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Is there an Intel Mac in your future?

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Oleh Arwana Widagda | The Jakarta Post

Undoubtedly, the biggest news last year was Apple switching to Intel processors. Many months have passed since Steve Jobs announced the move and now the first machines are entering the market, although they're mostly limited to desktop models.

Just as many people expected, these new Macs use Intel's Core Duo processors, based on Intel's famous Pentium M line. In contrast, desktop PCs use the Pentium 4 processor, which is much faster in raw MHz but offers more or less the same performance. Pentium M processors are usually found in notebook PCs, and together with other Intel products they're known as the Centrino platform.

Many users and analysts feel both skeptical and hopeful about Apple's switch to Intel. Even Apple's co founder, Steve Wozniak, was not too thrilled about it. So, it's no surprise that Apple is still manufacturing PowerPC based Macs in addition to Intel based Macs. Now that reviews of Intel based Macs are abundant, we can see why.

While its performance with its native software is excellent, software written for PowerPC processors ran significantly slower on these Intel Macs than on their PowerPC counterparts. They will run, and without problems, but a performance drop of up to 50% on a new platform is disappointing, to say the least. Users and analyst had expected a slower performance from these new Intel Macs, just not that much.

Intel processors use a different architecture to IBM's and Motorola's PowerPC processors. So, older programs must be run with emulators. Old Mac users who made a serious investment in older Mac software should take a wait-and-see approach, at least until native versions of their favorite programs are available. Of course, they could just buy the new PowerPC based Macs.

While this may be disappointing news, Apple is not deterred by this small setback. Not only do they manage to 'keep their options open' in terms of processor support, but more importantly, by doing this now instead of much later, Apple will avoid much hassle down the road than if they had stuck with the PowerPC architecture. On the OS side, by making much of the cross development work in OS X 'Tiger', they will avoid much of the leftover work to be done in their next rendition of OS X, 'Leopard'.

One silver lining for Apple is that these new Intel Macs and the Mac Mini are getting much attention from traditional PC users. These are general users, who are quite 'fed up' with Microsoft Windows's security and vulnerability issues. Problems like viruses, trojans, spyware are virtually non-existent on a Mac, and patches come less frequently and are less related to security problems.

In effect, by bringing OS X to the Intel platform, Apple have made available an alternative OS to PC users, much like Linux, but with an undoubtedly much more 'user-friendly' appeal.

However, switching to a Mac is not for everyone. The reasons are pretty much the same as the reasons old Mac users should stick to PowerPC based Macs for the time being. For one, learning to use a new OS takes time, even one that's very user friendly like OS X. There's also software to consider.

Users who already invested a lot in software for Microsoft Windows will likely not be making the switch soon. This is especially true for corporate users, who find the prospects of providing tech support and interoperability with OS X daunting to say the least. Especially if they're users are Windows or UNIX centric. Gamers are also less likely to make the switch, since games on OS X are typically released much later than their PC versions. If they do make the decision to buy a Mac, it will likely be their second machine.

Is the move the right choice for Apple? Only with time will we be able to answer that. For the time being, even with its problems, the move is a necessary one and couldn't happen at a better time. Intel will soon introduce a new processor design that's potentially will be much faster than Core Duo. At the same time, the delays of Windows Vista may just be enough time for Apple to snatch some users away from Microsoft.

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