The Dream Of x86 Capable Macs Remains Elusive - InformationWeek

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5/24/2005
01:11 PM
Darrell Dunn
Darrell Dunn
Commentary
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The Dream Of x86 Capable Macs Remains Elusive

Earlier this week, the buzz surrounded another potential agreement that would put Intel microprocessors inside Apple computers. Obviously, uniting the two most durable PC platforms in history is a lot easier said than done.

Thirteen years ago the electronics industry was buzzing about the potential uniting of two disparate computer architectures when IBM, Motorola, and Apple announced plans for the PowerPC architecture. Earlier this week, the buzz surrounded another potential agreement that would put Intel microprocessors inside Apple computers. Obviously, uniting the two most durable PC platforms in history is a lot easier said than done.

An Apple executive had said that it IBM and Motorola would spend $1 billion to develop the PowerPC architecture. At a press conference on a hot May afternoon in Austin, Texas in 1992, those involved talked about creating computing platforms that would be able to run either Mac or x86 software, and said that future Apple and IBM computers would be compatible. More than a decade later, x86-based software can run on Mac-based systems, "just not too well," and IBM executive told me in a recent interview.

That shortcoming is not to suggest that the PowerPC has been a failure. Not only has Apple been able to use the architecture to provide PCs which at different times are arguably superior in overall performance to x86-based counterparts, and the Mac has become the top platform of those involved in many forms of publishing. Motorola Semiconductor, which more recently became Freescale, led the way in moving the PowerPC architecture into myriad embedded applications. IBM used the architecture as a basis to build its Power architecture that fuels some of its most powerful servers.

A lot has changed in the microprocessor world since 1992. That same May when the PowerPC co-development effort was announced, Texas Instruments jumped into the x86 market with a 25-MHz 486 microprocessor. TI joined the likes of Cyrix and Chips and Technologies and Advanced Micro Devices in trying to steal away market from Intel. PC processors are now running at multi-gigahertz, and only AMD remains as an x86 competitor. The vision of an Apple PC that run can run x86 software, however, remains intriguing.

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