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The Northern Spy
January 2006

First Intel on the Intels

Rick Sutcliffe

The Spy was half right

in predicting that the first MacIntel would be a portable. Half because Steve Jobs announced that the first two such machines would be a replacement for the PowerBook called the MacBook Pro, and a new iMac for the desktop. But only half because he thought the honour would go to the iBook, and that transition will apparently come later. Rumour has it that a shortage of parts dictated the faster selling low end machine must wait. Note that the "Power" designation is gone with the chip of that name.

The Spy notes, however, that the monicker "Pro" may be somewhat a misnomer. The specs for the two versions of this model are:

- 1.67 or 1.83 GHz Intel Dual core with 15.4-inch TFT display
- 1440x900 resolution
- 2MB shared L2 Cache
- 667MHz front side bus
- 512MB or 1G (single SO-DIMM) 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM
- 80GB or 100G 5400rpm Serial ATA hard drive
- Slot-load SuperDrive (DVD RW/CD-RW)
- ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 with 128MB or 256M GDDR3 memory
- $1999 or $2499
- The MacBook Pro also has a full-size backlit keyboard, AirPort Extreme 
wireless networking (802.11b/g), Bluetooth 2.0+EDR, ExpressCard/34 slot,
 dual-link DVI video out, Gigabit Ethernet, USB 2.0, FireWire 400, optical
 digital and analog audio in/out and built-in iSight Camera, DVI, VGA (DVI to
 VGA adapter included)
- Shipping: February 2006

Despite the lack of FireWire 800, this makes a fairly decent upgrade for the PowerBook line, but it doesn't quite have the flavour of a high end portable. For that, greater speed, larger (17 inch) screen, a faster frontside bus, and a larger hard drive seem more appropriate. That would make the current machine a middle level portable model in a few months time, and perhaps at a lower price point once initial demand has been satisfied. A stripped-down lower-end model to replace the iBook should come about the same time or before to round out the line.

Meanwhile, Apple also announced the low end desktop revision for the iMac, in this case retaining the same name. Its specs are essentially similar to the PowerPC unit it replaces but with:

-  Up to 2.0GHz Intel Dual Core CPU
-  Mighty Mouse
-  17" and 20" screens
-  ATI Radeon X1600
-  iSight Built in
- Front Row and Apple Remote

Of course, Apple says that this machine is up to twice as fast as the single core unit it replaces, but such claims are theoretical, based on situations where processor-intensive code can take full advantage of the two cores. Graphics programs doing complex renderings are the most common customers for these optimizations. For more common real-life code, much of which cannot or has not been optimized to use two cores efficiently, users will notice little change (0 to 20%).

Apple has clearly advanced their timetable on releasing the new hardware by several months. Moreover, the company has signalled that it will transition the entire line during 2006, much faster than previously expected. Of course, new model prototypes have been running at 1 Infinite Loop for some time, so the release time schedule now depends on supply and marketing considerations, not technical ones. For reasons outlined here last month, the Spy still expects the highest-end desktops and servers to be the last announced.

Oh, and one more thing. The mix over the year will almost certainly include at least one brand new and way cool box, designed to convert more of the iPod generation to Apple's systems. Hardware and software features for the new device are very close to Steve's vest at this point.

On the soft side

Apple also announced iWeb, a Web-publishing application that allows non-professionals a simple, low-end way to create pages incorporating online photo albums, weblogs and podcasts--all without learning to code in HTML. Also included: System 10.4.4 and an iLife media browser to provide access to content created by other iLife applications, and a simple means to work with columns of numbers in iLife documents (NOT a spreadsheet). When will Apple produce a real spreadsheet and word processor to go head to head with Office? Not quite yet, apparently. Later this year?

How useful is this? Professional level hosting usually provides similar tools for building web pages under the auspices of the host. These can be rather crude, however, and some of them are sufficiently proprietary that they do not allow the user to migrate the site to another host. Apples' product is tied to and most useable in .Mac (price lowered to $69.95 to sweeten the pot), but can be used apart from this.

Still, though, the Spy very strongly recommends that anyone building web sites for promotional or commercial purposes learn how to write HTML, and possibly also ECMAScript (formerly called JavaScript) and PHP. Using these tools rather than one-style-fits-all "quick and dirty" site designers produces a more satisfying and professional look. Such sites are more portable, versatile, and modifiable.

Now of course, whatever the software technique you employed to create your pages, you did keep a backup on your own machine--for when (not if) the site server crashes and loses all your pages. You really did, didn't you? Hello. Hello.

More predictably that the actual announcements, Apple's stock reached well into the mid $80 range, and some analysts were talking $100 before Apple announced lower earnings expectations for the next quarter and let some air out of the balloon. Still, the income from 14 million iPods and 1.25 Macs in a single quarter ain't hay, and Apple's market share continues to climb rapidly, so there's lots of sales life there yet, even if some of the share price is due to hype, even if its market capitalization is now larger than Dell's.

Of course the biggest question

on many people's minds is whether the new machines will run W*nd*ws. Given that Apple employs a boot ROM called extensible firmware interface (EFI) rather than the BIOS W*nd*ws machines require, the answer is a definite "not yet". However, Apple has repeatedly promised not to block booting the MS-OS, so it's likely just a matter of time (and not much of it) before someone finds a way to load BIOS from a disk.

The other side of the coin, running MacOS on stock Intel machines, is a different matter. Apple very much wants this not to become possible, but the Spy doubts they will get their wish, at least not for long.

And, on the gripping hand, as Jerry Pournelle would say, there appears to be no prospect of running System 9.2.2 on any of the new Intel machines. This is a great pity, as the Spy still makes daily use of features in NisusWriter Classic that have yet to be incorporated into any respectable OS X word processor. If this situation doesn't change, perhaps he'll pick up a quad PowerPC based unit to tide him over until the software catches up.

--The Northern Spy

Rick Sutcliffe, (a.k.a. The Northern Spy) is professor of Computing Science and Mathematics at Trinity Western University. He's written two textbooks and several novels, one of which was named best in the science fiction genre for 2003. His columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers, and he's a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of BC since 1972.

Want to discuss this and other Northern Spy columns? Surf on over to ArjayBB.com. Participate and you could win free web hosting from the WebNameHost.net subsidiary of Arjay Web Services. Rick Sutcliffe's fiction can be purchased in various eBook formats from Fictionwise, and in dead tree form from Bowker's Booksurge.


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Last Updated: 2006 11 08