Mac transition to Intel processors

The Mac transition to Intel processors was the process of changing the central processing unit (CPU) of Apple Inc.'s line of Mac computers, as well as its server offerings at the time, from PowerPC to Intel x86 processors.

Steve Jobs announcing the Intel transition in 2005.

The transition became public knowledge at the 2005 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), when then Apple CEO Steve Jobs made the announcement to transition away from the use of PowerPC microprocessors supplied by Freescale (formerly Motorola) and IBM.[1]

At the time, the transition marked the second time Apple migrated its personal computer product line from one processor instruction set architecture to another. The first was the switch from the Mac's original Motorola 68000 series architecture to the then-new PowerPC platform in 1994.[2]

Apple's initial press release indicated the transition would begin by June 2006, and finish by the end of 2007, but it actually proceeded much more quickly. The first generation Intel-based Macintoshes were released in January 2006 with Mac OS X 10.4.4 Tiger, and Steve Jobs announced the last models to switch in August 2006, the Mac Pro available immediately and with the Intel Xserve available by October 2006.[3] The Xserve servers were available in December 2006.[4]

Apple released Mac OS X v10.6 "Snow Leopard" on August 28, 2009 as Intel-only, removing support for the PowerPC architecture. It is also the last Mac OS X version that supports PowerPC-based applications,[5] as Mac OS X v10.7 "Lion" dropped support for Rosetta.

In 2020, 15 years following the announcement to transition to Intel processors, Apple announced a transition of the Macintosh to ARM-based processors developed in-house.[2]


A PowerPC 970FX processor, which was used in a number of Apple computers featuring PowerPC G5 processors.

By the time Apple announced the transition to Intel processors, Apple had been using PowerPC processors in its product line for 11 years.

During 2003's WWDC keynote address, Jobs unveiled a Power Mac that features a processor from IBM's PowerPC G5 product line.[6] At the time, the Power Mac G5 was the first personal computer to feature a 64-bit processor.[6]

Despite promise of a 3 GHz Power Mac G5 within 12 months of the Power Mac G5's release, such a product was never released.[6] In 2004's WWDC keynote address, Jobs addressed the broken promise, saying IBM had trouble moving to a fabrication process lower than the 90 nm process.[6] Apple officials also said in 2003 they planned to release a PowerBook with a G5 processor,[7] but such a product never materialized. Tim Cook, then Apple's Executive Vice President of Worldwide Sales and Operations, said during an earnings call that putting a G5 in a PowerBook was "the mother of all thermal challenges".[8]

In addition, there were reports that IBM officials had concerns over the profitability of a low-volume business, which caused tensions with Apple and its desires for a wide variety of Power PC processors.[9]



Apple's efforts to transition to Intel hardware date back to 1985, when the company, shortly following Jobs' departure from the company, proposed such a transition. The proposal, however, was quickly denied by management at the time.[10]


The first known attempt by Apple to actually move to Intel's platform was the Star Trek project, a code name given to a secret project to run a port of Classic Mac OS System 7 and its applications on an Intel-compatible personal computer.[10] The effort began on February 14, 1992, with the blessing of Intel's then CEO, Andy Grove.[10]

Apple's leadership at the time placed an October 31 deadline to create a working prototype, which was met. A functional demo was ready by December that year. John Sculley's departure during the Star Trek project, was a factor in the project's termination. Michael Spindler, who took over as Apple's CEO, devoted most of Apple's resources to transition to PowerPC instead,[10] thus initiating Apple's first processor transition.

Early 2000sEdit

In the years since the end of the Star Trek project, there were reports of Apple working to port its operating system to Intel's x86 processors, with one engineer managing to get Apple's OS to run on a number of Intel-powered computers.[11]

In 2001, Jobs and then Sony president Kunitake Andō reportedly had a meeting to discuss the possibility of running Apple's operating system on Vaio, which was owned by Sony at the time. Jobs even presented a Vaio running Mac OS. Such negotiations ultimately came to nothing.[12]

In 2002, it was reported that Apple had more than a dozen software engineers tasked to a project code-named "Marklar," with a mission to steadily work on maintaining PC-compatible builds of Mac OS X.[13]

It was noted in 2003 by IBM in an article published to its intranet that Apple felt a transition to Intel presents massive software changes that it wanted to avoid.[14] Nevertheless, rumors of an impending announcement of a transition to Intel cropped up in 2000 and 2003.[15]


Steve Jobs reveals Mac OS X running on Pentium 4 hardware.

