Why Mac on Intel is Good

We’ll I’ve been busy commenting on message boards everywhere that the move by Apple to use Intel is a good thing. And since I have my own part of the web, I figured I should comment here as well since some may know that I am a Mac fan/user. But I am one, who even when it was thought to still be a rumor, was arguing for the move to be made and why it makes sense for Apple to do it.


First, the Mac is not the PowerPC. The PowerPC is only the chip that runs inside. For all practical purposes it is invisible. The Mac is the Operating System (OS) and the great product design. The PowerPC was just the latest in CPUs that Apple used to power their products. Fact is, Apple has had to go through at least two chip changes already. First they went from 68000 to the PowerPC, which was a huge jump in itself… not dissimilar to the jump required now. However, the second jump was from the initial PowerPC to the G4 and later series.

While the G4 and the G5 are PowerPC, they were significantly different enough to require software to be recompiled and optimized from the original PowerPC and each other. Admittedly, it was a very minor step, they also made a major change in the OS going from the old OS 9 to the unix based OS X around the same time. Now there was one writer who claimed that Apple lost a lot of users during each of these changes, however that is not the case. Let me explain why… while they did lose market share, that was due to the dramatic growth of the PC industry, not from losing users making these switches. Anybody who claims they lost users because of these changes is ill informed (or simply stupid, but I try to be diplomatic).

They pretty much maintained their user base, which because the PC market grew as much as it did, basically shrunk in market share from around 10% to the 2% that it is now. Not to mention, that because Macs are so well designed and built, people tend to not replace them as often as Windows PC users. So the switch is a non issue, Apple will be able to pull this off with only minor disruption if any to their user base. The next issue to discuss is related to lagging performance of the CPU, which make it pointless to buy new systems any ways.

As recently shown in the minor bump in speed for both the PowerMac line and the PowerBook lines, there was/is no incentive for users to buy new systems to replace older ones. As much as I wanted to believe the hype about PowerPC, when doing real research it was clear that the PPC chip was merely competitive with Intel and AMD. It certainly isn’t faster now, and while for a few things it may out perform Intel, it was only when put in dual configurations that it beat them. So to put this in easily digestible terms the current dual 2.7ghz G5 competes with the current 3.6ghz P4. And while the G5 may win some photoshop filter tests, in many other tests it was falling behind. So to be perfectly clear, if we took and simplistically divided the 3.6ghz P4 into a dual 1.8ghz P4, the G5 2.7ghz was merely keeping pace.

Then there is also the fact that the G5 was not running as cool as it was originally specified. Apple had to go to a water cooling system starting with the dual 2.0 ghz systems. In this regard, for everyone who is saying how much better PPC is to Intel because it runs cooler and is cheaper… That is all based off of the pre-developed marketing hype that Apple & IBM were putting out at the time. The reality today is the G5 runs as hot, if not hotter and costs as much as the Intel offerings. Every where but in Apple marketing the PowerPC was getting ripped. If you chose to believe marketing hype then you will die by the hype, no matter where it is from.

A note from my personal experience… last year I bought a 15″ PowerBook G4 1.5ghz with the upgraded HD (5400rpm) and the upgraded video (128mb) and put in 2GB of ram (max’ed it out). At work I use an IBM ThinkPad T40 1.3ghz Pentium M with 384mb ram and a 4200 rpm HD, which at that point was already 6 months old. I should back up and say before I bought my PB, I debated switching to Windows. For a lot of things they do work similarly… e-mail, web surfing, report writing. Even designing is similar on both platforms as Photoshop as well as Flash run on Windows and basically any app that you would need to do design work. But Mac OS X is truly easier to use when it comes to everything else related to working on a computer. Want to plug-in a digital camcorder and transfer video? On the Mac it just works, not the Windows system (sorry not even XP handles this as seamlessly as the Mac). It is not even close.

