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Nearly 25 Years Ago, IBM Helped Save Macintosh 236

Posted by samzenpus
from the back-in-the-day dept.
dcblogs (1096431) writes "Apple and IBM, which just announced partnership to bring iOS and cloud services to enterprises, have helped each other before. IBM played a key role in turning the Macintosh into a successful hardware platform at a point when it — and the company itself — were struggling. Nearly 25 years ago, IBM was a part of an alliance that gave Apple access to PowerPC chips for Macintosh systems that were competitive, if not better performing in some benchmarks, than the processors Intel was producing at the time for Windows PCs. In 1991, Apple was looking for a RISC-based processor to replace the Motorola 68K it had been using in its Macintosh line. "The PCs of the era were definitely outperforming the Macintoshes that were based on the 68K," he said. "Apple was definitely behind the power, performance curve," said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64. The PowerPC processor that emerged from that earlier pairing changed that. PowerPC processors were used in Macintoshes for more than a decade, until 2006, when Apple switched to Intel chips.
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Nearly 25 Years Ago, IBM Helped Save Macintosh

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  • Pairing? (Score:5, Informative)

    by TheRaven64 (641858) on Thursday July 17, 2014 @07:15AM (#47473679) Journal

    Apple was definitely behind the power, performance curve," said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64. The PowerPC processor that emerged from that earlier pairing changed that

    PowerPC was pushed by the AIM alliance: Apple, IBM, Motorola. The latter two developed and produced chips. Apple had some input. The goal was an ISA that made it easy to emulate both m68k and i386.

    • by dfghjk (711126)

      THE goal of PowerPC was not to make it easy to emulate 68K and x86. It wasn't even A goal.

      The goal of PowerPC was performance parity with x86 at much smaller die sizes and therefore much lower cost. All non-x86 architectures of the era targeted better performance at the same die sizes and costs as x86. What was unique with PowerPC was to be cheaper, that's all.

      • THE goal of PowerPC was not to make it easy to emulate 68K and x86. It wasn't even A goal.

        You might want to go back and read some press releases from the AIM alliance at that time. Or even look at the ISA: there are a lot of things in there that only make sense if you want to emulate m68k or x86. They were positioning PowerPC as a migration path from m68k and i386 systems and being able to emulate both at a reasonable speed was part of this strategy.

        • Or even look at the ISA: there are a lot of things in there that only make sense if you want to emulate m68k or x86.

          That sounds pretty interesting? Do you happen to have a reference for further reading?

        • by Darinbob (1142669)

          I don't see anything in the ISA that would help migration of 68k or 386. However there was stuff at a higher level that would have helped, not specific to those earlier systems but which would help emulation or porting in general. Ie, ability to swap endianness, memory management systems, and so on. Apple itself wrote an m68k emulation system that ran under PowerPC, so clearly it was one of their goals. However there's nothing obvious that I see that was specific for emulating those 2 chip families rath

      • >What was unique with PowerPC was to be cheaper, that's all.

        And yet it never was.

    • Apple was definitely behind the power, performance curve," said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64. The PowerPC processor that emerged from that earlier pairing changed that

      PowerPC was pushed by the AIM alliance: Apple, IBM, Motorola. The latter two developed and produced chips. Apple had some input. The goal was an ISA that made it easy to emulate both m68k and i386.

      No. The goal was twice the performance at half the price of the x86.

      Now Intel's CISC based x86 was certainly more difficult to work with in terms of improving performance but Intel was not exactly lacking in resources, human or financial. Even if it took 10x to improves CISC compared to RISC, Intel had the 10x. Intel pulled off friggin miracles with x86 performance, not one expected them to reach the clock rates they did.

      It turned out that in general PowerPC had a 20% performance advantage over an x86

      • However Intel was able to achieve higher clock rates than PowerPC and maintain a general performance lead.

        That's not quite true, IBM makes some very fast PPC's, they have a 5GHz one available. In fact, you can buy 3.2GHz PPC chips in every Wal-Mart. The problem being, that IBM didn't have those 3+GHz PPC's ready when Apple wanted them.

        • by perpenso (1613749)

          However Intel was able to achieve higher clock rates than PowerPC and maintain a general performance lead.

          That's not quite true, IBM makes some very fast PPC's, they have a 5GHz one available. In fact, you can buy 3.2GHz PPC chips in every Wal-Mart. The problem being, that IBM didn't have those 3+GHz PPC's ready when Apple wanted them.

          I was referring to the era of PowerPC based Macs and the motivation for Apple's ultimate switch to Intel. Plus the PowerPC is something a little different than the workstation class POWER cpus from IBM.

