March 28, 2006

Chip off the old block

Posted in Commentary at 2:18 pm by Michael Sweeney Media

I have finally gotten to play with OSX running on Intel. Not exactly the way Apple would prefer it but I was able to recycle my Dell workstation into OSX today. I removed my hard drive which has Windows and which I do need to put back when I’m done and installed an old 60 gig unit for the testing. The CPU is a 2.4 Ghz P4 with 512meg of ram and two DVD drives. It has the normal USB and firewire ports with an ATI 128Meg card. The system is a Dell 4600 which was the high end when I got it but now it’s pretty dated. I also aquired a patched version of Intel OSX 10.4.3 (find it yourselves) and made myself a bootable DVD.

Holding my my breath I booted, made two partitions on the drive and installed OSX. Damned if it did not work right away, no mess, no fuss. It does not know about sound card and the video is strictly VGA at 1024 but it works 🙂 I’ve been happily installing various bits of software, some native Intel and some not and for the most part, everything works. I did find that part of “Net Tool Box” crashed (trying to capture traffic) and I suspect that anything like a sniffer would fail but I am planning on testing this thought. But apps like Abiwrite, RDCmenu, Camino, Fugu all work fine. Right now I am downloading the XCode Tools to see how they behave under the Intel chip since I have them on my G5.

Just for FYI.. I did boot the DVD on a Dell 2850 dual Xeon server. The installer came up but did not see the RAID (duh) but the mind boggled at running OSX on a dual 3.4Ghz Xeon platform. I wonder if would actually work?

The interesting item on the Dell is that the CPU shows up as TWO CPUs (hyperthreading). I plan to turn off Hyperthreading and see if that helps or hinders the performance.

Now, one question is why resort to this patched and pretty grey area of working with OSX Intel. Well, I own three Macs, I have a Mini which I bought used, a refurb’ed iBook (G4) and a used iMac G5. The common thread is all of it’s used and bought with limited funds. Even though I have a developers membership which entitles me to a discount on hardware, I can not afford to buy a new Macbook Pro or iMac. But I need to touch and play with the Intel version for development and to see how my current set of tools works (or not). There has to be a better way for people to be able to develop and test with OSX on Intel than having to buy all new hardware. Thats fine if you have the pockets but I dont and I’m not alone. This is one area that Linux just shines, I can get my favorite distro and plunk it down on my existing hardware, even if I bought the distro which I do own (Xandros), I can recycle virtually any system I want to.

When OSX ran on the PowerPC chip, it was a given that you had to have Apple hardware and we grumbled but accepted it. Now, with the advent of Intel in the Apple world, Apple needs to loosen the reins a bit and give back to the community. Even if it were a discounted and unsupported version of OSX for dev, it would be a help. If Apple said tomorrow that there would be a version of Intel OSX for 75$ and it is unsupported (dont call us if your ABC video card does not work etc), I would be down to the store in a heartbeat. I can afford 75 bucks and a few hours of my time to see if I can recycle one of my older Windows boxen. I can not afford to gamble on a 2,000 dollar notebook or a 1400 dollar desktop system. So for 75 bucks I would be legal, Apple would have another user in the corral and everyone is mostly happy. Listen up Apple!! In the world of Windows, I subscribe to the “Action Pack” which gives me OS and applications from Microsoft to my dev work on and it’s pretty cheap. I’m legal, MS has some bucks from me and everyone is happy. It’s a nice model and it works well. But, Apple is saying that not only do I need their OSX (fine) but I have to use THEIR hardware. There is the rub and where MS does it better.

Anyways.. my impressions up to now with Intel OSX is very favorable. It’s fast, snappy and stable to a fault. I have the feeling that on decent hardware, OSX will be just as stable as it is on Apple hardware. So far as I can see, there is not a visible difference between my using Intel or my using my G5 power PC version, it all looks and acts exactly the same. Kudos to the design teams and engineers.

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