Has Apple finally awoke?

In Tech Consulting by Steve Wilkinson4 Comments

It has been about a week now since Apple released the new MacBook. Apple has now almost completed the transition of its entire computer line over to Intel CPUs. I have now been an Apple user for two major chip architecture changes, and one complete OS transition. I have friends who could add a tick to both columns, though I joined the Apple fan club with the Macintosh. Meanwhile, my Wintel friends have endured maybe 1 such transitions (if they are old enough to have used DOS extensively.)

Sure, Apple has a way to go yet until some of the foundational applications are once again transitioned to what is called Universal Binary this time. But, as I said… we Apple faithful have been through this one before. Things are coming together quickly.

However, in reading some of the articles and forums the last month or so, it is very clear to me that many people just do not understand Apple’s position or what is going on in the industry. I have read so many comments that I will summarize into the following comment…

“Wow, Apple finally woke up and switched to Intel. They started using USB instead of FireWire and have even created Boot Camp to run Windows. Why don’t they just give up, dump OSX too, and go Windows like the rest of the world.”

Considering such attitudes or variations there of abound… (sometimes something similar even from Mac users!… sans dump OSX of course)… I thought maybe a bit of a history lesson and dose of reality is in order.

First, and most importantly, we need to put this transition to Intel into perspective. This is MUCH more a case of Intel finally waking up, than it is Apple. However, it really is a win-win situation, and there are some very good reasons why Apple has done this. However, despite popular opinion, performance is not the main thing Apple gains.

To put the performance issue to rest, I’ll share some Cinebench scores I collected from various web sites around the Internet of different processors. I’m using Cinebench as it is a real-world type of benchmark that truly pushes the CPU. It is also able to use multiple CPUs and is fairly well optimized to each hardware platform it runs on. I personally use ElectricImage Animation System, and have seen similar results there as well for rendering, but no such ‘benchmark’ type application exists for it.

Anyway… on to the data:

G5 MP 2.7 – 701

G5 MP 2.5 – 656

Xeon MP 3.4 – 643

MacBook Pro 2.16 – 626

MacBook Pro 2.0 – 575

MacBook 2.0 – 550

Pentium4 3.0 GHz – 347

As you can see, I have arranged them in order from fastest to slowest (ie: higher number is better). You can see that the G5 processor is king of the hill. IBM has really done a great job with this chip. That, of course, is why Apple went that direction several years back.

We can also guess that if we had a dual P4 system, that we might get close to the G5 systems… as 2×347 = 694. However, you can’t generally just double the single to get the dual, as some efficiency is lost in the process. I would guess a dual P4 wouldn’t be that much different than the dual xeon.

Apple had said Intel was going the wrong direction with the P4 architecture, and Intel has finally realized this. They have gone back more in the direction of the Pentium Pro, and introduced multiple cores and some other great stuff for the Duo Core line.

Now, yes, there ARE some AMD and Intel systems out there that have been custom built up and tweaked to perfection which will score higher than these two G5 systems. However, Apple has a Quad 2.5 GHz G5 system that will take out all but 1 or 2 very extreme AMD based systems on any of the benchmark sites I have seen.

My point being, that Apple didn’t mainly make the transition to Intel for performance. Then why did they switch? The following is somewhat speculation, but I’m pretty sure it is sound speculation.

The biggest reason is likely the supply chain and that Intel is dedicated to CPUs. In the past, Apple has always picked the BEST technology, but often at the expense of what is best in an overall business picture. If you are following the news, Apple was looking at some other processor options that might have been even better than the Intel move technologically… but could they deliver… on time, and in quantity? This is something Intel is very good at. Apple wanted to be certain that if they went through all this trouble to change architectures, they would be in the most solid place possible.

Second, this puts Apple lock-step in line with the Wintel market. Never again will the Wintel market be able to get goofed up over thinking their boxes are faster because they only know how to read the MHz label. If the machines use the same processors… then it comes down to who has the better OS and hardware design… something Apple has always been best at.

Apple is also very good at implementing new technology quickly. This means that Apple will probably have the very latest and best of what Intel produces into their systems and to market before many of the PC makers. The Duo Core chips are an example. Apple beat many of the Wintel makers to market by quite some time with their machines based on these CPUs.

