eWeek: 64-bit Macs may precede 64-bit OS

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Speculation in eWeek suggests that new Macs based on IBM's 64-bit PowerPC 970 processor may make an appearance before a true 64-bit version of Mac OS X is ready for prime time. The report suggests that Apple will release an interim build of Mac OS X 10.2, code-named "Smeagol," to bridge the gap between the release of this as-yet unannounced Mac and Mac OS X 10.3, code-named "Panther."

Panther is the next major revision to Mac OS X, and it's expected to take center stage during this month's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple's annual gathering of registered Mac hardware and software developers. The event was originally scheduled to take place in May but got pushed off to June and changed its venue from San Jose to San Francisco. Apple said that WWDC will be the first chance that developers outside of Apple will get to see Panther in action, although Panther's public release is still expected to be a few months off.

One issue at stake is Apple's ability to address the gap in clock speed between PowerPC chips and those processors used in PCs. While higher clock speed is no assurance of better performance -- as reiterated by Apple's "Megahertz Myth" protestations -- public perception has been shaped by PC manufacturers who are now selling Pentium 4-based systems operating at clock speeds that are more than twice as high as Apple's best Power Mac G4s. PowerPC 970 chips can operate at considerably higher clock speeds than Mac users have thus seen from their systems.

Speculation has run rampant about Apple's use of PowerPC 970 chips in the last few months, although Apple has been mum about its future plans. IBM's 64-bit 970 chips can also move twice as much data in one cycle than today's current crop of 32-bit PowerPC processors can. That 64-bit design will require some under-the-hood retooling of the compiler used for Mac OS X, according to eWeek's report. The publication posits that 64-bit support will have to wait until Panther's release this September, although Smeagol is expected to provide support for other architectural changes anticipated for future Mac designs.

This story, "eWeek: 64-bit Macs may precede 64-bit OS" was originally published by PCWorld.

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