11-18-2005, 06:51 PM
I've seen about a hundred different threads both here and on other Mac forums asking some of the same questions over and over. This is an attempt to answer those questions fairly comprehensively so if someone searches the forums for the words "mactel" or "Mac Intel," et cetera, they'll find this one. If I leave any out, please let me know.
I'm a PC user/old Mac user, and I've been considering getting a new Mac for awhile. Now I hear that Apple is going to start employing Intel processors in their machines. Should I wait to purchase a Mac until after the upgrade?
The short answer is no, and there are several reasons why. Some of them are as follows:
1. If you need a computer now, you should just get it now. Waiting will only cut down your productivity if such an upgrade is important.
2. No one outside Apple knows exactly when their Intel-powered models are going to be released. There has been hints from Apple about sometime around June, but they have explicitly guaranteed neither the release date, or even which models are to be upgraded first. There are two schools of speculative thought on the subject. The first is that they will release the consumer machines first, because those will be easier "guinea pigs," so to speak, rather than instantly compromise their professional lineup. The second is that Apple will upgrade its portable line first, because that's where the power is really lacking. Many insist that the desktop G5s are still superior to desktop Intel processors, and say that Apple is in no hurry to put any kind of Pentium 4 in their desktop systems. Sources also say that Intel will be releasing some powerful dual-core chips in late 2006, whereas their notebook series will be available much sooner (projected in January, specifically). Needless to say, there is so much varied information on this topic that no one can know exactly when they'll come out, and you could be left on a string for many months waiting to upgrade.
3. Apple computers tend to hold their value much better than Windows PCs. If you decide to upgrade now, and when the Intel Macs come out, you decide then you just HAVE to have one, in all probability you probably won't lose much money on the deal.
4. Revision A ("first edition") Apple products have tended to have significant problems in the past. The first version of OS X was widely considered "unusable" as an operating system. Even something as simple as Apple's new Mighty Mouse has serious problems in its Rev. A status. Consider that, and then think of how much more complex an entirely different processing architecture will be, and the kinds of problems that could arise.
5. Many third-party software programmers will be slow to make the "switch." Not all of them will have the resources to quickly and efficiently switch over their products. In many cases bugfixes may take longer for the Intel versions of their software, because despite Apple's very official "switch," most third party software manufacturers will still have a very large PowerPC customer base for at least the next couple years.
How long will Apple continue to support the PowerPC architecture in its software?
At the very, very least, three years after it stops production of its very last PowerPC-based model (due to AppleCare, they are legally required to do this). Lucky for us, we have a precedent to go from, though, when Apple first began using PowerPC processors. Support for the older systems lasted something around six years, so you really don't have anything to worry about with this switch.
Why did they switch? Why did they do this to us? What happened to "think different?" What happened to all the benchmarks? Isn't the G5 better than anything Intel has to offer? I hate anything unMaclike. Hold me!
Apple switched primarily because neither Freescale nor IBM could provide a powerful enough notebook processor. Laptops make up a huge portion of Apple's computer sales, and while G5s are very powerful at the moment, an efficient mobile G5 has not surfaced yet, despite two years of waiting. The G4 is on its last leg. It is a six year old processor. It's simply not going to be able to keep up with the Pentium-M much longer, and it's already behind. With dual core models coming out soon, it will be all but left in the dust by Yonah and Merom, codenames for Intel's coming mobile processors for 2006. Apple has always been a company driven by quality. If Apple sacrifices progress and quality for the sake of familiarity, it will weaken and eventually destroy the very foundations of the company's success.
Will I still be able to use my old software on the new system?
Short answer? Yes, with hopefully very few exceptions. Your existing software out of the box will be run through Rosetta, OS x86's PPC emulation system, however, so you'll probably want to update it wherever available with native x86 versions. The amount of emulated software you'll be using versus the native software will probably depend on how much commercial software you buy versus open source/freeware you download. Smaller third party companies and spare-time based developers simply may not update as quickly, but as Apple insists the process is easy, we'll just have to see. For those that aren't in a hurry to convert, though, Apple will have a function called Rosetta which will emulate the PowerPC processors on the newer Intel boxes. It'll probably operate slightly faster than VirtualPC does now, so this will do just fine for smaller applications (which, in all probability, will be the slowest ones to switch).
Can I install Windows on these new systems? Can I dual boot?
The way things are looking now, absolutely. Apple's official statement on the matter is this: they will offer no official support for this feature, but neither will they take any preventative measures against it. Rumors have spread that Apple developers have actually tested Windows on the new x86 Macs. Word is Windows is not quite "willing" to take advantage of the whole 30 inch Apple display, and sticks to a much smaller portion of the screen. However, getting back to the point, if you plan to do this, be warned that by installing Windows in dual boot fashion on your new Mac, you are putting your system at much greater risk than if you were to simply use VirtualPC (which will be much, much faster now that processor emulation isn't going to be required), when it comes to viruses and the like. If you think you can handle it, then go right ahead. It's your computer. If you were strictly a Mac user before and just want to "try" Windows, this probably isn't the best way to do it.
That's it for now. Hopefully I'll have time to add a few more this weekend. any recommendations for questions would be great.