June 11, 2009

If a chip architecture fell in the forest…

…would anyone hear it? Not if it’s PowerPC, apparently.

I’m kind of amazed at the absolute lack of discussion of the fact that Snow Leopard (Mac OS X 10.6) will be the first Mac OS in fifteen years not to support PowerPC. The one mention I’ve found was a CNET article. Jeez–nobody wants to pour one out for the dead homie*?

I dunno; maybe I’m just a little sentimental. For what it’s worth,

  • I remember being a freshman in college & hearing about this amazing new RISC design–seeing a chart showing the 601, 603 & 604, and finally the 620 aiming higher and higher. Mac über Alles!
  • We named the 7100/66 in our computer lab “Rocket Sled”–66MHz of musclebound fury, suckkaz.
  • I just about danced when Exponential announced the oh-my-God-533MHz X704 chip in 1996. I even printed out their press release & hung it on my door to shame my Mac-hating friends. (God, I was totally mental…)
  • Being a real fanboy, I talked up the “megahertz myth” to anyone who’d listen (and to everyone else for good measure).
  • Years later, working on Photoshop, I knew PS performance engineer Chris Cox had some sort of incredible machine in his office (could it be the mythical “G5″?), but of course it was hush-hush and only he could see it.

Ah well. It was a good ride. Thanks to everyone at Apple, IBM, Motorola, Metrowerks, all the independent software vendors, and everyone else who made it all possible.

One last thing: I have to laughing at all the articles cheering Snow Leopard’s 6GB** reduction in install footprint, all without mentioning the loss of PowerPC support. At it happens, we could cut the installed size of Photoshop on Mac in half by dropping PPC support. (Of course, packaging 32- & 64-bit binaries together will push it right back up. Too bad those first Intel Macs had 32-bit chips.)

*Quite a difference from when Adobe got crucified for going Intel-only with Soundbooth. And yes yes, I know that time changes things, but I’m still picking carbonized bits out of my hide on that one.

** I hate bloat, and everyone likes getting storage space back. Of course, 6GB of storage will set you back roughly 50 cents at Fry’s.

Posted by John Nack at 10:23 PM on June 11, 2009

Comments

  • Brandon — 11:12 PM on June 11, 2009

    Maybe no one cares because no one cares about Apple.
    [Yeah, jeez, if only Apple could get some *press*. ;-) --J.]
    They do what they think is best. Apparently Intel is faster.
    PCs are much more interesting hardware wise.

  • J. Peterson — 2:04 AM on June 12, 2009

    6GB of storage will set you back roughly 50 cents at Fry’s.
    The savings isn’t $ or GB, it’s ms. The dramatic increases in disk storage space hasn’t been matched by similar gains in access time or transfer rates. Disk is the new tape. Taking away that 6GB means noticeably faster installs, backups, etc.
    I have the resolution knob on my little Canon P ‘n S deliberately cranked down a step or two just to save the time it takes to copy and process the photos.

  • Mike — 3:49 AM on June 12, 2009

    The other thing about saving 6GB is that you can do this on Leopard today, albeit by digging around the custom installation menu or with third-party software. Just don’t install printer drivers except for your printer’s make, and delete all unnecessary languages. I’m interested to see if any reviews compare Snow Leopard’s default footprint to the Leopard footprint using the method I just mentioned.
    And I’m also surprised that virtually no one’s mentioned the abandoning PowerPC aspect of Snow Leopard. Maybe everyone’s moved on already?

  • Mike — 3:49 AM on June 12, 2009

    The other thing about saving 6GB is that you can do this on Leopard today, albeit by digging around the custom installation menu or with third-party software. Just don’t install printer drivers except for your printer’s make, and delete all unnecessary languages. I’m interested to see if any reviews compare Snow Leopard’s default footprint to the Leopard footprint using the method I just mentioned.
    And I’m also surprised that virtually no one’s mentioned the abandoning PowerPC aspect of Snow Leopard. Maybe everyone’s moved on already?

  • Mark Alan Thomas — 4:08 AM on June 12, 2009

    IBM’s epic fail with the G5 irreparably tarnished the PowerPC in the minds of Mac users.
    When a year came and went and the G5 still hadn’t budged in performance, much less reached the 3 GHz level that IBM had promised, I knew it was all over for the PowerPC. As a long time NeXT fan I was fully aware of the portability of Mac OS X and there was no doubt in my mind that the myths that Apple had been hedging its bets by secretly maintaining Intel builds of OS X were absolutely true. Of course they were. The G5 fiasco felt like, and indeed turned out to be, the last straw for the PowerPC.
    The reason Mac fans aren’t up in arms over Apple dropping support for the PowerPC is because, three years after the first Macs moved to Intel, this is an expected move. Even an obvious one. But when Soundbooth went Intel only rather than going Universal, it not only felt premature, but it suggested that Adobe was once again choosing to not fully support a unique feature of the platform. And it’s not as if the G5 was not powerful enough to run Soundbooth. Adobe just went seeya!
    That being said, some G5 owners are understandably upset about Snow Leopard deliberately obsoleting their expensive hardware investments. I can see not supporting the G4 and the G3, but with Snow Leopard it’s as if G5 owners are getting a double-insult. First by being duped into investing in a dead end hardware platform, then by being abandoned on the software end.

