Mike Schaeffer's Blog

Articles with tag: hardware
June 30, 2005

I ran across this quote the other day from I, cringely:

The market has stupidly decided that Intel microprocessors are better than Apple's preferred PowerPCs, so Apple will be at a disadvantage trying to sell PowerPC machines into the Intel market. This is what's right now killing Silicon Graphics, which is finding rough going pitting its MIPS processors against Intel. ... Yes, Apple will build computers with Intel processors. Their aim, as in all of these products, is for the high end. Based on Intel's new Merced chip, the new Apple machine will have PCI slots, Universal Serial Bus, Fast Ethernet, IEEE 1394 FireWire, IRDA, DIMM sockets, but no ISA slots and no backwards compatibility to DOS. So this is NOT a PC in the strictest sense, since it will only run Rhapsody, but not System 8 or Windows NT. It will run Mac applications inside Rhapsody. And because Apple is both the author of Rhapsody and the designer of this machine, Jobs believes that more customers will want to buy their Rhapsody wrapped in Apple hardware than not.

Funny thing is... that quote is from October of 1997. A lot has changed since then, but since the core reasoning was sound it probably shouldn't be too much of a suprise that he was ultimately right.

The other interesting bit was that Cringely wrote that piece around 1997, which is when the NDA for 'Project Star Trek' expired. Star Trek was a project in which a few Apple, Novell, and Intel software engineers got MacOS 7 running on PC hardware. I'm not sure what the business story would've been, but it was a nice technical accomplishment nonetheless.

June 28, 2005

I haven't had as much time to play with it as I'd like, but the laptop arrived today. In the hour I've had it running, so far I'm quite impressed. A couple quick thoughts:

  • I like the keyboard: nice and solid. Since the layout is more like a Dell D600 than a D400 (what I have from work), there'll be a little getting used to it. The D400 layout puts page up and page down near the arrow keys, which I've gotten used to for reading documents. The I6000 (and D600/D800) puts page up and page down up near the display. If that gets too obnoxious, I might have to investigate remapping some of the media keys on the front of the machine to more useful keys.
  • I love the WUXGA (1900x1200, approx.) display. The machine came from the factory with large icons enabled and set to 120dpi. Set up that way, it seems readable enough to me, but my vision is so far correctable to 20/20. If smaller text adds to fatigue or is harder to read on a bouncy train, it'll be possible to enlarge text through preferences, so I'm not worried about it at all. At this point, the 1024x768 D400 is going to feel very cramped.
  • Dell still dumps its machines full of software. This machine came with several broadband offers, four media players, and a bunch of modem stuff. Most of that's getting uninstalled in the name of system stability. I already have broadband, I don't use streaming media that much, and I haven't used a modem in years.
  • XP Media edition looks the same as XP Pro, so far.

June 23, 2005

I just placed an order for a Dell Inspiron 6000D, using one of Dell's recent $750 off deals. With any luck, it'll ship in a couple weeks. In the course of doing research on the machine, I found this site describing James Carter's experiences with the machine. It is without a doubt the best, most comprehensive laptop review I have ever seen. If you write a product review for a laptop computer, you should emulate this.

Something else worth mentioning is that laptop vendors typically use standard parts in their hardware. While they don't publicize part numbers (partially so they can switch suppliers), it is possible to find datasheets describing things like LCD panels. While it takes some inference to figure out what part is being used, this can reveal statistics about LCD panels that might otherwise be hard to find. While Google is your friend, this site has a bunch of links to useful datasheets.

PS: I've ordered the WUXGA (>2 Megapixels, ~140dpi) display with the 128MB Radeon X300 video adapter. If on screen content isn't too small, I expect the detail to be fabulous. I'll post comments (and screenshots) when I get some experience with the machine.

June 6, 2005

I didn't believe it was possible when I first heard the rumors a few weeks ago, but Here it is: Apple will transition to x86, specifically Intel, in 2006. The whole line will go x86 in 2007. Microsoft is behind the switch, as is Adobe. Interestingly, the developer transition kit has an Intel compiler at its core. I wonder why not GCC.

The next question is how well it will be pulled off. In theory it could be seamless. It needs to be.

