Apple, a company that began in a garage and today is a technological powerhouse valued at more than 2 billion dollars, is characterized by innovation, by putting quality above all else. Every product you launch exceeds market standards, in addition to our expectations.
Although it is known, Apple is a pioneer in the world of computers, so far it has undergone several transitions as far as processor is concerned. One of them went from Motorola 68k to PowerPC, then PowerPC to Intel, and recently from Intel to its own processors, the Apple Silicon M1.
However, in this article we will focus on the transition from PowerPc to Intel. When it happened? What were the reasons that led Apple to make this decision? These are some of the questions that we will try to answer.
IBM’s inability to produce G5 chips to fit notebooks
The main reason why Apple decided to migrate from PowerPc to Intel lies in the inability of IBM to produce a 3 Ghz processor. PowerPC did not achieve this goal because it had an unsolvable architectural problem.
At the same time, Apple was considering the idea of expanding its line of computers with the incorporation of new laptops, for this it needed G5 chips that would adapt to the new design. However, it faced another big problem, IBM could not adapt the G5 to MacBook, it was coupled to workstations, extremely large computers, which resulted in equipment with high temperatures and with high energy consumption requirements.
Faced with this situation, and seeing that IBM promised and promised, but did not deliver, Apple thought of Intel. Its roadmap offered 70 units per watt, up from 15 for PowerPC. This was more than enough for Jobs, and on the path he had to follow, who went on to say that “Intel produced processors much more appropriate for the market in which Apple operates.”
Added to this, Intel chips promised higher performance per watt, and lower power consumption. Something that was not achieved with the IBM processors, they heated up very quickly.
In 2000 Apple secretly started a project to run OS X on Intel
Mac OS X operated in secret since 2000. A task entrusted to engineer John Kullman, who after 13 years of service was no longer working for Apple, however, the company trusted him a lot.
To the point of entrusting him with a very important project, making Apple’s operating system run on a PC with an Intel processor. The project would be known as “Marklar”, and for a year and a half only six people knew of its existence.
By 2001, Kullman already had three “clone computers” running Mac OS X, as it was a secret project, he had to look for computers similar to Apple’s, without having to resort to the same Cupertino company. Process that showed Joe Sokol, project manager and Bertrand Serlet, vice president of software engineering.
As they watched the computer boot sequence, Serlet commented, “How long could it take to do this with a Sony Vaio?” To which Kullman answered with certainty “not much.” Serlet asked again: “How long is that? Two or three weeks?” To his surprise, Kullman replied “no, two or three hours at most.”
That same day they tested the operating system on the best Sony laptop, without any problem. Hours later, Steve Jobs was flying to Japan to meet with the president of the equipment-making company.
But what happened? Did Apple team up with Sony? No, the CEO of the Cupertino company could not convince the VAIO manufacturer. In the face of Sony’s refusal, Apple took a new path, fine-tuning the details to get OS X to work on Mac computers, while promising a PowerBook G5 that never came.
PowerPc to Intel Transition Announced at WWDC 2005
At WWDC 2005, Steve Jobs announced that IBM would no longer make processors for the Cupertino company. He even surprised everyone, revealing that he had been secretly compiling Mac OS X for Intel processors for five years, that is, that the operating system had a double life, it was used in computers with PowerPc and Intel.
At that same event, Apple introduced a new tool called Rosetta, which allowed developers to run code created for PowerPC on Mac with Intel technology.
Once the transition was announced, the company planned to carry it out in 18 months. However, the process was much faster than expected, it took 14 months to complete.
At the hardware and software level, how was the impact?
Following this decision, Apple faced great challenges. Rejection or support by programmers? How to achieve compatibility with Windows?
At the hardware and software level it did not represent a great change. Intel was a fairly well-known platform, it was popular and at that time it was one of the best options.
Apple had no problem getting developer support. At all times, those from Cupertino supported software development companies, providing them with information and tools to achieve applications compatible with their operating system.
Even achieve compatibility between OS X and Windows, something really necessary to attract professional users. In the end it did, and with it, it gained a significant percentage of the market that it would not have been able to achieve if it continued to use PowerPC.
At Macworld 2006, Apple was already introducing the first iMac and MacBook Pro with Intel processors and with Mac OS X 10.4.4 Tiger. That same day, the Cupertino company put the newly launched equipment on sale, obviously with the new Intel processor. The last computers to mount this processor were the Mac Pro and the Xserve.
Thus, the iMac was the first Apple computer to incorporate an Intel processor, a Core Duo between 1.83 GHz and 2 GHz. A team that opened the way to a new era of computers for Apple. A significant change in terms of power.
The Cupertino company continued to advance and at the same time grew in popularity, not because of style, but because of the good service and quality of equipment it offered. In 2008, it surprises again and presents Macbook Air, a fairly light laptop, less than a kilogram in weight and one centimeter thick.
But what happened to Apple computers running PowerPCs?
The story goes that after the announcement of the transition from PowerPC to Intel, Apple for three years supported the applications executed by this processor. For those in Cupertino, this time was more than enough for their users to migrate to Intel. After all, it offered equipment with higher performance and capacity. The last two operating systems to use this chip were OS X 10.4 and 10.5.
In 2009, Apple released Mac OS X v10.6 “Snow Leopard” and with it ended its relationship with IBM, in addition to becoming the last operating system to run Rosetta, the emulator presented at WWDC 2005 that was responsible for running native PowerPc applications.
In this way, Apple spun off an alliance of more than a decade. Where it gave use to G3, G4 and G5 processors, from PowerPC. But that unfortunately for IBM had to break, because it did not find an efficient way to include faster processors in smaller spaces.
Simply put, the story from PowerPC to Intel leaves a clear message for us, Apple knows when to make major changes. The transition from IBM to x86 was quite lucrative as it allowed the company to gain a foothold in the market. Now, after 15 years history repeats itself, but this time Apple does not use an outside company to manufacture its chips, it makes them itself, the latter is known as M1.