The Apple/Intel Report: What Should You Expect From a MacIntel?

November 19th, 2005

Sure, it would be intriguing to see the first Mac with an Intel processor appear early in 2006. Some are suggesting that the Mac mini will get the honors and they’ve already got the chip selected, and that’s Intel’s forthcoming “Yonah” processor, a dual-core product designed for mobile use. The chip is indeed expected to hit volume production next year, so it seems logical, and having it installed in the cheapest Mac might be a real way to begin the transition in high style.

But it’s not just the chip. Is there something unique you should expect from these new Macs? Well, it’s a sure thing that Apple isn’t undergoing a major transition just to keep you and I talking about it. Intel’s forthcoming mobile processors, for one thing, are supposed to be more power efficient and deliver a lot more number crunching power. You know what two processors or a dual-core chip can do on a Power Mac. Imagine buying a $499 Mac with a dual-core?

Although there’s no official confirmation, some folks are also suggesting that the x86 chips will seriously speed up Mac OS X’s resource hungry user interface. They remind us that the guts of the operating system were optimized for Intel long, long ago, so we shouldn’t be surprised.

All right, so it’s a given that a MacIntel will be faster, possibly much faster. Reduced power requirements mean there’s the potential for longer battery life on portables. Less heat means that the elaborate network of fans on a Power Mac and the liquid cooling scheme on the top-of-the-line model may not be necessary. Today’s Power Mac is one heavy beast, and during a recent move to a new home office, my back was already strained before I had to drag the thing to its new, second floor location.

So you might expect a smaller, lighter Power Mac. At the same time, removing some of the cooling components may also provide additional room for more internal drives. There’s a paucity of space now, as the Mac pros among you know full well. A suitable compromise will still produce a smaller, sleeker form factor, one that doesn’t become the object of an intense workout if you have to lug a few of them around.

At the other end of the scale, the Mac mini doesn’t need to get smaller, but it would certainly be nice to see it gain some media center capabilities, such as the Front Row remote control. If anything, the mini seems more suited to this purpose than the iMac, since it already has a digital video output that you could use to connect the unit to a high definition TV. And a dual-core processor to boot! Apple could sell millions, perhaps, now that the switch from Windows to Mac is really taking hold.

As to the iMac, well, I can see more of the same, though it wouldn’t hurt to add video recording capability. That, and a speedier processor that’s less of a heat pump would be nice. Now I am sure Apple has overcome the hardware defects that infected the first generation iMac G5, but a cooler chip inside wouldn’t hurt.

At this point, I’m not about to predict how Apple will change its iBook and PowerBook lines, except for the former becoming lighter and thinner, perhaps with widescreen displays.

On the other side of the coin, I don’t expect version 1.0 of any Macintel to be the perfect piece of hardware. Apple still has a propensity to release new designs with early production bugs. It would be nice if such issues were kept to a minimum, of course, but that’s not always possible. So it comes down to this: However enticing that first MacIntel might seem, and Steve Jobs will make it seem like the greatest personal computer on the planet, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to wait a few weeks and consult the online chatter.

Sure, it’s true that anything that comes out will generate complaints of one sort or another. And even if defective units amount to a small fraction of one percent, it only takes a few vocal critics to make it seem like an epidemic of total failure. Like a brand new operating system upgrade, however, if the early trend seems positive, there’s nothing wrong with being an early adopter. And if a component here and there undergoes premature failure a few months later, you can be reasonably assured that Apple will have some kind of repair program in place to address the issues as soon as possible.

Yes, I’m aware of the lawsuit about alleged iPod nano defects that’s become an international affair. However, my unit seems no more prone to scratching than any other iPod. In the end, the only ones to really gain in such lawsuits are the lawyers. If Apple makes some kind of settlement, the best you can hope for is a discount coupon or perhaps a warranty extension. The legal eagles who initiated those actions will end up with millions of dollars in fees. It always seems to work out that way.

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