- Anthony Frausto ([email protected])
- 28 Jan 2004
Opinion: Macintosh OS X Platform To Extend TCO Advantage in Near Future
Architosh has previously published an indepth 72 AEC firm study that showed that firms that used Macintosh computers in AEC enjoyed a significant cost savings advantage over Windows or mixed platform-based firms. The report's findings indicated that AEC firms that utilized just Macintosh computers spend between 15 - 50 percent less on IT management support cost than firms that used all Windows based computers or firms that used both in varying amounts. The report was based on data collected in 2002.
2002 Gartner Study Reinforces Architosh's Report Findings
In 2002 the respected technology research company Gartner concluded a major study of Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) between Macintosh and Windows-based platforms. According to Gartner's study Macintosh computers are 36 percent cheaper to run than Windows PCs. In their report the primary reason why Macintosh computers had a lower TCO is because they require less technical support and hardware and software costs were also lower. This translated into direct savings of 25 percent for similar sized organizations.
Moreover, the Gartner study revealed that users felt happier about using Macs than users felt about their PCs. Gartner notes that users on the Mac platform require less technical support and less formal training which may contribute to happier end users. This too generated cost savings due to productivity gains.
The 2002 AEC CAD IT Study by Architosh reveals the leading IT areas within AEC organizations where Macintosh firms gain cost saving advantages over Windows and mixed-platform firms. Of the five key findings in the Architosh study one finding was detrimental to the Macintosh's Total Cost of Ownership average: initial hardware cost (IHC). Back in 2002 the findings revealed that Macintosh only firms spent 12 percent more on initial hardware costs but kept their hardware longer on average than mixed platform and Windows-only firms.
Historical Initial High Cost of Macs and Current Trends
The Gartner report made note of a continued multi-year trend by Apple to become more price competitive to Windows personal computers. Because the historical price differential is the one remaining thorn in Apple's foot in TCO studies and because the differential has been so aggressively eroded by Apple in an effort to be price competitive, the subject itself has been highly monitored in recent years. The Macintosh news website MacObserver maintains very accurate and detailed Mac versus PC "system shootouts".
Current trends have recently brought Apple to a unique situation in the history of Mac versus PC initial price comparisons. In at least the higher end segment of the market where the Power Mac G5 participates, Apple has easily surpassed PC's in initial price advantage when performance is considered in the equation.
In a feature report on Architosh, one of the world's leading CAD (computer-aided design) software developers (who produce software on both Mac and Windows platforms) have shared internal performance test scores with Architosh which reveal just how much more powerful Apple Power Mac G5 systems are than competing Intel-based Windows systems in the same price range. At this point in time Apple's professional Power Mac G5 systems have no equal competition at any price in the PC space. (see Apple G5: Smokes Intel Competition)
In addition to Apple's continued use of standard industry components in its systems -- which led to more price competitiveness with Wintel -- Apple has scored a major victory in the adoption of IBM's phenomenally powerful 64-bit PowerPC 97x microprocessors which are at the heart of Apple G5 systems (Power Macs and Xserve servers). These processors from IBM yield substantial performance advantages for Apple in three major areas: 1) floating-point calculation performance, 2) systems bus connectivity performance, and 3) physical size and energy requirements. In addition the chips yield advantages when software is written for its 64-bit data registers or its extended memory capacity. Apple systems can support up to 8 GB of RAM on current motherboard designs compared to the 4 GB limit on Intel 32-bit processors.
Macintosh TCO Advantage to Gain Acceleration
While recent CAD performance tests reveal that a Power Mac G5 1.8Ghz single processor system is substantially faster than a comparatively priced 2.8Ghz Xeon-based Wintel system, things are expected to get even better in the performance arena over the rest of 2004 and beyond.
IBM has revealed its technical literature on its new 90 nanometer process IBM PowerPC 970 FX chip used in the latest Apple G5 Xserve server computers. The new G5 processors will gain a substantial power decrease due to their smaller manufacturing process, which should enable Apple to push the chip to near 2.5Ghz clock frequency in the upcoming revised Power Macs. Rumor sites are widely circulating the same numbers and even if they fell slightly short Apple's Power Mac G5 will maintain its deep performance advantages over Intel's Pentium 4.