News reports of an impending announcement by Apple to transition to Intel processors surfaced in early June 2005,[9], close to that year's WWDC. The announcement was made during that year's WWDC Keynote Address.[1]

At the time Apple announced the transition, Jobs attributed the switch to a superior product roadmap that Intel offered,[16] as well as an inability to build products envisioned by Apple based on the PowerPC product roadmap.[7] Meanwhile, pricing disputes with IBM, in addition to a desire by Apple to give its computer the ability to run Microsoft Windows, were reportedly factors for the switch as well.[2][16]

Reaction to the changeEdit

At the time, a research director for Ovum Ltd. called the move "risky" and "foolish,” noting that Intel's innovation in processor design is overshadowed by both AMD and IBM.[17] Another analyst said the move risks diluting Apple's value proposition, since it will now have less control over its product road map, in addition to the risk of alienating its loyal users.[17]


Some observers expressed surprise that Apple made a deal with Intel instead of with AMD.[18] By 2005, AMD had become popular with gamers and the budget conscious,[18] but some analysts believed AMD's lack of low-power designs at the time was behind Apple's decision to go with Intel.[18]

In 2011, Apple investigated using AMD's low power Llano APU for the MacBook Air, but eventually opted for Intel due to AMD's potential inability to supply enough Llano processors to meet demand.[19] AMD processors have never made an appearance on Macs since the transition to Intel.

Concerns over Rosetta performanceEdit

When Rosetta was announced, it was noted that the translation software is designed to translate applications that run on a "PowerPC with a G3 processor and that are built for Mac OS X."[20] It was noted at the time that translated software performs at a level between 50% to 80% of native software.[20][21] The announcement caused concerns over performance.


At the time the transition was announced, it was noted that a degree of enmity towards Intel exists amongst some fans of Apple products, due to Intel's close identification with Microsoft.[22] In addition, It was noted by Intel's then CEO, Paul Otellini, that Apple and Intel's relationship were strained at times, especially due to Apple's commission of an ad that shows Intel processors being outperformed by PowerPC processors.[22]

While there were questions over whether Apple would put the Intel Inside stickers on its products, Jobs dispelled such a possibility, saying it is redundant when Apple's use of Intel processors is well-known.[23] "Intel Inside" stickers have never been included on any Apple product.[24]

Osborne EffectEdit

There was concern that an early announcement of the change would cause an Osborne effect,[25][26] but it was also noted that even if an Osborne effect appears, it merely means delayed purchases of Mac computers, not cancelled purchases, and that Apple has enough cash on hand at the time to weather a potential decline in sales.[27]

Analysis of financial data suggests that the Osborne Effect did not materialize, with sales for Macs growing by 19% and 37% in the two quarters following March 2006. [28]

Product compatibilityEdit

Classic environment, the Mac OS 9 virtualization measure for Mac OS X, was not ported to the x86 architecture,[29] leaving the new Intel-powered Macs incompatible with original Mac OS applications without a proper third-party PowerPC emulator.

There were also concerns over third-party software support, with reaction to the change being mixed amongst the software developer community, due to a need to recompile software for compatibility on Intel-based Macs.[22] In early 2006, it was reported that a number of software companies, such as Adobe, Aspyr and Microsoft, were not ready to release universal binary versions of their software offerings.[30]

Technical issuesEdit

In the years prior to Apple's announcement of the transition, it was noted that there was a debate over the difference of endianness between Intel and non-Intel processors, as well as the merits of each CPU architecture.[31] The difference in endianness meant that some software could not simply be recompiled; it required changes to make it work on processors of either endianness.[32]

Transition processEdit


During Apple's 2005 WWDC, the company introduced a Developer Transition Kit consisting of a prototype Intel-based Mac computer, along with preliminary versions of Mac OS X Tiger and Xcode, which allowed developers to prepare future versions of their software to run on both PowerPC and Intel-based Macs.[1]

To allow apps built for PowerPC-based Macs to run on Intel-based Macs without recompilation, a dynamic binary translation software called Rosetta was created.[20]


On January 10, Apple unveiled an Intel-based iMac,[33] as well as a 15-inch MacBook Pro laptop, which replaced the similarly-sized PowerBook.[34]

