Apple embraces Intel as Mac moves to Pentium

7 Jun 2005

In a significant shift, Apple plans to move all of its computing hardware to the Intel chip platform, beginning next year.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs made the announcement at the company’s Worldwide Developer Conference yesterday, previewing a version of its Mac OS X Tiger operating system running on an Intel Pentium 4-based Mac. “We think Intel’s technology will help us create the best personal computers for the next 10 years,” Jobs said.

It’s a significant shift for Apple, which has historically relied on IBM’s PowerPC to run its computers. Well over 90pc of the world’s PCs are powered by Intel, one of the world’s largest processor makers, whereas Apple machines account for an estimated 2pc of the worldwide computer market.

Apple plans to port some models of the Mac to Intel microprocessors one year from now. By the end of 2007, all of its Macintosh machines will run on chips supplied by Intel, the company confirmed.

“As we look ahead, and though we’ve got great products now, and great PowerPC products still to come, we can envision great products we want to build and we can’t envision how to build them with the current PowerPC road map,” said Jobs in his keynote address. Intel processors provide more performance per watt than PowerPC processors do, Jobs claimed, “so this tells us what we have to do”.

The deal is a coup for Intel and a blow to IBM, manufacturer of the PowerPC chips. According to reports, Apple had expressed frustration at IBM’s recent inability to supply processors in sufficient numbers. Nor could it supply a version of the chip suitable for use in high-powered portable computers, it is believed.

Ironically, the split comes at a time when IBM appears to be building traction for the PowerPC, which will be used in upcoming versions of the leading games consoles from Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft.

When the news broke that Apple was considering such a move, Gary Barnett, research director at the IT consultancy Ovum, expressed doubts as to the strategy. “While we can see why moving to a dual architecture approach may bring some benefits a wholesale move away from the IBM chips would be extremely foolish,” he said. “Intel is not the de-facto leader in processor design that it was a few years ago; in the recent past Intel has been out-innovated by both AMD (with a better approach to 64-bit computing) and IBM (with a better long-term strategy around multi-core chips).

Barnett suggested a better option would have been for Apple to keep a foot in both camps by adopting a dual-architecture strategy. “To defect from one processor architecture just as it seems about to take off to one that may have already peaked doesn’t make any sense to us at all,” he said.

By Gordon Smith