The primary advantage Apple is currently enjoying from using IBM's PowerPC line of 64-bit processors extends in multiple directions. In other words, the advantages display across multiple facets in the computer chip architecture. They can be generalized as follows:
- The PowerPC architecture is historically superior at floating-point instructions. The PowerPC 97x family of 64-bit processors are built around IBM's legendary POWER 4 server and supercomputer microprocessor architecture.
- The PowerPC to utilize dual-core designs. The PowerPC 9xx family of processors are expected to extend to dual-core designs based on the native dual-core designs of their parent POWER 4, POWER 5, and future POWER 6 processors.
- The PowerPC has physical size advantages. The PowerPC has historically had advantages in being physically smaller than Intel x86 microprocessors. The smaller size advantages include both decreased power consumption -- which lead to greater battery life in mobiles -- and decreased heat generation in desktops/workstations and servers -- which lead to more compact designs (highly beneficial in rackmount servers and clusters).
- The PowerPC supports multi-processors. The IBM 64-bit PowerPC 9xx architectures all support dual and multiprocessor systems. The Pentium 4 does not support multiprocessors.
Intel's ongoing challenges with the Pentium x86 based chip architecture revolve around many of these areas where the PowerPC enjoys natural advantages over Intel architectures. Furthermore, Intel has found itself in a quagmire over when and how to move personal computers to 64-bit processing. After spending billions of dollars on research and development with HP on the Intel Itanium, AMD has presented significant challenges to Intel's plans for migrating its users to 64-bit computing (later in the decade) by developing its own 64-bit extensions to the x86 class of Athlon and Opteron processors today. AMD's new 64-bit x86 chips are forcing the 64-bit desktop computing revolution ahead of Intel's own schedule. As a result Intel's official line and strategy is to present significant arguments for having no need for 64-bits in the PC market space at the present time. This strategy is likely to fail as both Apple, AMD and other software vendors find excellent utilization for 64-bit computing in new software categories.
As traditional PC vendors get bifurcated over which direction to go (Intel's line or AMD's) Apple will enjoy a consolidated position advantage. It's Power Mac systems should -- over the next few years -- gain substantial performance per cost advantages over Intel systems specifically. This ultimately leads to accelerated TCO advantages for Apple in the near future.
Microsoft Acknowledging Apple's Near Future Advantages
Even Microsoft is aware of the omnipresent advances Apple is making with its Mac systems and servers. In a Macworld UK article last week the company predicted a Mac Renaissance over the next several years. Microsoft expects Apples' market share to increase over the next two to three years due to strong momentum on the platform. Jonathan Hulse, Microsoft's group marketing manager for home and retail products told Macworld UK that the company sees the platform (Mac OS X) heading in a positive direction.
Microsoft has placed itself in an interesting position to gauge Apple's potential future performance advances. According to many sources Microsoft has determined that it must embrace IBM's PowerPC chip architecture for its next game machine, the X-Box 2, in order to stay competitive with its chief rival, Sony, with its upcoming PlayStation 3. Sony is planning on utilizing a specialized PowerPC supercomputer chip code named the Cell built exclusively for Sony by IBM. This future 64-bit chip is rumored to possess phenomenal floating-point calculation capabilities ideal for cinematic-quality computer animation and advanced AI engines in computerized games. IBM is planning on producing a different high performance PowerPC chip for Microsoft's X-Box 2 but not much is known about that chip.
The company's access to the IBM PowerPC camp provides it a glimpse at what is both "possible" and "likely" in the PowerPC world. While giving the company access to essentially the same technology, Microsoft hopes to remain competive with Sony using IBM PowerPC technology. That -- combined with its past experience with PowerPC and its new purchase of Connectix's emulation technology -- give Microsoft a future safety net if IBM's PowerPC architecture should gain protracted advantages over Intel microprocessor platforms down the road.
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