June 10, 2005
apple tech

I’m a little late in posting this (ISCA ‘05 in Madison and all that rot), but in Steve Jobs’ keynote at Apple’s WWDC he dropped a bombshell… Apple’s dropping the PowerPC and switching to Intel/x86. Engadget has some analysis on the decision, but I guess it largely boils down to limitations they’ve experienced with the PowerPC platform. To recap, Motorola had been making all the PowerPC chips for Apple until their G5 schedule didn’t meet Apple’s needs. IBM stepped up with what was essentially a slimmed down version of it’s POWER5 chip which it promised would scale in clock rates like nobody’s business. Turns out it hasn’t scaled anywhere near as well as anticipated and power dissipation has definitely been an issue (think they’ve topped out at 2.7GHz and the PowerMacs have been using watercooling for a while now), which of course doesn’t bode well for portable applications (ie G5 Powerbooks). Interesting thing is apparently Apple’s seen this a long way off and has had an internal build of OSX/x86 for the past 5 years (since the beginning?). Not entirely clear when the switch will be, but I’m getting the vibe that the first boxes will be coming out next year (low end stuff like the Mac Mini?) and will take a couple of years to convert the whole product line. Too bad the PowerPC stuff didn’t pan out better than it did. It struck me as a pretty slick architecture (certainly beats out the ancient kludgy crap that is x86 ISA), and Altivec is supposed to kick much ass compared to the half-assed x86 solutions (MMX, SSE, SSE2, etc). Guess we’ll just have to wait and see…