    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      PowerPC was pushed by the AIM alliance: Apple, IBM, Motorola. The latter two developed and produced chips. Apple had some input. The goal was an ISA that made it easy to emulate both m68k and i386.

      I don't think the ISA was a goal, because PowerPC was really just a subset of the POWER architecture that IBM currently had in their mainframes and servers.

      In fact, after PowerPC was released, the minor changes to the ISA that were done were re-incorporated back into the POWER ISA to make POWER binary compatible w

      • by Guy Harris (3803)

        I don't think the ISA was a goal, because PowerPC was really just a subset of the POWER architecture

        Superset of a subset, to be precise. For example, PowerPC omitted the multiplier-quotient register, and multiply/divide instructions using it, that were in the POWER instruction set architecture, but added multiply and divide instructions that used the general-purpose registers.

        that IBM currently had in their mainframes and servers.

        Presumably meaning "RS/6000 workstations and servers"; the instruction set architecture in the mainframes was System/370 (or S/370 XA or ESA or whatever).

    • by Tharkkun (2605613)

      Apple was definitely behind the power, performance curve," said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64. The PowerPC processor that emerged from that earlier pairing changed that

      PowerPC was pushed by the AIM alliance: Apple, IBM, Motorola. The latter two developed and produced chips. Apple had some input. The goal was an ISA that made it easy to emulate both m68k and i386.

      Can we then add that 10 years ago Apple almost went under until Microsoft bailed them out.

  • by scotts13 (1371443) on Thursday July 17, 2014 @07:21AM (#47473717)

    I was working very closely with Apple at the time, and unless everyone was being lied to, "IBM saved Macintosh" is a pretty serious mischaracterization. More like three companies working together to create a platform useful to all the contributors. Did IBM put more into it than the other AIM members? Probably. But they didn't do it out of the goodness of their hearts.

    • by rmdingler (1955220) on Thursday July 17, 2014 @07:30AM (#47473753)

      Did IBM put more into it than the other AIM members? Probably. But they didn't do it out of the goodness of their hearts.

      There exists a noble, altruistic corporation that roams the lands doing the good work.

      Mythbusted

    • by dfghjk (711126) on Thursday July 17, 2014 @07:57AM (#47473927)

      At that time, Apple had plenty of RISC choices, all of which had better floating point performance than x86 and better performance overall. They could have chosen Alpha for its performance or MIPS as MS had done with the NT reference platform. They could have chosen SPARC or 88K and had more direct involvement with the future of their processors. Instead, they bought into IBM's claim that they would take over the x86 with equal performance at lower cost and lower power and got saddled with Motorola's processor design ineptitude.

      It's a gross mischaracterization to say that IBM helped save the Macintosh. IBM led Apple to make a poor strategic decision that they had to rectify a decade later.

      • by swb (14022)

        No matter what CPU they had chosen, wouldn't they have had to migrate off it to x86 eventually? It's not like any of the alternatives like MIPS or Alpha have endured or kept up with Intel.

        Maybe in hindsight they should have gone x86 off the bat but at the time RISC had a lot of hype and interest even from Microsoft.

        Although a switch to MIPS instead of PowerPC might make one of my favorite alternative history stories, an Apple/SGI merger in the early 90s, more plausible as merging MacOS and IRIX would have

        • by armanox (826486)

          SPARC and POWER seem to be still kicking pretty hard for performance. Now, power consumption is another issue with those platforms, but I digress.

          MIPS is still alive, they simply found a different market to target.

      • PowerPC had good performance for several years. When the 603 and 604 were around they had better performance than x86 did. The problems started when the Pentium Pro came out. Even then it was not manufactured in enough numbers to be a real issue. Then the Pentium II came out...

        • PowerPC had good performance for several years. When the 603 and 604 were around they had better performance than x86 did. The problems started when the Pentium Pro came out. Even then it was not manufactured in enough numbers to be a real issue. Then the Pentium II came out...

          No, I think it was more the Pentium IV where Intel overtook Motorola. The PPC G4 design had started to hit up against clock speed walls, and couldn't scale the FSB up either. While Netburst was a disaster for performance/watt, it did scale clock speed wise and had a very fast FSB and memory subsystem, and while everyone else was hovering around the sub-2GHz mark, Intel got plenty of high clock frquency practice.

          Once the Netburst FSB was moved to the P6 architecture in the form of the Pentium M, Intel had th

  • if not better performing in some benchmarks

    ...some of which could perhaps be better described as"benchmarketing"

  • by Crashmarik (635988) on Thursday July 17, 2014 @07:45AM (#47473835)

    A much more elegant architecture than x86. Still have to give Intel credit their manufacturing prowess gave them the edge.

