Apple to dump PowerPC and switch to Intel processors for Macs.

According to this ZDNet article Apple will announce tomorrow their plans to dump IBM’s PowerPC processor in favor of Intel’s x86 based processors.

Apple has used IBM’s PowerPC processors since 1994, but will begin a phased transition to Intel’s chips, sources familiar with the situation said. Apple plans to move lower-end computers such as the Mac Mini to Intel chips in mid-2006 and higher-end models such as the Power Mac in mid-2007, sources said.

The announcement is expected Monday at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco, at which Chief Executive Steve Jobs is giving the keynote speech. The conference would be an appropriate venue: Changing the chips would require programmers to rewrite their software to take full advantage of the new processor.

The Wall Street Journal reported last month that Apple was considering switching to Intel, but many analysts were skeptical citing the difficulty and risk to Apple.

That skepticism remains. “If they actually do that, I will be surprised, amazed and concerned,” said Insight 64 analyst Nathan Brookwood. “I don’t know that Apple’s market share can survive another architecture shift. Every time they do this, they lose more customers” and more software partners, he said.

Apple successfully navigated a switch in the 1990s from Motorola’s 680×0 line of processors to the Power line jointly made by Motorola and IBM. That switch also required software to be revamped to take advantage of the new processors’ performance, but emulation software permitted older programs to run on the new machines. (Motorola spinoff Freescale currently makes PowerPC processors for Apple notebooks and the Mac Mini.)

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out in the long run if it does come to pass. Presumably if Apple wanted to they could sell their OS on it’s own to PC users looking to move away from Windows who aren’t keen on Linux, but considering the markup Apple has traditionally put on their hardware it’s hard to imagine they’d want to offer the OS by itself even if it meant snagging a larger market share.

1 thought on “Apple to dump PowerPC and switch to Intel processors for Macs.

  1. Do we really know that the the PowerPC and the replacing X86 processor are functionally equivalent?  Allen Turing proved long ago that all processors are potentially equivalent insofar as their ability to realize an algorithm.  This does not mean that processors don’t have critically different side-effects that have nothing to do with the apparent algorithm being realized.  Let me try to be specific.

    The PowerPC has a Branch processor where all program branches are executed.  This means that if the action at the branch processor is monitored, (by splicing some instructions in), it is possible to generate a reliable account of what instructions were executed in a procedure. In other words, the PowerPC’s architecture makes it an intrinsically ACCOUNTABLE to machine code audit.  A consequence of this is that in principle it is possible for software to know if it is being spied on or manipulated from a source outside the program itself.  (See, for example, “Implementing Cardinal[Time][.] on the PowerPC” at

    To the best of my knowledge, this characteristic of being ACCOUNTABLE is not true of Intel processors (please correct me if I am wrong!).  This fact is consistent with Intel’s interest in hardware solutions to satisfy Copyright Interests and various features to restrict, encrypt and appropriate code.

    Here is my paranoid thought:

    The real reason the Mac is going Intel is because the processor has
    hidden branch processes which are intrinsically undetectable.  This means,
    anyone running an Intel processor can be monitored without detection. 
    In other words, big Capital has decided that the general public must
    have machines that can be monitored without their knowledge.  This serves
    the combined interest of the “War against Terror”, and the need to
    enforce Copyright.

    The “newest Intel chipsets, like the 945g, support Intel Active Management Technology, which allows for on chip control of all kinds of I/O.”  Who benefits from this kind of thing?  This looks like the PERFECT eavesdropping technology.  Intel will deliver all the Computer Literati’s Intellectual Property to big Capital’s door.  Sweet… if you have stock.

    If someone wants to prove me wrong, then they have to show an algorithm
    which can be used to account for all machine instructions used by any
    procedure on an X86 machine.

    Please… PROVE ME WRONG!

    Jack B.

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