Give Apple some credit: rushing out the first Intel-based Macs six months ahead of schedule was nearly miraculous. What’s especially impressive is that the first two models are the MacBook Pro and iMac. Inch-thin notebooks like the MacBook Pro require much more custom engineering than roomy desktop systems. And although the iMac is a desktop, its slim all-in-one case makes it nearly as difficult to design as a notebook.
As I predicted last year, the x86 Macs aren’t cheaper than PowerPC Macs. On average, Intel processors cost more than PowerPC processors. But the new Macs are much faster and a better value. Four other things about them should interest any computer enthusiast, even those who will never buy a Mac.
First, like all Macs, the new machines have the same curb appeal as the iPod. By comparison, the typical Windows PC looks as fashionable as a car battery. Beauty is only skin deep, but supermodels get paid a lot more for flashing their skin than the rest of us do. Other PC vendors should get off their butts and hire some case-modders.
Inside, the initial Intel-based Macs use the Core Duo (Yonah), the first dual-core descendant of the Pentium M. Despite Apple’s minuscule market share, Macs are getting the very latest Intel chips, not bottom-shelf silicon. That means the new Macs will compete strongly with the performance of Windows PCs.
In addition, the new Macs have a next-generation BIOS that supports Intel’s Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI). Eventually, all PCs will implement this standard, which was conceived to replace the ancient PC BIOS. It’s ironic that Macs will be the vehicles for popularizing this PC technology. But then, the first blue-bellied iMacs of 1998 were largely responsible for popularizing another industry standard, USB.
More important, the new Macs are the first ones theoretically capable of natively running a Microsoft OS. The potential to support three platforms (including Linux) in one box is compelling—especially if the x86 transition starves Mac users for native software. Unfortunately, Apple isn’t using Intel’s virtualization technology to make multiboot systems more robust, but that could come later.
Although I still think the switch to x86 is a big gamble, so far Apple is taking the right steps.