Spoutin' Off: MacIntels have nothing on G5, yet

By Michael Rau

January 23 2006

In the wake of the recent Macworld Conference, I suppose I should take a stab at commenting on developments that came out of the event. Then, I want to mention something that didn't emerge - yet.

First, I'll note Apple announced the release of an upgraded version of its iLife suite of applications. It contains no groundbreaking improvements, but does include a new application called iWeb - an elementary Web page authoring application.

The big news was, of course, the introduction of the first Macs utilizing Intel processors. The two models introduced were an Intel-based iMac, available now, and a new laptop dubbed MacBook Pro, scheduled for first delivery in March (Apple has already issued a warning that they may have trouble meeting the anticipated initial demand for this unit.)

So, is it time to upgrade? In my opinion, the answer is no.

In terms of hardware, I have little doubt the new "MacIntels" perform as advertised. Apple tends to be fairly accurate in its performance specifications. My concern is more with software than hardware.

Mac software now capable of running on MacIntels is labeled as "Universal." It'll run on both platforms. Mac applications not labeled this way will still run on these machines, but utilize emulation software called "Rosetta."

An application that runs behind Rosetta will run considerably slower because the software is translating PowerPC instruction sets into Intel sets on-the-fly. The word from reviewers is that Rosetta runs faster than its older cousin, VirtualPC, but still causes a speed issue when compared to current PowerPC-based benchmarks.

Also, certain high-end applications like Final Cut Pro won't run on a MacIntel at all. Apple says new Intel-centric releases of these applications are just around the corner.

There's another issue I haven't heard discussed at all, but it's a little geeky. When the PowerPC 970 chip was introduced in the Mac G5s, one of the touted advances was the transition from 32-bit to 64-bit chips. Applications written to run on the 64-bit architecture, particularly those performing math-intensive operations such as video rendering, would execute operations in a much more efficient manner.

The new MacIntel chips, while containing a dual-core and running at higher clock speeds, are still 32-bit processors. I'd like to read a learned analysis as to what this implies in regard to Apple's long-term technical strategy for the Mac platform.

I guess that with IBM's decision to ramp-down development of its PowerPC line, Apple had no choice but to transition to a chip set more compatible with its future plans, but I'm still a fan of the G5 architecture. In my opinion, the newest G5 Quad (64-bit, dual-core, dual-processor) PowerMac is the most technologically advanced desktop out there, period.

There have been complaints from some consumers who went out and bought G5 iMacs over the holidays. They feel deceived because Apple didn't reveal that a new system was going to be released in a matter of days. To you, I'd say that you probably made a smarter purchase.

A current iMac G5 is a fantastic machine. There is nothing the new Intel-based iMac can perform better, and much it can't perform as well. That may not be entirely true a year from now, but I predict that you'll still love your G5 iMac for many years to come.

Intel-based replacements for PowerBook and iBook G4 laptops will demonstrate a much more dramatic increase in performance than the G5s. I'm about ready for a new laptop, and will look at the new MacBooks in a few months, once the software transition is a bit further down the road.

Now, I want to talk about something I was expecting to be introduced at Macworld, and wasn't.

All technology analysts consider the home digital media center to be the next big thing in consumer electronics. At the Consumer Electronics Show, held the week before Macworld, the most-popular topic was on-demand delivery systems for video.

All sorts of providers are scrambling to introduce technologies and partnerships to reach this goal. Microsoft has been pushing its "Windows Media Center" edition, with mixed success.

So what's the missing element? According to Think Secret.com, a Web site that often speculates on Apple's plans, it's a Mac-operated media center based on the 6-inch by 6-inch by 2-inch MacMini.

Besides being a fully functional Mac computer, the unit would also have a big honkin' hard drive and an integrated TV tuner. Coupled with appropriate software and a wireless remote, the unit would become a complete control center for your home video and audio experience.

It would record and encode video from the TV tuner directly to the hard drive, thus serving as a non-subscription based digital video recorder. If the tuner is compatible, it could also become many consumer's method of choice for transition to the new realm of digital TV.

I predict such a system will be at the heart of Apple's next major announcement.

Michael Rau is a mass-communications consultant in Virginia Beach. To send feedback or view past columns, visit http://dailypress.asoundidea.com

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