The long wait for the return of the Mac.
It is a dark time for the rebellion. Although the dual-core barrier has been destroyed, competitive forces have driven our rebel platform from its PowerPC niche and brought enormous pressure to bear across the entire product range.
Evading the dreaded specter of hardware stagnation, a group of engineers led by Steve Jobs endeavors to established a new platform based on the alien world of Intel CPUs. Your humble servant, obsessed with finding out what Apple is up to, has dispatched dozens of probes into the far reaches of the Apple community.
As expected, information is scarce. More troublingly, enthusiasm is also in short supply. From the moment that Apple dropped the x86 bombshell, the Mac community has been descending into, if not a depression, then at least some sort of a funk. Note that I said the Mac community, not the Apple community. Yeah, sure, lately it’s been nano this and video that, but I’m a Mac fan first and foremost. The iPod is swell and all, but it just doesn’t turn my propellor like multi-gigahertz, multi-core, 64-bit power. While the iPod is indeed doing great, the Mac world is most definitely in the dumps.
I’m not even talking about the initial shock of the news or the irrational hatred of all things x86. Most of us have come to terms with all that by now. We want to be excited about Mac hardware again. And, honestly, the new Power Mac G5 Quad isn’t a bad machine. Sure, it’s a little light in the megahertz loafers, but it’s (finally) got PCI-E, plus the usual crop of component updates: better optical drives, bigger hard disks, support for more memory. Hell, it’s even got ECC RAM now. So what’s the problem?
Well, let’s get back to the clock speed weakness. As far as I can recall, this is the first new top-of-the-line Mac that has ever been introduced with a slower clock speed than its predecessor. Yet the Mac community is making little fuss. Why? Because we all know that the Quad might as well be called the Power Mac Lame Duck. It’s the last glimmer of a fading PowerPC rebellion. We all understand why it’s not 3GHz. There’s just a skeleton crew over at IBM now. We’re coasting on the fumes of an Apple/IBM relationship that ran out of gas months ago.
This is it. It’s quad-core 2.5GHz, maybe a bump if we’re lucky, and then the book is closed. Before us stretches a vast chasm of uncertainty, and the waiting is killing me. As far as I’m concerned, the clock started ticking the second the switch was announced. That means I’ve waited four months already, and by all accounts, I have many more months to go. I want to know when the high-end of Apple’s line will go Intel, and I want to know exactly how awesome it’ll be.
But wait I must, so this seems like a good time to start thinking about what I’d like to see in Apple’s Intel Mac line-up. (It’s still hard to type that.) This will be an ongoing series of posts about the Intel Macs of the future. I’m going to start with the pro hardware that was just updated: the Power Mac and the PowerBook.
In the Intel age, I hold out little hope for any real surprises when it comes to the CPUs Apple will use. Unlike during the heady days of the GPUL, we all pretty much know what’s coming from Intel, and when. This has been true of internal and external peripheral buses for a long time as well. That leaves the fun stuff: branding and design.
First, the names. Will “Power” prefix the pro Macs in the Intel age? I’m guessing that it will. The PowerBook name has adorned many non-PowerPC Apple laptops in the past, and the Power Mac name is arguably (partially) an echo of that tradition. Still, if a name is going to change, I think it’ll be the Power Mac name. PowerBook is a great name with few PowerPC connotations, despite years of service with that CPU line. The question is, what could replace the Power Mac brand? Apple’s naming has been all over the map lately, so who knows? Let’s just all pray that the "E" word doesn’t make an appearance.
Next, cases. I hope that both the Power Mac and PowerBook lines get all new cases for their Intel coming-out parties. Both lines are due for an external refresh, at the very least. Unfortunately, history is not on my side in the when it comes to the Power Mac. The bones of last Power Mac case design lasted four and a half years. The Power Mac G5 case has been around for half as long, but it really needs some rethinking inside and out.
Everyone’s favorite heat exchanger looks intimidatingly large from the outside, but on the inside it’s all about fans and heat-sinks. More than half of the internal volume is absorbed by the task of cooling the CPUs. It’s enough already. A line in the sand must be drawn for the Intel Power Macs: room for at least three internal hard drives. No exceptions, no weaseling. We demand it.
As for the PowerBook cases, I have one deliciously hyphenated word for you: sub-notebook. Give it a wimpy processor if necessary (although I’m sure it’ll still trounce today’s woefully bus-crippled PowerBooks) but make it small, thin, and light. Or rather, add “er” to all of that: it must smaller, thinner, and lighter than all existing PowerBooks. If it really, really has to have a 1024x768 screen, then it had better be one tiny laptop. But if it’s the same width and length as today’s 12-inch, then it’d better be sporting some more pixels.
I have one more wish for the Apple pro line in the Intel age. I’ll take my new Intel Mac in any color, so long as it’s black. Apple has branched out to the dark side with the black nano and iPod, and I think that same aesthetic would look great on a pro tower or laptop.
Of course, I was also sure that the Power Mac G5 would be black. (I was all set to name my G5 “Vader” in honor of the expected appearance.) Instead, the Power Mac G5 case cemented the satiny silver look in Apple’s pro hardware line. But maybe this time will be different. The new dual-core G5s already look nearly black in some of Apple’s PR photos. (Yes, I know they’re actually the same color as the old Power Macs. No emails, please.) The Aperture web site and application UI are also awash in darkness. Here’s hoping.
If all goes well, the first Intel Macs will mark the dawning of a new empire of sophisticated, intimidating professional hardware at Apple. I hope the high-end Intel Macs debut with a bang instead of a whimper—in terms of both computing power and appearance. I’m ready to give in to the dark side, regardless of the color of the case.
This article originally appeared at Ars Technica. It is reproduced here with permission.