8 June 2005, late morning
Today, Apple put out a press release I never thought I would ever see: Apple to Use Intel Microprocessors Beginning in 2006. This is a big deal—but if you aren’t particularly geeky, you can stop reading now.
My first Macintosh was a Powerbook 5300cs, which ran on a PowerPC 603e. Apple had made a big switch from Motorola 68k chips to IBM PowerPC chips in the early 90s. Ars Technica has a great write up on the history of PowerPC chips at Apple for those who are interested in such things; the article also explains some of the advantages RISC machines have over CISC machines. Intel x86 computers are all classified as CISC machines. PowerPC based computers are all RISC machines. Intel and AMD are also basically the only compaines that still make CISC computers, as they went out of vogue in the 90s.
Back when I bought my Powerbook 5300cs, RISC chips were simpler, smaller, and more energy efficient than their CISC competitors. One big advantage RISC chips had over CISC chips was that the simple instruction set on RISC machines lent themselves to pipelining to speed up the processing of instruction. Pipelining involves having the processor work on several instructions at the same time.) Nowadays, the distinction between RISC and CISC chips is very subtle; modern Intel chips do things that were the domain of RISC chips alone several years back. For example, I think most modern CISC chips will break down a complex instruction into a series of smaller instructions suitable to be pipelined. In this way they behave very much like RISC chips. Mind you, I could be talking out of my ass here.
I’m not sure how Apple will spin the change. They have spent so many years touting the advantages of their hardware as well as their software over their competitors. Their hardware advantage hasn’t disappeared, but it certainly has diminished.
Update: I’ll post links to other sources of info as I find them.
- Kottke has little of substance to say himself on this matter, but does provide some good links on this subject: Apple is Switching to Intel Chips.
- Slashdot has a thread discussing the switch: Apple Switching to Intel.
- Intel’s press release: Apple to Use Intel Microprocessors Beginning in 2006
- Apple has posted the details developers need to know in order to build Universal Binaries. Back in the day, when applications were built to run on 68K or PowerPC computers, the binaries were called Fat. I think Apple should have called the new binaries Phat: Universal Binary Programming Guidelines [pdf].
- Macintouch has a new readers report section for the Macs on Intel news: Macs on Intel
- Daring Fireball discusses the transition—a really good article: Bombs Away
- Ars Technica has a great article on the move to Intel: Picking up the pieces: John Siracusa mourns the Power PC
- Cringely talks out of his ass: Going for Broke
- John Gruber basically explains why Cringely is talking out of his ass in this article: Together We Can Rule the Galaxy