Today in Apple history: Apple chooses Intel over PowerPC

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The transition to Intel was a big achievement for Steve Jobs.
Photo: Thomas Hawk/Flickr CC

June 6: Today in Apple history: Apple switches Mac to Intel chips from PowerPC June 6, 2005: Steve Jobs reveals that Apple is switching the Mac from PowerPC processors to Intel.

Speaking at that year’s WWDC, Jobs’ revelation reminds us that he is a CEO who can get things done. Given Intel’s focus on mobile computing, it also offers a hint at what Apple’s CEO has planned for the second half of his reign.

Goodbye PowerPC!

Standing onstage at WWDC 2005, Jobs talked about PowerPC processors’ limits. Previously, Apple only attempted changing CPU architecture once before. (It switched from the Motorola 68000 to PowerPC in the early 1990s.)

Going with Intel chips was a risky move for a tech company. In fact, it had been enough to topple other computer makers, such as one-time Apple rivals Commodore and Atari. However, as Jobs explained, Apple could not deliver on its vision without making the change.

“I stood up here two years ago in front of you and I promised you [a 3GHz Power Macintosh G5], and we haven’t been able to deliver that to you yet,” he said. “I think a lot of you would like a G5 in your PowerBook and we haven’t been able to deliver that to you yet…. As we look ahead, though we may have great products right now — and we’ve got some great PowerPC product still yet to come — as we look ahead we can envision some amazing products we want to build for you and we don’t know how to build them with the future PowerPC road map.”

The PowerPC G5 processor generated too much heat, and consumed too much energy, to power the kind of ultra-thin, ultra-light products Jobs wanted to make with computers like the MacBook Air.

Intel processors, on the other hand, represented where Jobs wanted to take Apple.

After getting a look at Intel’s road map, he came away suitably impressed. Since laptops drove more than half of Apple’s computer sales, this was an important transition for the company. Apple execs Avie Tevanian and Jon Rubinstein led the crucial strategic switch.

Switching to Intel: The right move for Apple

Steve Jobs was a master at talking up new products, but he was also great at underpromising and overdelivering. That’s what happened with the Intel Macs. At WWDC 2005, Jobs said the first Macs with Intel processors would arrive a year after the event. Instead, Apple worked to get this done in half that time.

At the MacWorld Expo in January 2006, Apple unveiled a fresh slate of Macs running on the new Intel Core Duo processor. These included the first 15-inch MacBook Pro — Apple’s thinnest, fastest and lightest laptop yet. The first Intel Macs received a warm reception, confirming that Apple made the right move by ditching PowerPC.

Do you remember the transition to Intel Macs? Leave your comments below.