On February 28, a Mac mini featuring an Intel Core Duo processor was unveiled.[35]

On April 5, the dual-boot software Boot Camp was released as a trial version, which allowed Intel-based Mac owners to run Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows.[36] On April 24, a MacBook Pro replacement for the 17-inch PowerBook was announced.[37]

On May 16, a replacement for the iBook, called MacBook, was announced, thus completing the transition of Apple's laptop line to Intel processors.[38]

On July 5, a replacement for the eMac, a special education configuration of a 17-inch iMac, was announced.[39]

On August 7, Apple unveiled a replacement for the PowerMac, Mac Pro,[40] and an Intel-based version of Xserve.[41] The unveiling of the Mac Pro was touted by Apple as a completion of its transition to Intel, and said the entire process took 210 days.[40]

Ongoing support for PowerPC following transitionEdit

The first macOS to require a Mac with Intel processors, thus dropping support for PowerPC-based Macs, was 10.6 Snow Leopard.[42] Snow Leopard was shipped in August 2009,[43] three years after the transition was complete. Support for Rosetta was dropped from macOS on 10.7 Lion,[44] which was released in July 2011.[45] By that point, five years had passed since the transition to Intel was complete.

The last Apple app to feature support for PowerPC processors was iTunes 10.6.3, which was released on June 11, 2012.[46]

Apple has a policy of placing products that have not been sold for more than five years, but less than seven years, on "vintage" status, meaning hardware services from Apple service providers, including Apple Stores, are subjected to availability of inventory, or as required by law. A product is considered obsolete after it has not been sold for more than seven years, which also stops hardware support.[47] Based on this policy, all PowerPC-based Macs are now considered obsolete.


A Mashable article in 2016 noted that the decision to switch to Intel processors gave many people who wanted a Mac, but couldn't commit to giving up Windows, a way to have both via Boot Camp and a number of virtualization programs,[48] and that Mac, as a computer platform, had a renaissance following the transition, with more apps being developed.[48] The article also said following the transition to Intel, Mac, while still outsold by Windows and other computer systems, has had a remarkable comeback, and also noted that Mac users tend to be loyal to the Apple ecosystem, which leads to purchases of other Apple products such as iPad, iPhone and Apple Watch.[48]

