Solipsism Gradient

Rainer Brockerhoff’s blog

Browsing Posts published in January, 2006


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I’m starting to play around with uploading photos to Flickr and showing the last 5 or so on the left here. Pardon our dust, you may have to reload to see the latest version.

Update: seems to work OK now…

Some more…

The ever-busy Japanese have produced another series of photos of the iMac Core Duo’s innards. This one has good views of both sides of the motherboards, of the FireWire chip, and of the Airport and BlueTooth modules, as well as of the CPU turned over besides its socket.

A BusinessWeek article tries to estimate Apple’s margins on the new Mac. As expected, they conclude that the Intel CPU is over double the price of what Apple was probably paying for the G5 chip – but that this may be compensated, in part, by using stock Intel controller chips. In general, they agree with my estimate that current margins are slightly lower.

The Ars Technica review has some interesting commentary and benchmarks.

Felix Schwarz has measured power consumption on his 17″ iMac Core Duo; it ranges from 1.2W on standby to 61W while playing a DVD on full brightness. This contrasts with values of 2W and 115W for a 20″ iMac G5 (from MacInTouch); admittedly a larger and older model, still it looks like power consumption has gone down. Apple’s specs still show the same 180W “maximum” power draw of the previous model, though.


Today’s some sort of lucky day for me. Eight (!!) e-mails came in, telling me that:

The result of our computer draw (#978) selected your name and email address attached to e-ticket number: 56475600545 188 with Serial number 5368/02 drew the lucky numbers:05 21 23 28 40 48 26( Bonus Ball), which subsequently won you the lottery in the 2nd category i.e. match 5 plus bonus.

You have therefore been approved to claim a total sum of £2,500,000(Two Million Five Hundred Thousand Pounds Sterling) in cash credited to file KTU/9023118308/03.

This is from a total cash prize of £10,000,000 shared amongst the first Four (4) lucky winners in this category i.e. Match 5 plus bonus.

Now I’m singling out this particular one, as beyond displaying the usual imbecilities implied in its construction and deployment, this particular imbecile also put hundreds of addresses explicitly visible in the “To:” header. icon_lol.gif

Some more tidbits, in no particular order, some with commentary.

A nice photo of the insides of the last 3 generations of the 17″ and 20″ iMacs. Seeing this, it’s obvious that very little has changed between the last iMac G5 and the first iMac Core Duo; the layouts are very similar. It becomes clear that the iMac G5 with iSight was for most purposes, except for the logic board, version 1.0 of the iMac Core Duo – that also explains why the design hasn’t changed, and why there are only a few months between the two versions. It also follows that some fears about the new iMac are unfounded; most of it already is second geration quality.

The Apple/Intel FAQ makes most of the same points I’ve been making here, in a nicely done order. They also have pages linking to System Profiler output and other info; very interesting. For instance, you can see that there are 5 USB buses implemented: one for the iSight (so will there be an USB iSight out soon…?), one for BlueTooth and the IR receiver, and 3 external ones. Elsewhere you can see that FireWire is running off an Apple controller chip over PCI-Express. They haven’t so far picked up on the TPM chip’s presence; the German site Heise, however, has.

Still regarding FireWire, it’s now clear that the new Macs still have the usual target mode and FW booting capability, and it won’t go away. USB is an asymmetric protocol, so target mode isn’t possible, by the way.

Apple hasn’t used a socketed CPU for many years (I believe the last ones were in the 68020 machines), but the photo shows they’re using the SL8VQ version of the Core Duo – that one uses the micro-FCPGA pinout, with 478 pins, and it’s mounted on a socket. Still, I hear that the service manuals have leaked and don’t mention the possibility of exchanging the CPU.

Opinions on the feasibility and desirability of booting the Intel Macs into pre-Vista Windows vary widely. Some people believe that Apple must have used a stock EFI binary from Intel, which therefore would incorporate the legacy compatibility module; some people even believe it would be in Apple’s interest to do so. Personally, I still think that Apple had nothing to gain by including legacy stuff in its version of EFI, and that there is no “stock binary” anyway.

