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A Quick rundown on the History of Apple Processors

March 24, 2010

This article is written for a friend of mine who needs the run-down on what’s been going on with processors and Macs.

1)     First Macs had motorola “68k” processors in the old days (until 1995 or so).  68000, 680020 030 040 etc….  This was back in the day when speed in MHz meant everything. This processor was also used for other types of computers (Amiga) that had a similar user interface.

2)     Then the introduction of “PowerPC” processors in 1996.  These were at first 32-bit processors that didn’t just push the MHz envelope, they actually changed the architecture of the microchip to make it “smarter”.  I’ll never forget the name: RISC (reduced instruction set computing).  Eventually MacOS and programs used the 64-bit architecture in 2002.

There were some growing pains with the change in processors that are paralleled with what’s going on today.  Mostly related to “bloated” software.  Imagine an program carrying the “computer language” for both types of microprocessors (68k and PowerPC) at the same time.  This was known as a “FAT binary” (get it? Bloated, fat!) Also, any software written for the old style of processor could be run on the new processor in something called “emulation mode”.  This made  it chuggy, slow, and almost unbearable.  Eventually, software makers dropped the old code instruction part, adopted the new architecture as king, and things became much skinnier, faster, and simpler.

3)     After this in 2005 apple said “holy shit, we’re going with Intel”, which was a smart move cause intel processors dominate. Now the apple processor of choice is the EXACT same thing you can buy for your PC.  The stats about speed and processor generation.  So you want to know what’s happening with processors in the Mac?  Follow the intel processor lineup for PCs.

The processor used in 2006 was the “intel Core Duo”.  Again, as in 1996, programs had to be distributed to run on both intel and non-intel platforms.  Yuck.  They have an “emulation mode” similar to the previous change in architecture, but again, slow, fat, and awful.

When evaluating the new intel lineup, architecture is king, *then* speed. Core Duo was actually a laptop processor designed for limited power consumption (in watts).  Then intel released a new lineup called “Core 2”, of which there was a “Core 2 Duo” (meaning second revision of the core, and “dual” cores on a chip). All that’s trash now. Intel’s “Core 2” is retired.  The new lineup is called the Core i series.

Core i3 – entry level

Core i5 – mid level

Core i7 – Kickass

Core i7 Extreme – “Now we’re all sons of bitches.”

The one thing that binds the “ Core i “ appears to be something called “Nehalem” architecture.  The name is native American tribe from Oregon.  The bottom line is two, four, or six cores (holy shit), newer manufacturing process, new memory controller, intregrated graphics processor package, new bus-types, and a very special type of memory called “L1,2,3 cache” in the amounts of 32KB L1 per core, 256KB L2 per core, 4-8MB L3 shared by all cores.  It’s lower power consumption,  but none-the lacking in terms of performance.

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 9, 2011 12:40 pm

    Hello Realworldnumbers,

    You seem to deal with quantifiable subjects.

    How does “realworldnumbers” deal with the ephemeral topics that are more difficult to pin down?

    Here’s one: Does the “life force” in our bodies (sometimes called “the soul”) have weight?



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