On June 22, 2020, Apple announced plans to transition the Macintosh to ARM processors over a two-year period, following a roadmap similar to the Intel transition, including universal binaries and a Rosetta 2 compatibility program. Apple had been using ARM in its other products and designing its own ARM chips for many years.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c "Apple to Use Intel Microprocessors Beginning in 2006". Apple Inc. June 6, 2005. Retrieved June 23, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c Shankland, Stephen (June 22, 2020). "Apple gives Macs a brain transplant with new Arm chips starting this year". CNet. Retrieved June 23, 2020.
  3. ^ Cohen, Peter (August 6, 2006). "WWDC Live Keynote Update". Macworld.
  4. ^ "Xserve Technology Overview" (PDF).
  5. ^ "Apple Previews Mac OS X Snow Leopard to Developers" (Press release). Apple Inc. June 9, 2008. Retrieved December 4, 2017.
  6. ^ a b c d Hackett, Stephen (June 14, 2018). "The Mighty Power Mac G5". MacStories. Retrieved June 23, 2020.
  7. ^ a b Hackett, Stephen (June 24, 2016). "The Switch to Intel". iMore. Retrieved June 23, 2020.
  8. ^ "Analysis: Timing Isn't Right for G5 PowerBook". (Via Macworld). February 7, 2005. Retrieved June 25, 2020.
  9. ^ a b Shankland, Stephen (June 4, 2005). "Apple to ditch IBM, switch to Intel chips". CNet (Via Retrieved June 24, 2020.
  10. ^ a b c d Hormby, Tom (April 27, 2014). "Star Trek: Apple's First Mac OS on Intel Project". LowEndMac. Retrieved June 24, 2020.
  11. ^ Savov, Vlad (June 11, 2012). "The humble beginnings of OS X on Intel". The Verge. Retrieved June 24, 2020.
  12. ^ Souppouris, Aaron (February 5, 2014). "Steve Jobs wanted Sony VAIOs to run OS X". The Verge. Retrieved June 24, 2020.
  13. ^ dePlume, Nick (August 30, 2002). "Apple Keeps x86 Torch Lit with Marklar". eWeek. Retrieved June 24, 2020.
  14. ^ Kim, Arnold (September 12, 2003). "IBM on Apple/Intel and the G5". MacRumors. Retrieved June 24, 2020.
  15. ^ Kim, Arnold (June 4, 2005). "'Intel Based Mac' Rumor Roundup... [Updated x2]". MacRumors. Retrieved June 25, 2020.
  16. ^ a b Crothers, Brooke (June 15, 2009). "Four years later: Why did Apple drop PowerPC?". CNet. Retrieved June 23, 2020.
  17. ^ a b Bennett, Amy (2005). "Apple shifting from PowerPC to Intel". Computerworld. Retrieved August 4, 2020.
  18. ^ a b c McLaughlin, Laurianne (September 14, 2005). "Analysis: Why Apple picked Intel over AMD". MacWorld. Retrieved June 24, 2020.
  19. ^ "Exclusive: Apple MacBook Air with AMD processor dead". SemiAccurate. November 17, 2011.
  20. ^ a b c Shankland, Stephen (June 8, 2005). "The brains behind Apple's Rosetta: Transitive". CNet. Retrieved June 24, 2020.
  21. ^ Norr, Henry (January 28, 2006). "Core Duo iMacs debut speedy new chips". Macworld. Retrieved August 4, 2020. Second, programs that do run on the translator generally work at roughly half the speed they deliver on PowerPC processors...
  22. ^ a b c Chmielewski, Dawn (June 7, 2005). "2005: Changing Apple"s core — Jobs says Intel chips will replace IBM in Macintosh beginning next summer". San Jose Mercury News (via Monterey Herald). Retrieved June 24, 2020.
  23. ^ Pot, Justin (July 24, 2017). "Why Don't Macs Have "Intel Inside" Stickers?". How-To Geek. Retrieved June 23, 2020.
  24. ^ Sorrel, Charlie (August 13, 2007). "Apple Fan Frenzy: Stickergate". Wired.
  25. ^ Andrew, Orlowski (June 8, 2005). "The Osborne Effect spooks Apple". The Register. Retrieved June 23, 2020.
  26. ^ Cooper, Charles (July 14, 2005). "Apple and the "Osborne Effect"". CNet. Retrieved June 23, 2020.
  27. ^ Pogue, David (June 16, 2005). "Considering the Macintel Alliance". The New York Times. Retrieved August 4, 2020.
  28. ^ Gassée, Jean-Louis (June 14, 2020). "Osborning The Mac. Or Not". Monday Note. Retrieved June 23, 2020.
  29. ^ "MacOS 9/Classic Support Q&A". July 12, 2006. Retrieved June 23, 2020.
  30. ^ Shimpi, Shimpi (January 30, 2006). "Apple Makes the Switch: iMac G5 vs. iMac Core Duo". AnandTech. Retrieved June 24, 2020.
  31. ^ Verts, William T. (April 19, 1996). "An Essay on Endian Order". Retrieved June 30, 2020.
  32. ^ "When Apple made the switch from PowerPC to Intel x86, what did that entail for their programmers?". Reddit. 2013. Retrieved June 30, 2020. ...Note also that PPC is big-endian and Intel is little-endian, so in practice a lot of software couldn't just be recompiled; any place where the byte order was assumed had to be fixed...
  33. ^ "Apple debuts Intel-powered Macs". BBC News. January 10, 2006. Retrieved June 25, 2020.
  34. ^ "Apple Introduces MacBook Pro". Apple Inc. January 10, 2006. Retrieved June 25, 2020. MacBook Pro is up to four times faster than the product it replaces, the PowerBook G4, running industry standard benchmarks.
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  42. ^ "Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard Installation and Setup Guide" (PDF). Apple Inc. 2009. Retrieved June 25, 2020. To upgrade to Snow Leopard or install Snow Leopard for the first time, you must have a Mac with: An Intel processor
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  46. ^ "iTunes 10.6.3". Apple Inc. June 11, 2012. Retrieved June 25, 2020.
  47. ^ "Vintage and obsolete products". Apple Inc. Retrieved June 25, 2020.
  48. ^ a b c Warren, Christina (June 29, 2016). "10 years on, Apple's risky move to Intel Macs is one of its biggest successes". Mashable. Retrieved June 25, 2020.

External linksEdit