OS X x86 FAQ

Discussion in 'macOS' started by slb, Jun 6, 2005.

  1. slb macrumors 6502

    Apr 15, 2005
    New Mexico
    I've noticed a lot of fears from long-time Mac users over the Intel announcement. I thought it would be helpful to inform people about it.

    So, let's stick all the info we know about it here. Add to it freely when you find something out!

    Edit: Updated with people's contributions. Read the rest of the thread for more info that wouldn't fit in the character-length limit of this post.

    Will Macs switching to Intel processors mean viruses will be coming to Mac?

    No. The insecurity of Windows is what causes the propagation of viruses. For instance, OS X user accounts don't run with root privileges as in Windows. Windows also ships with a lot of ports open by default, while OS X ships with none. It's the software running on top of the processor that makes a computer secure or insecure, not the processor itself.

    Are my Power-based Macs all obsolete and useless now?

    No. In fact, they'll likely be supported for years and years. NeXTStep, the ancestor of OS X, supported "fat binaries," which are single application bundles that contain executables compiled for multiple platforms. This means one app that can run on different processors freely.

    OS X also supports this, and Jobs called them "universal binaries" in the keynote. This means application developers can automatically compile a single version of the app that will run on either PPC or x86 Macs. It will happen invisibly to end users.

    Your Mac is still a beautiful Mac that will continue to run new software for several years. At the keynote, Steve Jobs informed developers that they would be supporting both platforms for a long time to come.

    Huh? Universal binaries?

    Applications in OS X are just folders with a certain extension. Finder treats them as a single entity. Inside the folder are all the resources for that app, including the executable file, equivalent to the .EXE file of the Windows world. A universal binary contains multiple executable files inside the bundle.

    Can I copy apps from OS X PCC to OS X Intel and vice versa, and will they run on either machine?

    It's too early to know for sure, but apparently the OS X installer will strip out the unneeded architecture from an application when you install it, saving disk space. More on this when developers learn how it all works.

    What about my older PPC apps? What if they're not recompiled for new Intel Macs?

    This is what Rosetta is for. Rosetta leverages technology from Transitive Technologies, a company that has developed a way of translating machine instructions from one chipset to another with little to no performance loss.

    For older apps that don't provide a universal binary to run on the new chips, Rosetta will translate the binary instructions and run the app. Newer Intel chips will be much faster (3.2+ Ghz) and make up for potential drops in performance for these apps.

    And, of course, today's Macs will continue to run new software thanks to universal binaries. Nobody is missing out. After all, 16% of computer users run Macs. Developers won't be abandoning PowerPC anytime soon.

    Is this going to be a huge, painful transition?

    This isn't the early 90s anymore, and this isn't the old MacOS, which was very reliant on the old processors. OS X is based on OpenStep/NeXTStep, which was already very portable and ran on x86, so the operating system is very flexible on multiple platforms. Apple has been keeping secret internal x86 ports of OS X for the past five years.

    API and compiler technology has improved to the point that the processor is much less relevant. This wasn't the case in the 90s. Because of universal binaries and PPC emulation for older PPC apps that aren't updated, Apple is making the process nearly invisible to end-users. All you'll notice is a much faster PowerBook! And today's Macs will happily run the same software that will be running on Intel Macs, thanks to universal binaries.

    But don't take my word for it. Steve Jobs has already told CNBC, "It's not as dramatic as you're characterizing it." Ultimately, it's really not.

    Speaking of which, what the heck are they going to call the PowerMacs and PowerBooks now that we're moving from Power chips?

    The "Power" in the names doesn't actually refer to the Power-based architecture, as the first Apple PowerBooks used the old 68k chip. Apple will most likely continue to use the names.

    Will new Macs require the "lawn mower" fans that PCs use?

    The lawnmower sound of your average PC is due to the cheap design of that manufacturer.

    G5s generate a lot of heat and require a lot of power, so if you already tolerate the fans needed for the PowerMac G5, an Intel chip will be a big improvement.

    Will Macs continue to use OpenFirmware?

