[Beowulf] [craig.hunter at nasa.gov: Re: Intel?]

Eugen Leitl eugen at leitl.org
Wed Jun 8 08:05:53 PDT 2005

----- Forwarded message from Craig Hunter <craig.hunter at nasa.gov> -----

From: Craig Hunter <craig.hunter at nasa.gov>
Date: Wed, 08 Jun 2005 10:50:33 -0400
To: scitech at lists.apple.com
Subject: Re: Intel?
User-Agent: Microsoft-Entourage/

> Message: 8
> Date: Wed, 8 Jun 2005 08:44:06 +0100
> From: Jason Reece <jasonreece at mac.com>
> Subject: Intel?
> To: scitech at lists.apple.com
> Message-ID: <61ac1626019928d12f25cf104d5ad629 at mac.com>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=US-ASCII; format=flowed
> Hi All,
> I was just wondering what the general view was about the move to Intel?
>  From my own point of view, it will be a very good thing. It will
> (hopefully) mean that all the lovely engineering apps. from windows can
> now run at full (or nearly full) speed on my mac, assuming of course
> that Microsoft get VPC working well.
> Thank you very much Mr. Jobs.
> The problem for Apple is that now everyone will wait for Intel Macs
> before buying a new one. I know I probably will.
> It occurred to me that rather than being more of a rival to windows, it
> would appear that Intel Macs will be a Linux killer. Where else can you
> run X11 BSD, OSX and Windows, all at full speed?

If Apple announced that they were going to run on PPC and Intel hardware, it
would have made a lot of sense to me -- good for competition, pick the best
CPU for each particular application, etc..., and it wouldn't have made
current and near-future PPC systems seem like lame ducks.  Instead, they
announced a very dramatic shift which sent out a huge ripple.  It just
doesn't make sense to me, so I think there must be a lot more going on
behind the scenes that we don't know about (Apple/IBM politics).  I just
can't think of a rational reason why they would make such a dramatic
announcement in this fashion without any short-term PPC roadmap (at the very
least, a detailed phase-out plan would have made sense).

I watched the WWDC keynote and Jobs made a fair (though limited) case.
After the Intel CEO came out and gave a short pitch, I even felt good about
it.  But overall, this announcement has left a bad taste in my mouth and
will be a wash until I see more details about the future.  Some issues I am
thinking about:

* lots of time/money spent on AltiVec tuning which is going to be wasted.
Yeah, Intel has MMX/SSE/SSE2, but if you believe the claims Apple made over
the years, AltiVec was always supposed to be better.

* what multi-processor 64-bit CPUs does Intel offer that are a compelling
alternative to the G5 for desktop and cluster systems, in terms of cost,
power, efficiency, heat, etc?  (keep in mind that I continue to think the P4
is a great 32-bit CPU).  Again, Apple has always touted the superiority of
the G5, so this represents a pretty big shift in their posture.

* lots of time/money invested in IBM XLF for OS X, which may be a dead end
in a couple years (or whenever it finally breaks).  I transitioned a lot of
software development to XLF in the last two years.

* Apple has done a good job making sure Cocoa apps transition easily, but
that may not help the majority of scientific developers who are using
compiler tools like Absoft, NAG, XLF, etc... to make command line
executables.  We're going to need to switch compilers and go through a
port/test exercise for every code (mileage always varies here).  In
addition, unless someone comes up with a nice way to make universal binaries
for command line executables, we will need to maintain PPC and Intel
versions of our software through the transition.  I have a hard enough time
maintaining compatibility with past/current/future OS X versions, never mind
dealing with multiple CPU targets.

* On a related note, scientific developers and users are different than
commercial developers in the sense that we're not driven by sales.  When I
spend a week porting a code and tuning it for G5, it's a major investment in
my job and my research capability, and the idea is that the software
development becomes a tool for long term use.  With tight budgets and
limited time, switching platforms/CPUs and supporting other platforms/CPUs
is not easily justified.

* the issue of software compatibility with x86/Windows is speculation at
this point; we don't know if the Mac switch to Intel will be a good or bad
thing for software and apps.  I hope to see more commentary on this from
experts in the field.

(these are my opinions, not NASA's)


Dr. Craig Hunter
NASA Langley Research Center
AAAC/Configuration Aerodynamics Branch
craig.hunter at nasa.gov  (new!!)
(757) 864-3020
(Dual G4 - OS X)

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