Forward Looking Analysis
In the final section of an IT reported aimed at understanding the AEC market, Architosh discussed an “inevitable change in microprocessor architectures” where a “new age of compute power and data access, where one’s desire to compute on data is not limited to the physical confines of office or home.”
The purpose of the “forward looking analysis” section of the AEC IT report study in 2002 was to explain the rationale for both sticking withor adopting the Macintosh platform. The report made bold claims and statements that at the time may have been regarded at their best as “misplaced” or at their worst as an “over-reaching” argument for Mac adoption. However they were based on a rationale has turned out to be solidly conclusive in the end.
The Discussion of ARM and PowerPC
The report read: “This projection foretells of a change in the way engineers architect microprocessors.”
Back in 2002 Intel was producing Pentiums with staggering long pipelines and the chip war dialog was centered on ever-increasing frequency numbers. The report continues in the next paragraph that: “More importantly power-consumption on equal footing with performance is vital to the types of new wireless devices that will bring data and entertainment to any device, anywhere, at any time. It is important to notice that this paradigm shift in processor design is resulting in different research and development (R&D) paths for new and existing players in the microprocessor space.”
The report at the time cited IBM exclusively for understanding the shift in microprocessor development, while being critical of AMD’s and Intel’s performance over energy philosophy. The report also positively cited ARM — which currently powers the Apple iPhone.
Louis Gerstner’s (former IBM CEO) Second Internet
A whole page of the report cites and embraces the former IBM CEO’s long term vision of a Second Internet Era characterized by “ubiquitous high-speed wired (and wireless) access.”
The report reads: “In this second phase, people will easily connect to information from a plethora of different devices capable of playing and producing all forms of media (text, voice, image, video, sound, motion). In such a world of many different types of devices at a huge range of price points, microprocessor architectures will require a policy of energy consumption and specialized processing over crude processing performance.”
Apple and PA Semi
It is in this context that Apple’s move to acquire PA Semi addresses the emergence of the Second Internet Era, as described by Lou Gerstner. In the second era leaner processor design is the goal and things like “total talk time” are the new bragging rights. Locking horns in a megahertz race no longer matters for competitors in microprocessor design.
Our 2002 report concluded that Apple would emerge with distinct advantages. “In our view, IBM’s forward-looking vision with processor design places them [Apple] in a strategic position in the industry going forward.” Lou Gerstner believed that the battle for the datacenter processing supremacy was more lucrative in the Second Internet Era than the aging PC model. “That is why Intel wanted Itanium in the first place”, reads the report.
What we couldn’t see at the time would be the emergence of PA Semi — a company that was not yet created — that they would emerge as a powerful force in microprocessor design utilizing the PowerPC architecture.
However with energy concerns far greater than they are today, the emphasis on low-power forms for chip design benefits both the datacenter (like never before) and the mobile Internet device market equally. Apple’s real plans for PA Semi remain unclear at the device level, but at the more macro level Apple can utilize PA Semi’s core strengths across a full spectrum — from the server in the data center (Xserve) to the next amazing mobile device from Apple…whatever that device just happens to be!
The 2002 AEC IT CAD Study report discussed in this article is currently out of print. It was originally available for $50.USD to non-members of AIWUG and was acquired by AEC firms, CAD software companies serving the AEC market, several universities and the US and French governments.