hell.

    1. (The very-very last software OS X software Apple made 64-bit was lingering little bits of QuickTime. Beats the fsck out of me why. I ranted at them for years about it. It’s still shameful that full QuickTime Pro functionality requires ye olde 32-bit QuickTime Player 7.x).

      1. Careful, Derek. Criticizing Apple’s asininely stupid decisions like their mismanagement of Quicktime is dangerous around these parts. silverdick will call you a troll.

        1. I don’t know which ‘Mike’ you are, but I can appreciate your warning. Nonetheless, when Apple screw up, MDN is going to see a lot of use lambasting them for it. That’s one thing the mass media rarely gets about we Apple ‘fanbois’. We really are THE most discerning of customers. We want the best, the most sane and user-friendly products possible. When Apple delivers crap instead (Apple is rarely perfect), we rant about it and let Apple know we are NOT amused. 😉

  9. Intel was able to dig themselves out of their Pentium hole because Apple worked closely with Intel and showed them how. Intel then took those improvements and sold it to Apple’s competitors.
    A lesson Apple learned when developing their IOS devises.

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