2006: The Mac Goes Intel
2006 was the year Apple moved from PowerPC processors, which it first started using in 1993, to Intel x86 CPUs. Apple had announced the forthcoming transition at the June 2005 Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) with the promise that the first Intel-based Macs would ship within a year.
The first Intel Macs were released in January 2006, months ahead of expectations, and they were not without a few teething pains.
The biggest drawback to the new architecture is that for the first time ever, there was no support for the Classic Mac OS. For anyone who depended on a Classic app, Intel Macs became an impossible dream until those apps could be replaced.
The First Intel Macs
The first Macs to make the transition were the iMac, the 15" MacBook Pro, and the Mac mini, which was just a year old at the time. The first generation of Intel-based Macs used Intel's Core Duo CPU, and they were 'wicked fast', to borrow a phrase from the Macintosh IIfx. With two x86 cores running at 1.66 GHz or better, the Macintel models had a lot more horsepower than any Mac besides the high-end Power Mac G5 Quad.
The Core Duo iMac shipped in 17" and 20" sizes with 1.83 GHz and 2.0 GHz speeds respectively. As was the norm, the entry-level model had a Combo drive while the top-end iMac boasted a SuperDrive.
The Mac mini also came in two configurations. The base 1.5 GHz Core Solo Mac mini was the only model Apple ever produced to use a single-core Intel CPU, and it sold for $100 more than the previous entry-level Mac mini. The top-end Core Duo Mac mini had a 1.66 GHz CPU and a SuperDrive; it also retailed for $100 more than the model it replaced.Unlike most earlier Macs, the Mac mini used "vampire video", which used up to 80 MB of system memory for graphics. The Intel GMA 950 graphics processor was pretty lackluster, and the 1.5 GHz Core Solo model was simply underpowered, earning it the Road Apple label.
The 15" MacBook Pro replaced the 15" aluminum PowerBook, and it looked almost identical. There was a great hue and cry over the MacBook name, which many considered a poor replacement for the established PowerBook brand. The first Intel-based Mac notebook had more than its share of teething problems, which became evident shortly after it began shipping in mid-February.
Speeds were 1.83 GHz and 2.0 GHz, with a 2.16 GHz build-to-order option, and it seemed like Apple was revising the MBP almost weekly in its quest to get things just right. The Core Duo 15" MacBook Pro was the only MBP without a FireWire 800 port.
Expanding the Line
After Apple worked out all the 15" MacBook Pro issues, it introduced the 17" MacBook Pro on April 24 at a 2.16 GHz clock speed. On May 15, Apple moved the 15" MacBook Pro to 2.0 GHz and 2.16 GHz and introduced a glossy display option.
In mid-May, Apple introduced the widescreen 13.3" MacBook to replace the older 12" and 14" iBook models. The entry-level model sold for $1,099 with a 1.83 GHz Core Duo CPU, 512 MB of RAM, a 60 GB hard drive, and a Combo drive. The midrange MacBook ran at 2.0 GHz, had a SuperDrive, and sold for $1,299. At the top was a black MacBook with an 80 GB hard drive and a $1,499 price tag. Apple would continue to use these price points until the Unibody MacBook was introduced in late 2008.
The biggest complaint about the MacBook was that it had a glossy display - matte wasn't even an option. Within two years, glossy would be the default on all 'Books, although Apple does offer a $50 anti-glare option on the 17" MacBook Pro.
On July 5, Apple introduced a new 17" iMac aimed at the education market. The 1.83 GHz Core Duo machine used the same "vampire video" Intel GMA 950 graphics as the entry-level Mac mini and had a Combo drive.
King of the Macs
Apple finished moving the Mac line to Intel on August 7 with the introduction of the Mac Pro, which replaced the long-running Power Mac line. The new pro Mac used two dual-core Xeon CPUs (at 2.0, 2.66, or 3.0 GHz) and supported up to 32 GB of RAM.
Apple improved the Mac mini on Sept. 6, putting a 1.66 GHz Core Duo CPU in the entry-level model (mercifully killing off the only Core Solo Mac ever) and moving the SuperDrive model to 1.83 GHz.
On the same date, the iMac moved to Intel's newer Core 2 Duo CPU, which included 64-bit support, and introduced a 24" 2.16 GHz model. The Core 2 is generally considered to be about 7% more powerful than Core Duo at the same clock speed, and it supports 64-bit operation, which the Core Duo does not.
On Sept. 12, Apple introduced a redesigned iPod nano. The 2G nano is clad in aluminum and was available in 6 different colors. An overhauled iPod shuffle was introduced at the same time - far smaller than the original, which was the size of a pack of gum. The 2G iPod shuffle was so small that it needed a special cable - there wasn't room for even a mini USB port.
The MacBook line migrated to Intel Core 2 Duo processors on Nov. 8 with the same CPU speeds and RAM. The midrange model now had an 80 GB hard drive, and the new black MacBook moved to 120 GB.
At the end of 2006, the Mac mini was the only Mac left using the Core Duo CPU.
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