    Apple's developer documentation states that Apple will not use Open Firmware in Intel-based Macs. It doesn't specify what they will use in place of it, however. More on this when the information becomes available.

    Will I be able to run Mac OS X on my Dell?


    "We will not allow running Mac OS X on anything other than an Apple Mac." - Phil Schiller

    Will I be able to run Windows/Linux/other x86 OS on my Intel Mac?

    Most likely, but Apple won't support it.

    "That doesn't preclude someone from running it on a Mac. They probably will," he said. "We won't do anything to preclude that." - Phil Schiller, when asked about the possibility of running Windows on Macs.

    Source: CNET.

    Will it make Windows to Mac ports easier? Will it make games faster?

    It will make little difference in porting Windows applications. As stated before, most of today's software development is dependent on the APIs used, not the processor. A Windows app using the Win32 API to display a dialog box will still need to be changed so that it uses an OS X API to display a dialog box. Direct3D games still rely on DirectX and need porting to OpenGL.

    Most of today's games rely entirely on the GPU for their advanced graphics, so the CPU is rarely the bottleneck anymore when it comes to framerates.

    Will we be forced to re-buy software if we want to run x86 native? Will we be forced to run the app in emulation mode? What if the app is G4-G5 only?

    There are all questions to ask developers. Free updates will probably be provided in most cases. Many developers will probably use the processor switch as an opportunity to release a major version update. The shareware community will probably keep up with Intel compatibility quickly and easily, as they did with Tiger compatibility.

    Why is Apple switching?

    Steve Jobs told CNBC:

    In truth, IBM has been unable to fufill Apple's manufacturing demands in the past, and that IBM's inability to deliver faster and cooler G5s for Powerbooks and faster Powermacs is holding back the Macintosh line. Switching to Intel processors means Apple can continue to deliver upgraded Macs--including Powerbooks that cross the 3Ghz barrier.

    Will this really be a seamless transition?

    It should be.

    Universal binaries provide developers the ability to ship one app that runs on both platforms without issue. Users of today's Macs and future Macs will still be running the same software.

    Rosetta provides users the ability to run older apps that for one reason or another haven't been recompiled yet.

    Macs are not suddenly going to become PCs. Macs will still be Macs. OS X will be OS X. Only the processor underneath will change.

    Will there be an "Intel Inside" sticker on future Macs?

    Computer manufacturers are not required to have that sticker on their cases. They are provided a financial incentive if they do so, but it's very difficult to imagine Steve Jobs compromising the visual design of Apple machines for extra cash. It's unlikely.

    What does this mean for Apple's competition and other groups?

    There are new things to consider with the use of an Intel platform, all of it speculation:

    WINE, a free port of the Windows API written by independent developers, may allow Windows applications to run unchanged on a Mac at near-native speeds. Linux users already use such technologies to run Microsoft Office.

    Virtual PC will be much, much faster because it won't need to emulate an Intel chip when running on an Intel-based Mac.

    Groups like PearPC will probably attempt to get OS X running under Windows with near-100% performance. It is entirely possible that this is doable, though one would assume Apple would be fully against it.
  2. rendezvouscp macrumors 68000

    Aug 20, 2003
    Long Beach, California
    This is encouraging to me. Perhaps someone could answer these questions and update the FAQ after they have been answered. These are the only things that are freaking me out about Apple's switch, and I hope someone has answers, or at least theoretical ones.

    I thought that the PPC was fantastic for math calculations. What kind of speed decreases are there going to be with the move to x86?

    I thought that the PPC was built for multi-processing more than x86, so multiple processors made more of a difference with Macs than PCs. Is it PPC that's better, Mac OS X, or both?

    This doesn't quite make sense to me. The PPC is known for using less power than its x86 counterparts, so where did Steve get that moving to x86 is going to require less power?

    I thought that in the end, the PPC roadmap was better in that the PPC had more room to grow than x86. While not growing as rapidly, it would still surpass x86 when technical limitations were met. What is Intel showing Steve that is making him so confident that Intel is the way to go? Are we in for another OS switch 5 years from now, and then a chip switch in 10 years as technology changes?