  • Dan v. — 5:47 AM on June 12, 2009

    Hey John,
    Soundbooth came out three years ago, right when Intel Macs were first arriving on the scene, so understandably there would have been some griping then. It’s been a while.
    For an analogue that I’m sure many will remember (myself included), I believe Apple shipped the last 040 machine in late 1996, when the PowerBook 190cs was discontinued, and after that it was all PowerPC. Mac OS 8.5, which required a PowerPC CPU and could not run on an 040, was released in October 1998. Snow Leopard is much like 8.5 in many ways.
    History, it has a funny way of repeating itself.

  • Dan v. — 5:49 AM on June 12, 2009

    Oh, forgot in my last comment – I didn’t mean to imply that making Soundbooth intel only was a BAD decision. I’m just saying I can see why you got flak at the time. ;)

  • Alan Moore — 7:25 AM on June 12, 2009

    Hey John, I’m with you. Thing is, the loss of PPC has been howled about on every forum debating Snow Leopard since last June that I’ve been on. We were expecting it, and we’re howled out.
    Sad in a way. I bought my Quad G5 in April 2006, so it’s hardly old. Haven’t even maxed out the RAM yet.
    Will CS5 be Intel only? Or will that happen for CS6? I tend to buy the suite every other version and I’m wondering if I need to break that rule and run out and buy CS4?

  • Peter — 7:43 AM on June 12, 2009

    Well, that’s what I expected when Apple announced that they would focus on bug fixes, performance, and leveraging GPU power. It really wouldn’t have made sense for them to do performance optimization for an architecture they no longer ship, especially considering that performance optimizations are not always portable between platforms. Therefore resources spent on the PPC side would have been missing on the Intel side. Having to support both architectures also would have prevented them from making certain architectural changes to optimize the OS for the Intel platform. I don’t know how much of the PPC-specific code is relevant to the iPhone, though. They might need to maintain and optimize some portions of OS X/PPC for that. But I wasn’t surprised by the news of the discontinuation at all.
    But it’s still sad. Oh well, the end of an era.
    But just out of curiosity: Why did Adobe choose to go with Apple’s Universal Binary concept? Why didn’t you simply create separate PPC and an Intel builds and have the installer install just the one appropriate for the system’s architecture? Wouldn’t that have made the installation process twice as fast and cut the harddrive requirements in half?

  • Ben Hansen — 8:10 AM on June 12, 2009

    what about the fact that After Effects no longer installs on PPC. F- sound booth!

  • Mark Alan Thomas — 8:16 AM on June 12, 2009

    I for one am glad CS4 is Universal Binary. It made it super easy to migrate from G4 to Intel. No reinstall of CS4 necessary, which was a huge surprise considering how easy it was to break CS3.

  • Jerry Harris — 8:26 AM on June 12, 2009

    This has more to do with the other Apple platform that is growing at an incredible rate (iphone, itouch). It is pretty remarkable that Apple provides similar apis on both the mac and the iphone/itouch.
    http://gizmodo.com/5287426/the-iphone-is-a-pretty-damn-big-platform-to-develop-games-for
    How many of you realize that the new iPhones are faster than what Photoshop took its first steps on? This article equates it with a modern Pentium 4 in terms of power. Some of you might still be running PS on such hardware.
    http://www.anandtech.com/gadgets/showdoc.aspx?i=3579
    The iphone’s graphic capabilities are probably on par with that $700 6800 card option on the last gen G5.
    This may could be the subject of another blog post but here goes…
    What aspect of photoshop would you like to see on a handheld gadget?

  • Michael Critz — 8:41 AM on June 12, 2009

    What’s with the tiny leading on these comments? My eyes hurt!
    [I know. I'm waiting until we get a new blog system (next month) to fool with the style sheet. --J.]
    Many apologies for being off-topic.

  • Eric — 8:58 AM on June 12, 2009

    As long as Apple keeps shipping security updates for Leopard for a few years, that should help ease the transition. They need the change or they risk being like Microsoft with Windows getting so bogged down in legacy code that they can’t move (i.e. innovate) the way they might want to.

  • Bill Wadman — 10:47 AM on June 12, 2009

    Jerry Harris, just a quick fact check:
    The article actaully compares the new iphone cpu with a Pentium, not a Pentium 4. Think 1993 not 2003.
    Similarly, he compared the graphics chip to something around the 1999 era. Much more simple than the high-end 6800 cards from a few years ago.
    Personally as a person who upgrades frequently, it doesn’t matter much to me. Though I do find it funny that Mac users have no real problem with it, which people trying to install Windows Vista on a 2001 era machine expect it to run great out of the box. Imagine how well Leopard would run on the original G4 Ti laptop. Right, not that well.