June 6, 2005

So, the big rumor is that Apple is switching to Intel processors, and Steve Jobs is going to make the announcement during his WWDC keynote address this morning (10:00AM PST). I had been planning on writing a debunking article, but now I'm not so sure. Here's why:

Reason not to switchCounterargument
If Apple switches to Intel, they introduce another archicture break into their hardware platform. Emulation can make existing binaries run seamlessly on Intel.
But isn't emulation really slow? Modern emulation technology has gotten a lot better, it can compile code on the fly, just like a modern JVM or Virtual PC.
But I've run virtual machines before, and they're still really slow. All of the operating system services can be made to run natively, at full speed. The only thing that will be emulated is the application code itself. So, except for very computation-intensive application code things could still run smoothly.
Okay, but a lot of OS X (like Quartz Extreme) is optimized to run on Macintosh hardware. Macintosh video hardware is the exact same as PC video hardware these days. In fact, most of the supporting hardware in Macintosh is the same as on a PC.
The PowerPC is part of Apple's 'uniqueness'. It doesn't matter to most consumers what chip or ISA is running their software. The reason people pay for Apple, their core unique value, is their appealing design and the attenion they spend developing a well integrated system. Even if Apple switches to Intel, there's no reason any of that has to change. (Anyway, they could still do something pretty unusual, like putting a Pentium M in a desktop).
Lots of new stuff in Tiger like CoreImage uses AltiVec a great deal. CoreImage actually compiles dataflow graphs to native hardware at runtime, picking the approach that runs best on the target hardware. CoreImage could well compile to x86/SSE2 (or whatever else). That means that even a PPC binary running emulated on an Intel Macintosh could have access to full speed CoreImage services compiled to SSE2.
This will alienate existing PowerPC customers. Why does it have to? If their emulation works well enough, Apple could easily introduce Intel hardware and retain PowerPC as the standard binary format for a while. The common case for ISV's would be to continue developing PowerPC binaries and selling into both the x86/OSX and PPC/OSX markets. The only 'schism' would be arise for software vendors who had to have full performance on x86/OSX. They'd have to worry about shipping some kind of fat binary that ran on both platforms. There still, PPC/OSX customers wouldn't see a difference.
Will Windows run on an Intel Mac? Won't that make it easier for Microsoft to drop Office for OS X? Apple could easily make it virtually impossible to run Windows on whatever hardware they sell. With respect to Office for OS X, Microsoft doesn't really care what the target archicture is: they just want to sell licenses to Office. They'll go where the money is, and that might end up being an OSX/Intel port.

Now that I think about it, the switch to Intel would basically boil down to the same story Apple told in 1993, when it initially switched from the Motorola 680X0 to the PowerPC. Apple pulled it off well in 1993, and now they have the benefit of experience (they've done it before), better emulation technology, and an already more standard hardware platform. It seems plausible to me. The only thing that's left is to figure out why they'd do it, and I have some ideas there too:

  • They could finally move their laptops to a faster chip than the G4.
  • x86 is not going away and it's not going to end up marginalized any time soon. This could be a 'final' switch.
  • If IBM is growing cold on the desktop CPU business (and who could blame them), Apple's hand might be forced into switching away from PPC. Right now, IBM is the only high performance CPU story Apple has.

Anyway, let's see what Jobs says...

May 27, 2005

This is cool... I knew IBM (er, Lenovo) did this, but Dell does it too. They have an online site with all of the service manuals and documentation for every machine they've ever sold. This includes detailed instructions on disassembling and rebuilding laptops.

Even more cool is that the archive goes back to the beginning, back when Dell was called PC's Limited.

Note: The IBM link above is actually still on the IBM site... I expect the link to break whenever Lenovo takes the contents.

March 4, 2005

A few months ago, my wife and I recently switched from a Sanyo 4700 and a 4900 on Sprint PCS to a pair of Sony Ericsson T-637's on bCingular Wireless. Overall, the switch has been an improvement, but there are still a few nagging issues:

  • Cingular's selection of Java games is much sparser and more expensive than Sprint's.
  • There's no "Phone Ringing" Ringtone on the phone, just a bunch of generic and/or unrecognizable music files.
  • There are buttons on the side of the phone that activate the web browser and camera. These are pretty easy to hit by accident.
  • Sanyos and Nokias have this problem too, but the Sony doesn't really handle the case of multiple directory entries with the same phone number. When called by someone at a number that for which I have multiple entries, I'd really like to see a list of all of the entries containing that number. (This would help handle the case of two people each with cell phones and with one home number.)
  • The incoming call logs are by number, not by call. This makes it difficult to tell when you've missed multiple calls from the same number.
  • The incoming call logs rely on automatic horizontal scrolling to reveal information like time of call and number of calls missed. This means that you have to select a log entry and sit on it for a few seconds while the phone scrolls the information you want into view. I'd much rather have some kind of details/summary view toggle button on the side of the phone. Of the four side mounted buttons, surely one could be for this.
  • There's a music editor built in that lets you compose custom ring tones. However, it only lets you work with a fixed set of clips, so it loses its appeal very quickly.

I guess that looks like a lot of complaining, but otherwise the phone is very nice. The last phone I've liked as much is my old Nokia 8260 (and the 6160 before that). The Sanyo 4900 doesn't even come close. I'm happy enough with this phone to consider buying another Sony Ericsson. (The new W800i looks pretty nice...)