    Are there any insecurities in the x86 chip that aren't in the PPC that will be exploited under Mac OS X?

    Will Apple be able to prevent people from physically (not just through the EULA) installing Mac OS X on other x86 machines?

    I think that's all of my worries, if anyone could answer them I should be able to sleep well tonight.
  3. TigerPRO macrumors 6502

    Mar 27, 2003
    I think I have a good answer for you. There's no reason they still can't use the "PowerBook" and "PowerMac" names. The only thing I would question is the "G5" and "G4" endings. But if you really think about it, why couldn't they keep those too? They just represent different revisions they've gone through. There really is no connection between PowerPC and the "G5" name, right?
  4. rendezvouscp macrumors 68000

    Aug 20, 2003
    Long Beach, California
    I think the G name was for generations of the PPC chip (G3 being the first), but I don't see why Apple won't switch their whole line-up to G6 chips in two years.
  5. jeffchapmanjc macrumors member


    Sep 21, 2004
    The iMac "G5" of the future...

    Just wondering what this new chip will do for (or, "to") the current iMac design? Will we still see desktop performance from a desktop iMac or are we going to see laptop performance from a laptop CPU housed in a desktop iMac?

    Any thoughts on this?
  6. James Philp macrumors 65816

    James Philp

    Mar 5, 2005
    I've already coined the term:
  7. TigerPRO macrumors 6502

    Mar 27, 2003
  8. Applespider macrumors G4


    Jan 20, 2004
    looking through rose-tinted spectacles...
    Interestingly one of the dev notes on creating universal binaries suggests that Rosetta won't work for those apps which require a G4 or G5 processor (it doesn't translate Altivec code). So are only those legacy apps that a G3 could run covered?
  9. Diatribe macrumors 601


    Jan 8, 2004
    Back in the motherland
    But that would render it almost useless... and defeat the purpose of having it in the first place.
    Without this a lot of people won't immediately switch until all their software is ported.

    Another question I have is:
    Do fat binaries run slower than slim ones?
  10. M. Malone macrumors 6502a

    M. Malone

    Mar 11, 2004
    Here are 2 important ones,

    1. Will the new Macs make the lawn mower sound that Wintels make? The frequent loud fans.

    2. Will the new Macs suffer the slow down syndrome. I have had my mac for over a year and it is as solid and as fast as day 1. My HP desktop which I bought 2 months ago is already slowing significantly, it's not as fast as it used to be day 1.
  11. sigamy macrumors 65816

    Mar 7, 2003
    NJ USA
    Rosetta, universal binaries, etc...anyone remember Yellow Box and Blue Box and all the confusion around those?

    more more things change, the more they stay the same.
  12. javiercr macrumors 6502


    Apr 12, 2005
    the G5 is known for needing a lot of power, also there are no low power versions for laptops, Intel makes Pentium M and Centrinos with lower power requirements for laptops, so does AMD.
  13. zakatov macrumors 6502a


    Mar 8, 2005
    South Florida
    No, and no. The problems above are result of incompetent computer design and incompetent software design, respectively. Apple and OSX have neither of those
  14. baummer macrumors 6502a

    Jan 18, 2005
    Southern California
    THANK YOU for a great post that should hopefully dispell worries.

    1. Not likely. A lot of this depends on which cooling system Apple decides to use, as well as the logic board combinations. Most Wintel machines are designed cheaply; I've never seen an Apple system designed cheaply.

    2. This has little to do with the processor, but mostly to do with the way the OS uses the processor. It's no secret that OS X better utilizes and controls its CPU than Windows machines. Your slow down is a result of Windows, NOT of your system's architecture.
  15. stcanard macrumors 65816


    Oct 19, 2003
    Question: how many apps use hand-assembled altivec, as opposed to the altivec-accelerated libraries that are supplied with OSX? As long as its the latter you're fine.

