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Hot Soup: The secret life of chips

By SoupIsGood Food, (soup@macedition.com), June 11, 2002

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Hot Soup! Comin’ thru!

Welcome to my quasi-blog. It will be updated with a fresh, new article twice weekly. These will be, for the most part, short and off the cuff, dealing with whatever has captured my fancy recently, and laden with nice links for you to follow. They will usually be technical in nature, but not always. They will have some bearing on the Macintosh industry and community, though perhaps in very indirect ways. In short, I’m giving you a whole new reason to be reprimanded for wasting time on the Internet while at work – aren’t I a fine fellow?

I will be monitoring the feedback farm below this very article, and goading, greeting and genuflecting to those who catch my interest. Don’t be shy ... I’ll only mock you a little.

To get things off to the right start, a small musing on the lifespan of processors. To begin with, we have the 8MHz Motorola 68000, a 16/32-bit processor that was very much ahead of its time. It saw duty in the Lisa, which was way too expensive, and then in the Macintosh. Of course, by the time it appeared in the very first 128K Macintosh, it was already at the dusk of its dominance, having one more year before the appearance of the 68010, which the first Sun workstations were based upon. Of course, that didn’t stop it from being used in various Mac models, usually without so much as a speed bump, for the next eight years: the original Macintosh, 512, 512e, Plus, SE, Portable, Classic and finally the Powerbook 100. By the time Apple made the leap from the 68000 to the 68020 with the Macintosh II, Motorola had unleashed the 68010, the 68020 and the 68030. These saw heavy use in the embedded market before Apple even got a whiff of ’em.

Now, it seems, the tables have turned. It’s been four years since Motorola came out with a new PowerPC chip family, and we waited an entire year for the G4 to break the 500MHz barrier while its x86 rivals were ratcheting up another 400MHz every six months. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a very, very, very bad idea for Apple to switch processors right now. But I have to wonder how long Motorola can keep the rest of its customers with this “commitment” to R&D. ARM is lean and hungry, and Transmeta is always looking for a new niche – their offerings, while anemic right now compared to PowerPC, won’t stay that way. Despite Motorola’s foot-dragging and missteps, the G5 appears to be the speed champ of the next wave of processors; Intel’s Itanium 2 and AMD’s Opteron are both running well below their expected performance in the initial samples ... despite being 64-bit chips. Let’s see if it can keep its leadership position this time. Historically, Motorola’s got the brains and the ability to pull it off.

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