The Intel Option

Another week, another story. What a great country we live in. Last week it was M$’ low Office X sales. This week, the possibility of Intel/AMD inside a Mac. Many articles and readers opinions have been based on the emotional side of the argument. Now it’s time to look at a few of the issues from a factual base.

One: PowerPC chips are not Motorola’s main business. The G3/G4 is not a major revenue stream for the company. They don’t put forth the financial effort into R&D. Secondly, Motorola is bleeding cash left and right. I personally keep waiting for them to sell of the G3/G4 business to IBM, since their business model is all over the road according some business pundits

Two: Intel has already recruited many of Motorola’s best chip designers in the past few years in an attempt to design a workable RISC processor (PowerPC is a RISC). This came about after Intel’s failed Merced project. The end result is the Itanium server processor. Intel’s R&D is much greater than Motorola’s. One must keep in mind that Apple has many chip designers on it’s payroll just to keep Motorola moving. By moving to Intel, Apple could reduce this cost by several million dollars.

Three: OSX can run on Intel/AMD chips. After all, 95% of OSX is based on NeXT that was written to run on Intel chips. It must be said that Intel is not Apple’s enemy, after all, USB is an Intel product and a portion of the iMacs success (and Apple’s survival) was based on the conversion to USBs hot-swap ability. Yes, Intel has avoided placing FireWire on Intel motherboards and chipset designs. But, they don’t prevent the consumer from installing a FireWire card.

Four: Apple could add a proprietary chip to the Intel/AMD processor card that would allow OSX to run only on Apple motherboards, thus protecting Apple’s hardware business. The hardware end is where Apple makes a vast majority of its profits.

Five: Speed issues would disappear. It’s incredibly hard to get people to accept the megahertz myth. People still follow the absolute rule that numbers don’t lie. By eliminating the argument, one of the main barriers to switching platforms would crumble.

Guessing Game
Now the question becomes, whom does Apple choose, Intel or AMD? Intel has the name, prestige, and the advertising budget. AMD, in the other hand has better pricing. If Apple chose Intel, the deal may include having all new board designs include FireWire. However, being the giant, Apple would be at the mercy of Intel regarding technical specifications. This would require a new mindset at Apple. If AMD wins the contract, Apple would most likely keep some control over processor specifications. On the negative side, AMD doesn’t advertise on TV, thus leaving Apple the full bill regarding promotion.

Remember that this is all speculation. Especially with IBM’s announcement that they have developed a Power Four chip based on the PowerPC architecture. However, based upon various statements and other anomalies i.e. selling off large quantities of G4 chips at the annual Apple garage sale. I have no personal doubt that Apple’s dance with Motorola is all but over, the question remains, who will make the next generation Macintosh processor?

Quick Hits
Part two of my article on Clifford Stoll’s book the High-Tech Heretic will be ready sometime next week.

Mark Marcantonio

Leave a Reply