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The farewell to an architecture

As we all already know, the PPC architecture ( Power Performance Computing ) will definitely be abandoned by Apple with the release of the next cat of the apple brand. After years of using this technology and underestimating the one they would later adopt, the time is approaching when the transition will be completed .

The farewell to an architecture
The farewell to an architecture

But after so much time with Power PC, what less than making a slight memory of what was the architecture trying to glimpse what we lose and gain with the change. Were expectations that bad?

One of the main excuses Apple gave for the change in architecture was that the G5 was not evolving . It consumed so much power and got so hot that Apple found it literally impossible to implement it in the notebook range, not in vain the iBook and PowerBook range only came to mount G4, but where did it all start?

We could say that the embryo of PPC architecture was developed by John Cokce in the late seventies while working for IBM. The 801 prototype was built on the RISC standard ( Reduced Instruction Set Computer ). Simplifying the idea, it was hoped that by sending fewer but faster instructions, the processor would be able to do them more easily ( and therefore faster ).

But it wasn’t literally like that for this microprocessor. When used in IBM RT workstations it did not give the performance expected, so IBM got involved in the design of a much more powerful processor, hence the POWER architecture was born. In 1991 IBM realised that they had in their hands a chip with an infinite number of possibilities , so they approached Apple seeking their collaboration to develop a range of processors to introduce to the general public.

Apple, with a long history of collaboration with Motorola and the latter’s vast experience in microprocessor manufacturing invited the company to join the discussions with IBM. From here would come the alliance known as AIM (Apple, IBM, Motorola). The sides of the war were formed, on one side there was the AIM triad and on the other side Microsoft with its Windows and Intel with its 80386 and 80486 generation of processors.

Motorola was at a crossroads. Its family of processors, the 68000 had generated a lot of profit, but its successor, the 88000 was not working as well. Suddenly they had a “winning” design in their hands, in which they had not invested a single dollar, enabling them to keep an important customer (Apple) and acquire a new one (IBM). But there was a problem, the 88000 was being produced .

Apple already had the first prototypes designed with this new Motorola chip, if they could make compatible via BUS of data to this processor with the hardware already developed, Apple and Motorola could bring machines to the market without having to redesign absolutely all the motherboard , gaining precious time. The PowerPC gave birth.

Rudolf Schuba

But of course, System 7 was developed, it had to be rewritten for the PowerPC architecture which was attempted but it was not possible to do it completely , for the parts of the system that could not be rewritten, they were emulated, which led to a slight loss of performance. As a mere anecdote, this System 7, in its version 7.5 introduced the definition of Mac OS in its home screen.

When the first PowerPC was introduced to the market, everyone seemed to be interested in it. In addition to Apple, both Motorola and IBM presented equipment with this architecture and companies such as Microsoft or Sun Microsystems developed versions of their operating systems for this architecture (Windows NT 3.51 and Solaris OS). During the mid-1990s, PowerPC processors showed better performance results than Intel’s x86 architecture .

But this apparent interest quickly evaporated, and in view of the obvious lack of software developed for this architecture, the versions of Solaris and Windows NT for the PowerPC processors were soon abandoned. Only Apple stood firm when it saw a way to try to break the dominance of Microsoft and Intel in the market.

During the following years, and until the end of the nineties, the PowerPC architecture continued its development. Motorola developed processors such as the G3 and G4 which are well known for the wonderful Apple machines they power and in 2003 IBM created the G5, the first 64-bit PowerPC processor . The following year, Motorola left the processors manufacturing market creating an independent company Freescale Semiconductor , which would be in charge of continuing with the designs. IBM would do the same by selling all its patents to an external company. In turn, Apple, for the reasons mentioned above, and with a view to new products, would make the transition to Intel. Was this the end of architecture?

Apparently, nothing could be further from the truth. IBM focused this architecture on the game console market and the three big ones have PowerPC architecture. Nintendo did so on its Gamecube , and now on its Wii . Sony has currently done so on its Playstation 3 (perhaps the most powerful console on the market). And Microsoft has included the PowerPC processors in its Xbox360 .

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The company created by Motorola, Freescale, has continued with the development of the chips, so it would not be surprising if the person in charge of managing all the electrical systems of your car is a PowerPC processor (it seems to have been quite used by the automotive industry). Even the F-35 fighter jet mounts a dual PowerPC.

History is full of wars at this level… VHS-Betamax, Laser Disc-Compact Disc, Blue ray-HD DVD, PowerPC-Intel and it is curious that the worst equipped always wins in the first place. Although until now, the change of platform, is taking us to levels of power and compatibility that before we could not even dream.

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