Spoutin' Off: Apple stays fresh by changing
By Michael E. Rau
August 21, 2006
Change is the natural state of affairs, and the reason I've always loved Apple products is because they've consistently embraced that philosophy.
Apple has completed one of the most impactive changes in its history - and that's saying something.
A couple of weeks ago, the company launched the last element in the Mac product line to make the transition from PowerPC to Intel processor chips. Though not really revolutionary, the new Mac Pros have pretty much addressed any concerns I had when the chip transition was announced.
It's been a few months since I last discussed the MacIntel, so let's review what's happened since.
All the variations in the Mac product line have now been transitioned to an Intel processor set in various configurations - from the Core Solo used in the base Mac Mini to the Xeon dual-core in the new Mac Pros (more on these in a minute).
The majority of applications for Mac OSX are now distributed in the so-called "Universal" binary format - meaning they will run on either brand of chip set.
There are still a few higher-end applications - perhaps the most notable being Adobe Photoshop - which have yet to be released in Universal binary versions, but these are all in development and will be released in a few months at the most. Until then, the older versions will still work, but have to run behind the Rosetta emulation software, and suffer a degradation in clock speed as a result.
Now regarding the new Mac Pros, where do I begin to gush? These new desktop systems are powered by two Intel Xeon dual-core 64-bit chipsets. The fastest configuration uses chips clocked at 3 GHz.
This isn't significantly faster than the 2.5 GHz dual-core PowerPC chips used in the final configuration of G5 Power Macs, but combined with a speedier memory architecture, lab tests show that the new top-end Mac Pro runs nearly twice as fast as the best Power Mac Quad G5.
When I wrote about how much I loved the quad G5s a few months ago, I expressed my concern that Apple might abandon the 64-bit chip architecture, which makes math-intensive operations run much more efficiently. Well, they didn't - they just transitioned to a 64-bit Intel chip, bless their hearts.
Most importantly, while these 3 GHz Intel chips aren't significantly faster than the previously used PowerPC chips, Intel is highly committed to pushing the envelope in terms of processor speed, whereas IBM wouldn't commit to anything. This is what pushed Steve Jobs and Apple to decide to change chip architectures to begin with.
Just once, I'd like to take one of the video files I regularly work with and compress and encode it on a maxed-out Mac Pro with the full RAM complement of 16 GB, just to see how long it would take to process. I have a pretty fast system, but I can't even imagine how quickly such an operation would be completed on the Mac Pro.
Now there's one other aspect of the PowerPC to Intel transition that I just have to address. That's the emergence of Windows in relationship to the MacIntel.
I really underestimated what an impact the whole Windows-on-a-Mac thing would have. It turns out that, based on what's been going on with software that enables you to install and run Windows XP on a MacIntel, the general public is much more interested in this capability than I anticipated.
There are now three distinct applications which enable you to install Windows on a MacIntel: Boot Camp, a free download from Apple, Workstation and Desktop from Parallels, and an as-yet unnamed and unreleased application from VMware
Several of the major online retailers who sell Mac systems are now offering Macs pre-configured with Apple's Boot Camp application and a licensed copy of Windows XP pre-installed and configured.
(Just my opinion: Go ahead and spend the $70-$80 on Parallels Desktop - it works better than Boot Camp because it lets you run the operating systems side-by-side rather than in a one-or-the-other fashion).
I have yet to see any figures on how many people are actually running Mac and Windows, much less how many of those use both regularly.
One major demographic that might appreciate the transition is gamers, who I assume are thrilled to be able to run their excellent Windows-only game programs on a Mac. They'll spend serious money on a good system.
There are some indications that professional environments that have to run Windows might now be looking at MacIntel systems to take advantage of the myriad superior features and grossly enhanced security inherent in OSX - using Windows when they have no choice, but OSX for everything else.
The migration is complete - it went very smoothly - and with Intel aggressively developing their chips and the release of the next generation of OSX, known as Leopard, right around the corner, Apple continues to demonstrate why change is good.
Michael Rau is a mass-communications consultant in Virginia Beach. To send feedback or view past columns, visit http://dailypress.asoundidea.com.
Copyright © 2006, Daily Press
(Note: This is a corrected version of the original column to account for a typo)