Lower power was another huge factor for Apple. It has been no secret that while Apple has the best laptops on the market, they were starting to lag behind on raw CPU power by a bit. OSX kind of helps make up for this (as I’m sometimes amazed at all the things I have running on my 1.33 GHz Powerbook at one time, and it is still silky smooth), but at some point, they needed faster chips. IBM just didn’t seem to be motivated to make a low power G5.

Compatibility? Well, I suppose this might be kind of an ‘icing on the cake’ type factor. It certainly doesn’t hurt. Now PC users can confidently buy the Apple hardware they have been drooling over for years… and even run Windows on it if they want to do so. Also, Apple users can run Windows full speed when their companies write stupid apps that only run on Windows. And, by this, Apple gains somewhat of a Trojan Horse. No, not the virus kind… but more of a real one. If Windows users leave Mac OSX on their machines, they might use it some. Once they do for a bit… there ain’t no way they are going back.

So, I submit that these folks claiming Apple has finally woken up just don’t know what they are talking about. Just like all the folks who have been saying Apple will go out of business any day now… or those who have said Apple stock isn’t worth buying, etc.

Apple has always pioneered technology. Just consider this list of technologies that Apple has either pioneered, or has been a very early adopter:

GUI (yep… I’m old enough to have been laughed at by DOS users for my ‘pretty’ computer)
Mouse (yep… was laughed at for that too… the DOS folks though no one would ever be using those)
Laser Printer
PDA (remember the Newton anyone?)
Digital Camera
Wireless (at least made popular – Airport)
On-line music purchase

Got rid of floppy (well… I guess the Wintel crowd is having some trouble with this one…)
Made USB popular (yep… PCs might have had them first, but no one was really using them until Apple started.)

Oh, and BTW… Apple has not switched from Firewire to USB. All the Macs I know still have FireWire on them. FireWire is a vastly superior technology to USB for moving data, and is considerably faster. I use my FireWire port just as much as I use my USB ports for peripherals.

Apple has been QUITE awake all these years. Hopefully the Wintel users will start waking up one of these days and get with the program.

  • Jaake

    Steve,

    Are my eyes deceiving me on these Cinebench tests? Are the G5 CPUs you tested Dual or Quad processors? I’m still running a 2.5 Dualie so if these tests are based on Dual CPU’s, I’m a happy camper! Even if they aren’t, I’m still amazed how fast my machine is with 8mb of assistance in RAM.

    I’ve heard rumors that Apple is going to dump Intel before long. Is it time for me to get new reading glasses?

    BTW … very well done on this marvelous piece. It is among the many such pieces on your blog. A True Geek you are Steve… and I say that with the highest of affection! When it comes to you and Mark, “the Apple [sic] didn’t fall far from the tree!”

    Hope all is well …

    Best,

    –Jaake

  • Hey Jaake!

    No, your eyes are not deceiving you… just remember that it is only one benchmark with one type of application. But, Cinebench is basically Cinema4D’s 3D rendering engine, and is considered to be pretty optimized on the platforms it runs on. So, for real-world type number crunching, I think it is a pretty good indicator. I suppose if we were measuring just video encoding, or something, we might get different results (Intel CPUs seem really good at that).

    I’m pretty sure both G5’s are dual CPU (If the 2.5 was a quad, its numbers would have been much higher as Cinebench will use all the CPUs). Also note that the Xeon MP is a dual processor.

    The new Intel CPUs are certainly nice… the fact that the MacBook Pro and MacBook can get that close in score, considering their price (and low power usage), is pretty amazing. I’m not sure about a switch from Intel, but at least Apple has all options open. If some other chip comes along with better performance, they could probably use it. But, so far, I think Intel has a pretty good looking road map (and the capability to deliver).

    The big point though… is you are right that your Dualie 2.5 is still a very fast machine. It should be able to hold its own even if Apple brings out a new Mac Pro Intel Dual Core system based on the same CPU as the MacBook Pro. This is probably why they have left it till last. The rumor mill is that Apple will probably use the Xeon replacement in the new Pro line and xServes, so that might widen the gap a bit more… but I don’t think the Dual and Quad G5 are going to get left too far behind for some time.

    Thanks for the compliments Jaake! The blog has been kind of a fun thing when I get a bit of time. Hoping to keep writing more. Do you have a blog?

    Thanks,

    -Steve

  • Sports Talk

    Can I reply in this conversation?

  • Yes, you certainly can.

    -Steve