Intel Inside My Mac

In June of last year, Apple announced the biggest change to the Mac in over 10 years… the move of the Mac’s core processor from a PowerPC chip to an Intel one. In January, Apple announced the switch had begun with the introduction of the revised iMac and the new MacBook Pro, which replaces the PowerBook. The following information will introduce you to some of the changes that you might experience in this transition, as well as some of the benefits.

Let’s begin by discussing the hardware. The new Macs are currently shipping with Intel’s new Core Duo chip. Core Duo places two processors on a single chip, allowing for better performance and better power conservation. In theory, these new processors should allow for speed increases of up to 4 times faster than the single G5 processors being used in the current iMac and PowerBook. The trick is the new chips have two processors and the one it’s being compared to has only a single processor. We will get a much more accurate evaluation of performance when the new Mac Towers are released.

Speed only goes so far. You need to be able to use your software. The most incredible thing about this change is Apple’s efforts in facilitating migration as both a user and a developer. Most of your software will run on the new Macs. To assist, Apple has included a piece of software named Rosetta. As Apple states, “Behind the scenes, Rosetta dynamically translates most of your PowerPC-based applications to work with your Intel-based Mac. There’s no emulation. No second-class status. It looks and feels just like it did before.” So, unlike Classic, where you would have to wait for Mac OS 9 to boot, Rosetta will launch applications instantly. Unfortunately with Rosetta, you might experience a speed hit. It’s hard to say how much, but I’ve heard applications running from half processor speed to only a small percentage slower. The best thing you can do to help is to install more RAM in you Mac. The most common recommendation has been 1GB of memory for working performance, but 2GB would be better.

It’s understandable that not everyone will have this much RAM. To get back the performance you want, the software has to be converted to a Universal Application. This Universal version of the application will allow for it to run on both the newer Intel Macs and the older PowerPC Macs. Apple has already converted the new iLife ’06 to a Universal Application and most likely will have their pro apps ready at NAB2006, The World’s Largest Electronic Media Show. As to Adobe, they have committed to the new Intel Mac, but will not have a Universal version of their apps until the next major release. As for others, just look for the Universal logo on the box. You can also find a listing of other third-party applications that have gone Universal online at VersionTracker.

If you still use Classic Applications or Mac OS 9, there is Classic for the Intel Macs. Rosetta will not launch the Classic environment and your Classic apps simply will not run. You will have to upgrade your applications to a Mac OS X version, if one is available. For those that don’t have an upgrade path, there is an open-source project called SheepShaver to try and get a Classic emulator to run on the new Intel Macs. Currently, it runs roughly 1/8th of the processors’ native speed.

Speaking of emulation, I’m sure you might be wondering about VirtualPC or just running Windows on the new Intel Macs. Currently, Microsoft’s VirtualPC does not run on the Intel Macs, but Microsoft is working on a solution. As to just installing Windows XP on the new Macs, it won’t work… yet. Apple has stated that they will not prevent users from installing Windows on the new Macs, except for the fact that the new Macs use Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI) instead of BIOS. Currently, Windows does not support EFI, but is due to support it with the release of Windows Vista. If you cannot wait that long, the blogger Colin Nederkoorn is offering over a $12,000 cash reward to the first person who successfully installs Windows XP on an Intel-based Mac. There is hope yet.

The next year will be a huge transitional period for Apple, but they did it once before and so far have shown they can successfully do it again.

About Ian Aberle

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