IBM's Cell Processor on a Mac
There's been a lot of news lately about Apple Computer's switch from IBM's PowerPC processor to Intel's family of processors commonly seen on Windows PCs. For years, Apple's advertising touted the PowerPC as superior to anything Intel could provide, yet, just last year, Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, announced that they would abandon the PowerPC platform for Intel's offerings, stating that Intel's processors and their roadmap for the future was much better suited to Apple's power needs.
January of this year, the first Intel-powered Apple computers were finally available, and Mr. Jobs, in his usual, colorful manner, promoted the power of Intel's new dual core as being vastly superior to the PowerPC it was replacing. There's no question that compared to the PowerPC G4 processor offered on Apple's current notebooks, Intel's offerings are monumentally faster, but are Intel's processors superior to the 64-bit G5? Hmm. Though the new iMac computer has been used as a point of comparison, it's not necessarily a fair one, starting with the fact that this new, Intel-powered machine uses a dual core processor versus the old iMac's single core (like having two processors versus one). It also has a more powerful bus, graphics card, etc. Yet, even with all these upgraded advantages, real world tests have proven it's not quite the "twice as fast" that Apple claims, and this is looking at applications optimized to run on both systems, as PowerPC applications run unacceptably slow on this new iMac, slowing the entire system to a crawl.
Microsoft released its new Xbox 360 video game system in November of last year, abandoning the Intel processor for a shiny, new multi-core PowerPC (not unlike the multi-core G5 in PowerMacs). Nintendo will release the Nintendo Revolution video game system later this year with a PowerPC processor. Sony, which will release it's own Playstation 3 this year, has also chosen to use IBM's PowerPC, though the Playstation's will be a special, souped up version, developed in a collaboration between the two companies and Toshiba, called the Cell processor. With all the next generation video game platforms migrating to the PowerPC and Microsoft going so far as to abandon Intel for the PowerPC, are Intel's offerings as good as Apple claims on the desktop high end, particularly when compared to the 64-bit, Dual Core G5? Perhaps not.
This is an important question for all those companies, scientists, and what not, that recently abandoned the Intel platforms they were using for Apple's PowerPC servers and desktops. The current, top of the line Power Macintosh system from Apple uses two dual core, 64-bit G5 processors for a total of four processing cores. Wether or not Intel's offerings are able to match that system's power, has yet to be seen as no professional, MacOS desktop system has been announced yet, but it begs the question as to whether Apple truly made the right decision on the high end.
IBM officially introduced its Cell processor products today, demonstrating some real time demos of satellite driven landscape renderings and touting the power this will give to scientists and all those on the high end of the processing spectrum. A lot of coverage was given to the applications and the capabilities that this processor would give to end users. Many had speculated in the past, particularly before Apple's Intel announcement, that the new, PowerPC/Cell driven, video game consoles could have something to offer back to Apple in terms of games or power, particularly having something like the Cell processor to compete with the Intel world. We know that's not possible anymore, but...
...during IBM's announcement, I couldn't help but notice that the Cell processor demonstration was running the MacOS! Here it was for the world to see and bask in its incredible power, and leaving the entire world of Mac users to wonder what an Apple-Cell world would have been like. Rumor has it that Apple is collaborating with Intel, leveraging their PowerPC knowledge to design a new, more powerful high-end processor that could compete with the likes of Cell. This remains to be seen as do the new professional level Macs with Intel.
Until that time, I'll continue to wonder, what a Cell driven Mac world would have been like.