Reports Say Apple Switching to Intel

Reports on CNET News.com and The Wall Street Journal claim that Apple will announce a switch to Intel x86 processors on Monday at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference - a move that has been rumored for years yet never materialized. According to the report, the switch would start with Apple's low-end computers by the middle of next year, with higher end systems following in 2007.

The report has not been without questions to its validity and most analysts remain skeptical due to numerous unanswered problems that would arise from such a major architecture change. Neither News.com nor the WSJ did not address several issues, including the lack of emulation for easing the transition and necessary support from major third-party developers such as Adobe and Microsoft.

Even Intel CEO Paul Ortellini added his two cents after the original Wall Street Journal report last week, calling such talk the "Haley's Comment of rumors" at the paper's D conference on May 24. However, Ortellini refused to confirm or deny the rumors.

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Neither Advanced Micro Devices nor Intel has made it any secret that they have attempted to court Apple in the past.

"We always talk to Apple. Apple is a design win that we've coveted for 20 years and we continue to covet them as a design win. We will never give up on Apple," Intel's vice president of the Mobile Platforms Group Anand Chandrasekher told Infoworld in an interview Friday.

John Gruber, author of the Web log Daring Fireball, last week addressed the technical issues with a switch. "All existing Mac OS X software would need to be recompiled for an Intel processor architecture," Gruber said.

The last time Apple made a major change in its processor architecture -- from Motorola 68k to PowerPC nearly a decade ago -- the change was aided by the ability of the PowerPC to emulate the older processor at a reasonable speed. "But emulation is out of the question for a switch now — Intel chips may be faster than current PowerPC G5s, but they are nowhere near fast enough to emulate them at an acceptable speed," Gruber explains.

But the larger issue, Gruber says, relates to marketing. "The minute Apple announces they're moving to x86 processors, sales of current hardware dry up. Who's going to spend $3000 for a deprecated CPU architecture?"

If the move did indeed occur, it would be a stunning about face for the Cupertino company and could lead to its operating system being able to run natively on Windows PCs at some point in the future. Apple could then sell Mac OS X to a number of third-party hardware manufacturers.

Such a change in the company's direction would be unlikely, however, as Apple has said that the fact it controls both the hardware and software aspects makes the operating system less prone to bugs and security issues.

Some have speculated that a switch to Intel could be due to Apple's frustration with IBM over shipping delays and a lack of difference in processors. IBM has been reluctant to produce a greater variety of PowerPC processors because it sees them as a low-profit business, according to News.com.

A switch could also bring faster processors into Apple's PowerBooks. So far, IBM has been unable to successfully produce a G5 processor that is small enough to fit in Apple's form factors. This is partly due to the fact that the G5 itself runs at higher temperatures than normal processors and requires a larger cooling system.

Technology site ArsTechnica floated one possible reason for the Apple-Intel talks, noting that Intel makes a number of chips besides x86 processors.

"The Apple-Intel conversations that the WSJ is reporting likely have to do with Intel's Xscale CPU, a cool little chip that is fantastic for things like appliances and portable devices. Think gadgets and set-top boxes. If Apple is looking at branching out into other consumer electronics hardware, the Xscale would be a logical choice."

Nate Mook contributed to this report.

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