    So much of an OSX application is actually handed off to the frameworks that I expect the issue won't be nearly as big as people worry. Boy it's a good thing Apple included Core Image/Audio/Video in Tiger isn't it ;)

    No. There might be a millisecond slower on startup, but essentially what's going to happen is: if (ARCH==PPC) {start program_ppc} elseif {ARCH==X86) {start program_x86} else {exit "Hey, where did you get this sparc version!"}

    Joking aside, essentially it will be an automatic choice on startup, then everything's native. I've never looked at NeXTStep fat binaries, but I'll bet they are even seperate files within the bundle.
  16. dubbz macrumors 68020


    Sep 3, 2003
    Alta, Norway
    Here's two

    Removed Q&A since they were added to the first post
  17. Rocksaurus macrumors 6502a


    Sep 14, 2003

    Personally I think if you're going to go this far you might as well let OS X run on any old PC. Plus, if I'm going to use x86 I'd like to have the choice to use AMD.
  18. slb thread starter macrumors 6502

    Apr 15, 2005
    New Mexico
    Apple makes its money from hardware sales, but besides that, the stability of OS X would decrease in attempting to support so many hardware configurations. It's likely beyond Apple to be able to support everything the way Microsoft has been able to thanks to decades of work in the PC market, so you'd only be able to run on an official subset of PC hardware anyway. It wouldn't be worth Apple's expenses.

    Let me put it this way--Mac users are used to just putting their machines to sleep. I close my iBook lid all the time, and it comes up happily when I open it. PC users deal with hell like ACPI, which only works half the time. I often have to reboot my PC because it never comes back up. PC sleep mode is far from reliable. On Macs, it's a standard feature used every day. That's just one example.

    When Apple controls the hardware, they're able to deliver a top-notch computing experience. A Mac isn't just the hardware and the software, it's both working seamlessly together. I know some people say "It's the OS, stupid," but there really is a lot to be said for Apple's hardware design and the way it can weave the OS with the hardware to take advantage of both.

    Windows friends are still shocked when I control the brightness of my screen with my keyboard and eject CDs at the press of a key. :)
  19. M. Malone macrumors 6502a

    M. Malone

    Mar 11, 2004

    Thank you for that, well that sounds good to me, and if Intel processors will be faster and more efficient than PowerPC, as Steve claims, then using them is logical.
  20. csubear macrumors 6502a


    Aug 22, 2003
  21. slb thread starter macrumors 6502

    Apr 15, 2005
    New Mexico
    I haven't heard anything about that from those who were at the WWDC, so presumably nothing else about Macs will change other than the fact they'll be using Intel chips. There's no reason I know of for Apple to move from OpenFirmware.

    Macs won't be becoming PCs. All that's changing is the little chip doing the math. Everything else is still good old Mac.
  22. GFLPraxis macrumors 604


    Mar 17, 2004
    1. No. That's just the design of the computer, has nothing to do with the processor.

    2. No. Thats a Windows design oddity. Linux on Intel boxes does not slow down either.
  23. Diatribe macrumors 601


    Jan 8, 2004
    Back in the motherland
    Thanks for the answer. I guess it doesn't seem all bad, actually if they can put a 3GHz Pentium M in the Powerbooks (seeing that they already ship 2.1GHz) I'd be more than happy since this proc would blow my 1.33 G4 out of the water. Now Apple just needs to go PCI-Express with the Intels and everything is fine.
  24. Nermal Moderator


    Staff Member

    Dec 7, 2002
    New Zealand
    I've done a bit of poking around in Xcode 2.1, and it appears that when you first install an app (using /Applications/Utilities/Installer), it'll 'rip out' the other architecture. So you may not be able to simply copy from one system to the other. However, I only had a quick peek so I might be completely wrong about this.

    The 'Power' in Power Mac and PowerBook do not mean 'PowerPC'. The first PowerBooks were 68K. So I think the Power name will stay :)
  25. admanimal macrumors 68040

    Apr 22, 2005
    Actually, the Universal Binary dev guide states that Apple will not use Open Firmware in Intel-based Macs. It doesn't specify what they will use in place of it, however.

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