  • Charles — 3:34 PM on June 12, 2009

    Count me in the really-peeved group of G5 owners. I bought a fully-loaded Quad G5 with the ultra expensive QuadroFX 4500 graphics board option. I bought it because I figured it would take a while before major apps (especially Maya) would ship an Intel version. Alas, the QuadroFX board never worked properly with Maya. And now Maya is Intel-only. Grr..
    Anyone want to buy a really loaded Quad G5?

  • jerry Harris — 5:36 PM on June 12, 2009

    Sorry about that, typing too quickly as usual. If you consider the screen size on the itouch, ipod, (horsepower per screen pixel) and the fact that this gpu supports a reasonable shader model, it is roughly on par from the programming standpoint with cards such as the 6800. The cards just prior to that had relatively poor programmability in terms of things such as looping, flow control, size of program, floating point support, etc.
    Thanks for replying!

  • Bob Hopfner — 9:40 PM on June 12, 2009

    heh! I had a 486DX/66 and my friend had a 7100 and recall my computer being faster than hers. I had a faster HD and more ram though too iirc.
    This was one reason why my company chose to move to Vista64 on dual-quad Dells. We knew Apple would force us to upgrade from our PPC G5s at some point. ServerSide-System integration and IT maintenance were bigger reasons.
    I wonder if this is why no one has offered to take these orphaned macs home . . . .
    Intel is just sexier!

  • Jp Cooper — 6:07 PM on June 19, 2009

    ArsTechnica and other sites have had several articles about this. No big fanfare or anything – but it’s been mentioned.
    My WOW! moment was when the first Quadra’s came out and how Bad Ass the 900s/ 950s were compared to anything around. The Design Office I was in at the time [a lowly intern] the Art Director had just got one in – talk about some jealousy.
    It was a good run – but when IBM/ Motorola couldn’t keep up with architecture advancements and continuously fell short of what they said they could deliver [as much as i hated it at the time] it was logical to jump ship. Otherwise Apple’s slogan wouldn’t have been “The Fastest Mac Ever” – it would have been “The Oldest Processor Line in the Industry”.
    I would totally rather be on RISC architecture than x86. But I like my Mactel and really can’t complain much.
    R.I.P. PPC [on the Mac] you served us well thru the dark ages of the Apple Empire and made possible the continuance until such a time as the mighty Apple rose from the darkness and could embrace the Intel chips – thank you!

  • oomu — 12:24 PM on August 12, 2009

    PPC was also able to interpret 68×00 code. it was the best way for Apple at the time.
    truly, PPC was impressive at first and helped Apple in the dark age.
    But IBM move on to better pasture, Motorola faded away…
    So long PPC.

  • stephane — 1:43 PM on August 12, 2009

    Nobody cares because people know that when Apple got fed up with Intel, they will mov a,way and come back to the chip that procures you real joy! And peff for the same price.

  • Peter Kendall — 3:07 PM on August 12, 2009

    Sadly, my Dual 2.7 Ghz Powermac G5 died about a half year ago (before the Snow Leopard announcement) so when it came to the Snow Leopard announcement, I personally didn’t care since I was going to be getting a new Mac anyway someday.
    But back in the day, I was definitely a diehard PPC fan who repeatedly brought up the Megahertz myth! Sadly, when Apple switched the Mac to x86, we can now only be just as fast as PCs, we can never be faster!
    [Or slower. It cuts both ways. Now the focus can be on other things like OS usability, industrial design of the machines, price, etc. That's all fine with me. --J.]
    Just look at the POWER 7 that will be coming out! Too bad that thing will melt a laptop (not to mention melting the lap itself).
    Oh well, it was fun while it lasted!
    [Indeed it was. --J.]

  • Steven May — 4:44 PM on September 12, 2009

    John Nack said: “One last thing: I have to laughing at all the articles cheering Snow Leopard’s 6GB** reduction in install footprint… **I hate bloat, and everyone likes getting storage space back. Of course, 6GB of storage will set you back roughly 50 cents at Fry’s.”
    With 24TB of storage on my network, 6GB is no big deal. But the thousands of files no longer present is a huge deal. The system boots much faster, repairing permissions has gone from 10 minutes to 2, and CCC works in 1/8 the time. Illustrator-Bridge-Photoshop CS4 launch simultaneously in 10 seconds, compared to over a minute in 10.5, and a 1GB TIFF file opens in 3 seconds.
    Over the years, bloat has stolen tons of our time– we know– but in the case of Snow Leopard, just how much time has been lost to us in the past is now painfully obvious.
    That 6GB was a very heavy burden.

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