Monday, March 14, 2005

"Interesting" article about Cell and Apple

Not too long ago, I wrote an article about Cell and Apple, as well as an article about the Xbox 2's CPU and Cell. When I heard tech writer Robert Enderle had written an article called The New Xbox and Apple's Big Decision, I read it with great interest. Unfortunately, it was a dreadful disappointment.

I normally don't write critiques about other people's articles, but this one is simply bizarre. It uses a series of blatantly wrong assumptions to claim that Apple is doomed.

1) The article hints Xbox 2 uses Cell.
There is also a processor change that heralds a huge benefit for Microsoft (and likely Sony and Nintendo as well). The change also creates a risk for Apple.
The Cell Processor
That is incorrect. Cell is a chip designed by Sony, Toshiba, and IBM, and Microsoft has nothing to do with it. Actually, Microsoft has not given us the exact specifications yet of the chip for the Xbox 2, but from what we do know it seems its cores are similar to Cell's PPE core. However, what really makes Cell, well... Cell... is everything but PPE.

2) The article says that since Cell is so different, OSes that run on it have to be so different that any PowerPC support would be through emulation.
But this doesn't come without a price. This processor is very different from current technology. To make proper use of it, the related OS will need to be largely rewritten, and the only way to run older applications will be under emulation.
As I said, Cell's PPE is PowerPC. It uses the same instruction set. Support for Cell's SPEs would be harder, but that's a different kettle of fish. The bottom line though is that there would be no emulation required at all. Cell's PPE is PowerPC, so the OS would just simply have to support one new PowerPC chip, and would maintain full native backwards compatibility with other PowerPC chips.

3) The article says that IBM is migrating to Cell, and therefore PowerPC is dead.
Apple must now realize that the PowerPC will be less interesting to IBM, which is moving its base toward the Cell. Certainly IBM will continue to produce the part for Apple, but it will ramp down development on future versions in order to work on the new Cell instead. At some point, perhaps even within 3 years, IBM will have finished migrating its own platforms to Cell, leaving Apple nearly alone on PowerPC. This is the Apple nightmare scenario.
IBM has made no such statement. It could build some some machines with Cell, but could you imagine IBM's big iron POWER servers being replaced by Cell in the foreseeable future? The ironic part is that Cell's PPE unit IS PowerPC.

4) The article says that since PowerPC is dead soon, so is Apple, unless they switch away from PowerPC.
When this point approaches, Apple will have three choices. One is to exit the computer business and concentrate on the more powerful accessories market, focusing on competing with Logitech and Creative Labs rather than with Microsoft. A second option will be to adopt the Cell architecture, but this would signal the obsolescence of the current generation of products and make it more difficult to hold customers. (Remember that the move to OS X Latest News about OS X cost them better than three quarters of the market they had before the migration.) Three is to move to x86, and rumors are once again flying that this choice is being discussed. Such a move, however, would have a dramatic and likely negative initial impact on the installed base.

A final option would be to do nothing. This was the strategy that Apple used against the inferior Windows 95 product, and it cost Apple better than 90 percent of the market share it had enjoyed before Windows 95 launched.
See previous points.

If anything, Microsoft's and Sony's choice (and likely Nintendo's choice) of IBM reaffirms IBM's strong backing of the POWER/PowerPC platform. Indeed, IBM has just recently launched, a site to promote the architecture.

Quite frankly, even to this undereducated reader, Enderle's article is the worst I've read in a long time about Cell, Xbox 2, and Apple.

[Update 2005-03-14]

It seems the article has been pulled. The link at no longer works.


Dave said...

Enderle is, to put it friendly, a complete and total idiot. Just compare some of his coverage of the SCO Group vs. IBM lawsuit concerning Linux to that of what provides. He continues to blindly support SCO's position even though they've offered no evidence to support their lawsuit and the widespread opinion of the industry (and even the Judge) is that SCO has no evidence, nor a case and that the whole thing is frivolous.

If you do some research about The Enderle Group you'll find that he'll say whatever you pay him to say. Which makes one wonder, who's paying him to spread these obvious falsehoods about the Cell processor and the FUD about Apple's future?

Yonatron said...

I'm kind kind of surprised you didn't mention that Enderle makes at least a half dozen factual mistakes and as many totally absurd predictions in pretty much every article he writes.

I mean, you knew that, right? You must read AtAT, no?

Eug said...

I haven't read many of his articles, but I did know he has a bit of a reputation. I specifically read this article because it was about Xbox 2/Apple, but was actually quite surprised at its content. Since I'm no expert, I make absurd predictions too, but this article took it to a whole new level. ;)

I guess his editors agree with that assessment, since the article is gone now.

Dave said...

Well, you might try reading his love affair with his new Acer Ferrari-branded laptop:

One impressive piece of execution is that when you fire the machine up it plays a WAV file of a Ferrari race car revving its engine. That alone is worth the relatively low $1,899 price of admission.

As yonatron mentioned, AtAT has a nice article about Enderle's little love affair.