Intel -> Arm Transition Is Official

I suppose I am old enough to have endured two big transitions in the Apple world. The first, of course, was Apple jumping ship from the PowerPC line of chips, ending with the G5 as its last hurrah in that space, to more competitive Intel chips. Today, at WWDC, Apple announced its next transition, promising to release the first Apple Silicone powered Macs by the end of the year.

A Mac Mini style developer’s kit is already being primed and made available to developers to take a look at what this new era will look like.

Already, we are being shown glimpses of new Apple Universal Binaries. (Blast from the past!)

I am always in a wait and see mode, but with the advances that its own chips have given it in the phone and tablet world, this makes sense for Apple. Their chips are excellent and are probably especially ideal for laptops. A MacBook with an Apple chip is going to be fast, efficient, and small, truly fanless without settling for an underpowered mobile Intel chip. It’s kind of exciting. Right now, you can mock up your own experience if you pair a decent iPad with an Apple Keyboard.

What will be especially interesting is the desktop end of it. Will someone really use a Mac desktop with an Apple chip to do their video editing? How will it stack up against the more serious and beefy options in the Intel/AMD world? Is this Apple giving up after recently redesigning the Mac Pro? Apple has committed to continue to support and develop future Intel Macs, and I could see a scenario where Apple’s ARM chips go into the consumer side of things like Mac Minis, MacBooks, and MacBook Pros but everything else remains in the Intel world. However, it’s probably unlikely. We’ll just have to see.

On the other hand, is this the end of any customizability in future Apple Silicone chip-based machines? Will we see, for example, a future Mac mini with upgradable RAM slots? I doubt it. Maybe these future Macs won’t need upgradeability, being far more efficient than current hardware. Maybe their form factors will be simpler, and their price tag a bit cheaper too. Who knows?

Once again, Apple is taking some risks, but in this case, it’s proven. They aren’t dependent on IBM to design and push the limits of its chips. They aren’t going to be tied to Intel either. Their chips are in their hands now. Of course, this could put pressure on Intel to step up and make a case for Apple to remain a customer, working hard to develop processors to fit future products. We’ll see.

Already, Mac users with long memories are wondering when their Intel Macs will be excluded from future Mac updates. Will it be a fast transition like Leopard to Snow Leopard? Or will it take a few cycles?

What a day for the Mac.

— Nathan

Disappearing RAM

Back when I gave the Snow Leopard development build a test run, I noticed something weird that I chocked up to running beta software.

My G5’s RAM was wrong, listing as 6GB when it is actually 10GB.

I didn’t think much of it and went on working on other projects.

Booting back into Leopard, I wasn’t happy to see the RAM size remained incorrect. On top of it, I ordered a cheap 2x2GB set of sticks to further boost my G5. It was time to figure out what was going on, keeping in mind that I had not messed with my RAM at all. The only thing I had done was replace the thermal paste on the CPU.

Here’s my troubleshooting process:

1 – Open up the G5 and reseat the RAM. No fix on the first go.

2 – Reset the NVRAM. No fix either.

3 – Use a tiny bit of thermal surface cleaning solution that I use on CPUs when I put fresh thermal paste on to gently clean the edges of the sticks. Again, no fix.

4 – Spray a little canned air at the empty RAM slots. Again, no fix.

4 – In frustration, I reseated the RAM with a little more firmness. All is well. For now.

My Power Mac is showing 12GB of RAM now (which is what I have in it). Another 4GB is on the way, so I will max this ancient machine out shortly. The answer is… there is no answer. Maybe this G5 is old and near death. We’ll see.

— Nathan

New Site Look

You may have noticed a few things changed around here.

In addition to a flurry of updates, I gave G5Center a face lift. The previous WordPress theme was fine, but it didn’t give me an option to make individual pages sidebar-free. GeneratePress, my current theme, does.

I chose GeneratePress because it is based on bootstrap and is fairly light. I want this website to serve owners and users of older equipment, so less giant images and simpler code is always helpful. So far, my personal tests on a Mac mini G4 and PowerMac G5 seem to bear it out that the website is usable. The only issue I have is that WordPress fusses with me when I login with TenFourFox that my browser is outdated. No surprise there.

So, let me know your feedback. Is there something I can do to make the site more accessible?

— Nathan

Trip Report: Snow Leopard PPC

This week, I spent a few minutes burning an old Snow Leopard Developer’s Build to an extra USB Hard Drive.

It worked. My G5 booted up, and I was able to imagine for a bit what Snow Leopard might have been like if it had kept support even for Power Mac G5s. Overall, the system ran okay, keeping in mind that I booted it from an external USB Drive which is a slow way to go about things.

My graphics card, a GeForce 7800 GT, ran just great, even if there were some graphical glitches at work.

But here’s the rub – the mach_kernel used in the build was compiled in October of 2008. The final version of Leopard, 10.5.8, was released August 5, 2009 (per Wikipedia). Snow Leopard came pretty quickly after on August 28, 2009. And while Snow Leopard’s initial release still had a lot of PowerPC code baked in, I’m unaware of anyone getting that code to work on a PowerPC.

During my test, I ended up pulling the kernel and other frameworks from a Snow Leopard install DVD to make a modified Snow Leopard PPC drive. The G5, each time, would start to load but hang. No doubt, the issue is deeper than just getting Snow Leopard to recognize hardware – there are components that do not contain PPC code. Ultimately, it may just not be possible.

One glaring example – my G5 has 10GB of RAM but only 6GB shows up in the Developer’s Build of Snow Leopard. Weird, right?

I will continue to take a look at this, but my hope dimmed a bit today. Leopard 10.5.8 is more recent a release than these Snow Leopard builds. I think it’s always worth tinkering around, but I don’t believe this will open the door to any Snow Leopard-era software. Your mileage may vary, of course, so go follow along on the MacRumors thread.

Update: I queued this post up a couple of days ago, and in that time, we continue to tinker and work with the Snow Leopard development build. I admit I sound a little pessimistic in this post. Some of that is warranted, but other posters are much more positive about what we can achieve. Stay tuned for more updates.

— Nathan

SimpleMark Version 1.3 Now Available

Welcome to Version 1.3 of SimpleMarkPPC, the world’s “PowerPC only” MarkDown app for Mac OS X 10.4 and 10.5.

Version 1.3 makes significant changes to the app. After years of being frustrated with the AutoSave feature, which worked but produced occasional bizarre bugs like missing letters as you typed, I removed it completely. Now, each time you hit save, which you should do frequently if you want to protect your work, the MarkDown preview displays on the right.

In addition, the app will now open and save to .TXT and .MD files from the get go. I can add future filename extensions of choice easily.

This app is dead simple. You can adjust your font preferences in the Preferences window. It runs your text through an older version of multimarkdown (which can be found in the Resources folder within the app bundle if you want to mess around with it). You can still export to a variety of different file options and print a rather rough but serviceable Markdown copy to a printer if you want.

This app is serviceable. Newer Markdown apps out there do a lot more cool stuff, and I keep wondering if I could get one of them to run someday. In the meanwhile, this could work if you need to mess around with MarkDown files on your G4 or G5.

Download it now.

Remember, it’s still beta software, partly because I am relying on a 2009 version of Real Basic that has all kinds of quirks and also because I am sure there are other strange bugs that will crop up. Give me feedback.

— Nathan