    • A much more elegant architecture than x86.

      Elegance without performance is ultimately pointless. And the 68k platform seemed to be neglected by Motorola. I don't know if the problem was economic, technical or some other issue but Motorola was clearly falling behind the competition for whatever reason. The x86 architecture is ugly (to put it kindly) but it's generally good enough, fast enough, cheap enough and it benefits heavily from network effects. Plus Intel is without question the industry leader in manufacturing efficiency (including die si

      • by dcw3 (649211)

        Neglected? The Macs that I owned went from 68000 to 68020, 68030, 68040, and then to PowerPC. Motorola continued the 68k line with
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M... [wikipedia.org]
        but, this was eventually dropped in favor of the PPC line.

      • And the 68k platform seemed to be neglected by Motorola.

        It sure seems like the M68k architecture could have been pushed forward more. Yeah, it was CISC, not RISC, but it was a very clean CISC. Modern x86 chips are really RISC machines internally, they just have a bunch of translation from the CISC instruction set to the 'real' ISA inside. If nothing else, that approach could have worked for M68k, right? Probably better, since the basic M68k ISA isn't so crufty and ugly like x86.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        the 68k platform seemed to be neglected by Motorola

        Nobody really took up the 68060, there was no reason to continue the line. They used a 68k core for the first dragonball [washington.edu]s, though, which appeared in the Palm Pilot. But then they got access to PowerPC cores, and those became the basis of the later dragonballs. There was just no reason to keep 68k alive at that point.

      • by jedidiah (1196)

        The problem with this fixation on "performance" is that it was all effectively sabotaged by the bloat of operating systems at that time. The resources required weren't keeping pace with the cost of hardware. It became infeasible for most normal consumers to keep up with what things like OS/2 and Windows were demanding.

        It doesn't matter how spiffy your 486 is if it is spending all of it's time swapping.

        My own 486 had extremely dissappointing performance when compared to a even mere 68000 until RAM prices bec

        • My own 486 had extremely dissappointing performance when compared to a even mere 68000 until RAM prices became low enough to adequately equip a PC.

          True. I was astonished when I invested a decent chunk of change and bumped my 100MHz 486 from 16MB to 64MB of RAM. Multitasking actually became practical, especially running Mozilla alongside something else. Of course, the 68K Macs of the day weren't that much better at supporting 'a browser and something else'. The cooperative multitasking of the Mac OS helped

    • Intel has always been the absolute best in the world at semiconductor manufacturing. It's their lithography that has kept them in the game through various design missteps (and disasters).

    • I'd still rather have a good blaster at my side

    • by fermion (181285)
      When Mac came out things like graphics coprocessors were pretty rare. One problem with the MS Windows product was that there was no cheap way to incorporate the kind of graphics heavy capabilities of the Mac. The 68K was the way to go. It was a more elegant solution and there was really no comparable product for the price. Look at the price of an x-window system circa 1990. But the x86 did become better at graphics, and by the mid 1990s there were tolerable products that could be purchased for about th
  • G5s ran too hot for notebooks. IBM's manufacturing capacity for Power/PPC cores outside its own servers and workstations was eaten up by Microsoft for its XBox line. Apple was waiting too much on inventory. They switched to Intel not because their chips were more powerful, but because their chips were more available and could be used more flexibly.

    • IBM's manufacturing capacity for Power/PPC cores outside its own servers and workstations was eaten up by Microsoft for its XBox line

      You mean Sony with the PS3. The Xenon in the 360 is based on the Cell's PPE.

      • A Cell is a PPC core with extra coprocessors, and was the secret processor that caused delays for Apple that IBM couldn't explain. IIRC it was no secret what chip was going into the PS3 before launch. Again, IIRC, Microsoft forced IBM into a minimum delivery rate and wouldn't allow them to disclose to other chip customers where the capacity had gone.

  • The original PC, in 1981 ran on the 8088 - an 8/16 bit hybrid chip. By the time the Mac was released in 1989, the 486 was the chip of choice for the IBM PC and, more importantly, the clones.

    Apple had a history and relationship with Motorola with the 6502 used in its Apple I and II lineup. When the Mac was released, the 68000 was a superior chip to the 386. And, there was the Apple vs PC war going on which helped solidify the choice - Apple was distancing itself from PCs anyway possible.

    The 68K was a super

    • The original PC, in 1981 ran on the 8088 - an 8/16 bit hybrid chip. By the time the Mac was released in 1989

      Strange that the 1984 commercial was for Macintosh, which according to you was released 5 years later.

    • At 1989 486 did not exist, you mix them up with 286.

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