COMDEX: The Plot Thickens (11/19/02)

Well, presumably we've got a few hours left in which to wring some drama from the Apple-at-COMDEX rumors flitting hither and thither, so we figure, what the heck-- we'll go for it. Waste not, want not... especially in these trying times, when Apple dirt is often scarcer than culottes at a nudist lumberjacks' convention. Ready to play Fourth-Hand Frenzy? Faithful viewer Russell Sussan informed us that MacRumors had noted that AMDZone heard "word at the show" that "a lot of people from Apple... may be present at [AMD CEO] Hector Ruiz's keynote on Tuesday." And the conclusion arrived at by any rational being who follows that extremely authoritative pile o' facts through to its logical end? Why, clearly Apple is about to announce that it's finally chucking all this PowerPC nonsense and migrating the Mac to the x86-based Athlon or Hammer series of chips. Duh.

Okay, that was glib-- sorry about that. After all, such an announcement really isn't beyond the realm of possibility or anything, and AMDZone indeed notes that at a COMDEX press briefing they were flat-out told that AMD's Ruiz "would make a 'shattering' announcement about a new licensee." It's hard to imagine a bigger plot-twist announcement than Apple joining the AMD club. Still, we're having a tough time with that whole "willing suspension of disbelief" thing, largely because we just can't see Apple doing anything as drastic as switching chip platforms right now.

Remember, a switch to x86 would require that all existing Mac software either be rewritten (or at the very least recompiled) for the new processors, or else it'd have to run in emulation. And we're talking real, guts-level processor emulation, here, as in VirtualPC, not just a rehosting of OS calls like Mac OS X's Classic environment. Sure, Apple pulled it off with the 68k-to-PowerPC move, but that worked largely because the PowerPCs were so much faster than the 68k family that the emulated code still wasn't all that slow. Are AMD's chips really that much faster than the G4? Or next year's G5 (whatever the heck that turns out to be) and PowerPC 970? Apple's already trying to manage a split software base with Classic apps and Mac OS X-native ones. If it jumps ship to x86, it's also going to have to deal with x86-native code vs. PowerPC code. Maybe it's just us, but it all sounds like one huge stinkin' mess, and not one Apple would likely take on unless both IBM and Motorola tripped and fell headlong into a giant wood-chipper.

Of course, as Russell points out, it's quite possible that AMD is on the verge of announcing a partnership with Apple that doesn't involve the coming of Hammer-based Macs or what have you. Consider this: is there any particular reason that AMD can only pump out x86-based chips? Is it somehow married to Intel's instruction set? What if Apple came to them and said, "hey, look-- howazbout youse guys crank out some primo PowerPCs for us, and we make it worth your while?" Don't forget, rumors to this effect were floating around over three years ago when AMD opened its massive new chip-fabrication plant in Germany. And at the time, an AMD rep went so far as to say "if we found ourselves in a situation with too much capacity, it might make sense to explore a partner."

Hey, we're not saying it's gonna happen. We're just saying that AMD cranking out Apple-designed PowerPCs might be a shade or two more likely than x86-based Macs hitting the shelves next year. Then again, we personally think it's still even more likely that this "shattering" announcement is just going to involve, say, Dell shipping Hammer systems soon. (Get it? "Shattering"? Hammer?) Whatever. Apparently we'll know whether the Apple rumors hold any water whatsoever in just a few hours' time, so sit tight and enjoy the rampant uncertainty.

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The above scene was taken from the 11/19/02 episode:

November 19, 2002: Rumors fly that a dramatic Apple-AMD announcement is imminent at COMDEX. Meanwhile, there's going to be a Seattle-area Apple store after all, and yet more video footage of Steve Ballmer provides a fascinating new insight into his apparent inspiration...

Other scenes from that episode:

  • 3849: Mucho Thankful In Seattle (11/19/02)   Thanksgiving is just nine days away, and we're about halfway through our intensive pre-feast stomach-stretching regimen. (You have to prepare for these things properly, or there's no way you're going to be able to eat three full helpings and then wolf down a complete pie.)...

  • 3850: A Van Down By The River (11/19/02)   Hmmmm, decisions, decisions... We felt this would be a great time to pop in a short Microsoft scene, just as a change of pace, so we went sifting through our mailbag in search of potential plot material, and now we need to decide which angle to cover...

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