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New Hardware, New Compatibility

The State Of The Personal Computer

Just as there are the budget-minded Windows buyers who cannot appreciate the extensibility of the platform, there are the fashion-conscious Mac buyers who pick up the latest MacBook or iMac simply because it looks stylish. However, that is not to say that Macs lack any substance. I’ve been computing since 1984, and it’s only recently that Mac OS has become the superstar operating system that it is in 2008.

In the Mac OS9 era, there was no true preemptive multitasking support. That means that while you could open multiple applications at any given time, the operating system could not automatically allocate computing resources to each application. Holding the mouse button down, for example, stopped the entire system until you finished your selection. You can be Hiro and even stop time.

The transition to Mac OS X was a substantial one. OS X was essentially the next version of NEXTStep, with OS9 emulation and the support of PowerPC. With this new operating system design, attention to proper programming practices was held. Rather than tie the operating system to a single big endian platform, Apple engineers, from day one focused on code that was clean enough to run on x86 processors. Presumably, it wasn’t difficult to port to the ARM processor.

Although IBM’s Power architecture offered superb performance in its corporate line up, the PowerG5 CPUs failed to offer the same overall performance ratio that was available from AMD’s and Intel’s CPUs beyond floating point computation. More importantly, the G5 was unworkable as a mobile chip and this meant that the Mac notebook had no ability to compete against the rising talent from Intel’s Haifa design team.

Everything’s Changed

We can start with the OS X. Like Nvidia during its rapid six-month product cycles, Apple has been exceptionally aggressive in pushing Mac OS further. Non-Mac users may not realize how different OS X 10.5 (Leopard) is in comparison to the original 10.0 (Cheetah). From the original proof-of-concept 10.0, Apple moved quickly, adding a GPU-based window manager/compositor, a journaled file system, and automated backup support, all the while improving overall system performance with each step forward.

The hardware has also improved dramatically. The visual effects introduced in OS X, which once made OS X one of the slowest operating systems on the market, are now accelerated by faster and faster GPUs. With the transition to Intel complete, today’s Macs offer the same hardware as a PC. In some cases, Apple is even ahead of the PC world—GeForce 9400M shipped first on Apple. This transition has also allowed better PC compatibility with virtualization.

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