So I decided on the PB. The first thing I did was benchmark the PB and the TP using CineBench (www.cinebench.com). Overall the PB was 27% slower than the IBM TP. So the G4 is simply a dog… but I still love my PB and would not want a Windows system unless you gave it to me (like they did at work), and even then, I wouldn’t want it other than to run Linux. I accept the speed difference as a cost of a system that is superior where it really counts, in the actual use… As do most other Mac users. It is only those who swallowed the marketing hype who are now caught up in the “this is backwards” emotion. This is not to say you shouldn’t buy a PPC Mac right now if you need one. If Apple comes out with a new PPC system in the next 6 months and I need a new system at that time, I would buy it. Basic advice here, is if you need systems to do some work, buy what you need, if you can wait, then wait. I am guessing that they will come out with a quad PPC sometime in the next year, and that will be an awsome system. More than likely, I personally won’t feel the need to upgrade the PB, despite its speed impediment, for while yet. And when I do get ready to upgrade systems in probably about 2 years, there will be blazingly fast laptops, that I won’t have to kid myself about the performance. Yes, I will have to buy new software which is the next issue.

The transition to Intel means that software will need to be upgraded or replaced. Guess what, you would have to do that no matter what. To me really this is the least of all arguments. If you don’t upgrade and/or replace your software every two years or so, then you’re still using Word 5 aren’t you? And if that is the case, you probably are still running OS 9 (if using a Mac). Which, it is perfectly ok to be that way, but don’t complain about the Intel change. If you are some where in between that and the person who buys every upgrade… wouldn’t you have bought the upgrade or a new piece of software in the next two years any ways? I haven’t upgraded Photoshop since version 4 on my Mac. The fact is, I switched to Fireworks since I could get the Macromedia suite with Flash for much cheaper than the Adobe suite. In two years I may switch back to Photoshop (I may be forced to any ways since Adobe is buying Macromedia). Big deal… for those who feel this is a problem for them, I can only say you are borderline clueless. Upgrading and buying new software is a fact of life for computer usage.

Then there is the investor angle… some have been arguing that Steve Jobs is making the same mistakes that he made at neXt. They compare how they went from 68000 to Intel and how things basically fell apart from there. While it may seem like a similar situation, it is actually completley different. First neXt did not have the developer community that Apple does. One could argue having a smaller developer communiy would make it easier, but not for a transition like this. With a larger community losing a few developers (if that should happen) is not a big deal, and if you have large developers (which neXt did not) they can lead the way, as is the case here with both MS and Adobe stepping up and embracing the change. Then there is the market share/user community. NeXT simply could not gain market against MS and Apple, which is what IBM found out with OS/2. If IBM with all its resources could not dent the MS monopoly, neXt certainly wouldn’t have been able to get much farther. Especially since they lacked the developer community (and the applications). Apple has a strong user community and many applications and the developers who build them… while they only have 2-3% of the computer market in yearly sales, their actual user base may be as high as 10-15% of all computer users. And as noted in Steve’s keynote at the WWDC in June 2005, their sales have gone up dramatically since introducing the iPod.

In the end going to Intel provides Apple with the mobile chips it needs to compete in the growing portable market. It also gives Apple a chip partner who is all about making chips. The chip inside is hardly relevant to the experience, except that it doesn’t fall too far behind whatever is leading the market. This has always hurt Apple, even to this day and played a part in preventing it from being considered for corporate use, as the performance seekers often influence the general populace. Now there will be no difference. Well actually, now I predict Apple will become part of the Intel vs AMD war, and we will hear how AMD just doesn’t have the same performance as Intel. Which of course AMD does have a better 64bit chip… but don’t under estimate Intel’s ability to compete. Unlike IBM, Intel has a vested interest to compete here. However, the reality remains that there will be more marketing hype to come. What isn’t hype, is just how good the Mac OS X system is… as report after report by even those who are not Mac writers come in… it is clear that OS X is far better than anything Windows is now or yet to come, even when longhorn comes out. So base your Mac purchases on your needs and don’t forget why you are buying, it isn’t what chip is running inside… it is OS X and cool, well designed products that make the computing experience something enjoyable.

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