CNet is claiming, again, that Apple is about to dump IBM’s PowerPC chips and move to using Intel’s chips across their entire product lineup. They claim that Steve is going to announce this on Monday during the WWDC keynote.

The same basic rumor pops up every couple years. It usually seems to start with some stock analyst who believes that Apple is dying and the only way they can compete is to become just another PC company, but that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense this time around–it’s hard to claim that Apple is dying while surrounded by a sea of people in white headphones.

Gruber wrote about this a couple weeks ago, when the WSJ printed a rumor that Apple was going to start using Intel’s chips. It’s hard to argue with his basic point: even if Apple wanted to dump PPC chips and switch, it would take at least 18 months to get enough ISV support to allow them to launch products. And, during that 18-month window, no one would buy PPC-based Macs. Apple would be committing marketing suicide.

Personally, it’s unclear to me exactly why Apple would want to switch in the first place. The usual story is that Apple is unhappy with IBM’s progress on ramping the 970’s speed. Steve famously announced that the G5 would hit 3 GHz by this time last year, yet it’s still stuck at 2.7 GHz. That’s annoying and embarrassing, but it matches what the rest of the industry has seen. In the same two-year window, Intel has ramped the P4 from 3.06 GHz to 3.8 GHz (a 24% increase), while AMD’s top clock speed has went from the XP 3000+ (at 2.167 MHz) to their current top speed of 2.6 GHz (a 20% speed boost). So, IBM’s jump from 2.0 GHz to 2.7 GHz, while less then promised, is still better then the rest of the industry. As yesterday’s Mac article from Anandtech shows, the G5 isn’t exactly out of the performance game–it’s a bit slower then AMD’s fastest Opteron, but it’s competitive with a 3.8 GHz Xeon. It’s certainly not the laughingstock that the G4 was before the G5’s introduction.

Which, unfortunately, brings us to the one place where the G4 is still used: laptops. It’s been two years since the G5’s introduction, and people have been clamoring for G5 PowerBooks the whole time. Yesterday’s Gizmodo rumor aside, no one really expects a PowerBook G5 this year, and that really has to be bothering Apple. But, they can’t really change CPU families just to get faster laptops, can they?

The thing that bugs me is that CNet seems so sure of this–they have dates, they have names, they have a timeline for the switch. They clearly have what they believe to be a solid source. Apple is famous for their corporate secrecy. Is there any chance that they “leaked” a few Intel stories internally, just to see which ones ended up in the press?

I guess we’ll know on Monday.


Ars Technica has a nice bit on this rumor, including a good quote from Nathan Brookwood of Insight 64:

“If they actually do that, I will be surprised, amazed and concerned. I don’t know that Apple’s market share can survive another architecture shift. Every time they do this, they lose more customers” and more software partners, he said.

Ars Technica also pointed out an entry from Pavel Machek (a long-time Linux hacker)’s blog, where he claims that Apple offered him a job writing BIOS and ACPI code. ACPI is Intel’s power management spec, and there’s no reason for Apple to use it when they control the entire hardware and software stack–it’s way too complex to bother with, unless you need to integrate tons of generic hardware. Of course, this could just be an attempt to keep Darwin current on PC hardware. Or, I guess there’s a slim chance that Apple will start selling OS X for PCs without dumping their own hardware lineup. It seems a wee bit unlikely, though.

Update 2: I’ve changed my mind.