Jon Ponders Apple

Posted: 10.29.08

Am I having Déjà vu again?

Apple began in 1976 with the 6502 processor and, in 1984, moved to the 68000 with the introduction of the Mac. The company introduced the new computer with an amazing video that played off 1984—that commercial cast the tone and course for the company for the next 34 years. In 1994, Apple partnered with IBM on the PowerPC CPUs and stayed with IBM till 2005 when Steve Jobs officially announced that Apple would begin producing Intel-based Macintosh computers beginning in 2006.

During the last four or so years of the Apple/IBM relationship, Apple kept pressing IBM for higher performance CPUs. Apple needed to more effectively compete with Intel-based PCs. After too many broken promises, Steve Jobs, who had returned to Apple in 1997, had enough and made the switch to Intel. Jobs takes quality and performance very seriously, his customers know it, and his suppliers know it—and they don’t get to stay suppliers very long if they don’t deliver.

With that as a backdrop, I pondered the recent move by Apple from Intel’s IGP chipset to Nvidia’s. Could it be that Apple was tired of waiting for Intel to catch up with ATI and Nvidia? The G45 is a prime example. It has two cores, whereas the Nvidia part has, er, 16!

And the Intel chipset is that, a set, i.e., two chips, a northbridge/IGP and a southbridge, while Nvidia’s chip is, well a chip.

So I was wondering if the irony of this event is that the company that Apple dumped IBM for is also being partially dumped. In Appleland, you either put out, or get out.

On battery life

One of the best laptops I ever had was a 1993 HP Omnibook 300. It had a 9-inch passive B&W (actually light and dark grey) 640 x 480 screen, and a built-in absolute position mouse. It was equipped with an all solid-state memory (10MB flash), the OS (Windows) was in ROM and it booted in a few seconds. It held state and came to life in a second and its 386 processor could run all Office apps. It would work flawlessly on a transcontinental flight and I think even on a transatlantic flight from SFO. Wonderful machine, weighed almost 3 pounds. I used to carry an extra battery and never used it. In a pinch, the Omnibook 300 could also run on four AA batteries. It cost $1,515—the equivalent of $2,150 today.

Nine hours on a charge, held state, OS in ROM—15 years ago. Maybe we’ll get back to that future one day.

I use the Omnibook 300 as a yardstick when evaluating new laptops. The HP Mini-Note comes close.

In those days and, in fact, up until about 2003-2004, the criteria for a laptop was to run on batteries on a transcontinental flight—i.e., four to five hours. And, it was assumed you’d be doing spreadsheets, word-processing, and maybe email during that time, and possibly view a presentation. Then, somewhere along the way, the idea was introduced that you could also watch a movie on your laptop. At first the reaction was, why in the hell would I want to do that? But with the introduction of HD+ 15-inch screens and decent GPUs, CPUs, DVD drives, and pretty good sound, it became a reality—and popular. I can still remember how surprised I was to see someone on a plane actually doing it—and his seat mates couldn’t help looking over at the screen.

Reality check

The average feature-length movie is about two hours. Two hours—not five, not nine. And IGPs have gotten good enough that you can play a movie using them. So what’s the big freakin’ deal about “able to run a feature length movie on a single charge?” Two hours.

Talk about reality distortion—since when did being able to use your laptop for two hours become better than running it for four or five hours—what am I missing here?

  Omnibook 300 Mini-Note 2133
640 x 480
1280 x 1024
16 shade of gray
24-bit color
386 40 MHz
VIA C7 1.2 GHz
2—8 MB
1-2 GB DDR2
10 MB flash
120GB HDD or 4GB Flash
S3 Chrome IGP
Windows 3.1
XP or Linux
11.1 x 6.4 x 1.4
10.4 x 6.5 x 1.05 in
2.88 lb
2.63 lb
Price (today)
$388 - $600

Table 1: Comparison of HP Omnibook 300 (circa 1993) to HP Mini-Note 2133.
(Source: Jon Peddie Research)