The new Mac’s Airport module appears to support the less-used 802.11a WiFi standard, apparently as a side-effect of the Intel chip used. Apple doesn’t seem to be mentioning this in the specs, so it may be unsupported for now.

So far, the reports indicate that no “fully universal” version of Mac OS X 10.4.4 is available; the Intel machines come with the Intel version, the PowerPC come with the PowerPC version. Some applications and components on both versions are universal, but not all; we may not see such a unified version until Leopard. By the way, the retail version is still 10.4.3 (PowerPC). My hunch is that the Intel version will not be available separately from the Intel Macs any time soon.

Some time ago I wrote:
Rainer Brockerhoff wrote:

I think Apple will take OS-hardware integration to a new peak with the Intel Macs. They’ll have a gigabyte or so of flash memory where an encrypted version of the Mac OS X will reside – a return to the days of the first Mac 128, when most of the toolbox was in ROM and the “System” file just contained patches and late-minute additions.

Looks like I was wrong on that. The nuts nice people at Kodawari-san have just posted pictures of the innards of the new iMac Core Duo; there’s no huge amount of flash memory visible. Of course these may or may not be pictures of an actual production system, but chances are that they’re authentic.

I wish they’d done more and sharper pictures, but here’s what we can see:

Front and back views of the CPU board (or is it the other way around? no matter). It can’t be properly called a motherboard since there are no expansion slots. The RAM socket is in the same place as in the last iMac G5.

A shot of the Intel Core Duo processor. The T2400 designator says it’s a 1.83GHz clock version. There’s a liquid cooling block which displaces the heat to a position where the fans can blow it away.

This is the ATI graphics chip. No surprise there.

An Intel 82945GM controller, also known as the 945GM Express chipset. This chip interfaces the Core Duo processor to DDR2 SDRAM and to the I/O controller; the frontside bus to the processor runs at 667MHz and is 32 bits wide. The memory bus is 64 bits wide and also runs at up to 667MHz. Of note here is that it’s limited to 4GB of RAM. It supports internal graphics, LCDs, TV output and some other stuff not used in the iMac. It also has a PCI-Express bus to which (judging from the board layout) the ATI chip is connected.

Now look at this picture. It shows an Intel 82801GBM I/O Controller Hub chip. This chip does most everything else; it also has a PCI-Express interface, LAN controller, 8 USB ports, SATA, IDE, audio, you-name-it. No direct FireWire support; obviously Apple has connected a separate controller chip to it. Most interestingly, the somewhat blurry 28-pin chip to the right in this photo seems to be the Infineon TPM chip.

I’ve downloaded Intel’s manuals for these chips; it’s a huge mass of information (and, strangely, Preview won’t open most of them, although Acrobat Reader works). More details after I’ve read all that stuff…

The last-gen iMac G5’s hardware manual doesn’t seem to be available, but the one for the May’2005 version is (it’s the one I’m typing this on). The block diagram is somewhat similar; the “U3 Lite” corresponds to the 82945GM chip, the “Shasta” corresponds to the 82801GBM.

Apple stock went up again, closing at $85.59. With this, Apple surpassed Dell in market cap ($72 billion). May not mean much, but some people were looking forward to it.

Apparently the new Intel Macs have a file called /System/Library/Extensions/Dont Steal Mac OS X.kext.

A 2004 paper on FireWire (pdf!) by WiebeTech’s CEO is making the rounds again. Basically, it makes the point that Apple bungled FW800 and that it will continue to be a niche market for some pro peripherals; it also says that the upcoming FW1600 and FW3200 won’t make it to market, as SATA and SATA II are lower-cost and faster. For what it’s worth, I’ve personally seen only one FW800 drive and it wasn’t working at the time, although I have several FW400 peripherals and prefer them over the USB2.0 alternatives. So the missing FW800 on the new Macs is no hardship for me.

Seems that the previously little-known ExpressCard is the new generation PCCard/PCMCIA/Cardbus. Its high speed bus interface would allow a MacBook Pro to have two FW800 or one SATA drives connected. Apparently it’s one more technology from the PC side that languished unused until Apple picked it up; for instance, ExpressCard digital camera card readers have just been announced. (This is the only type of PCCard I found useful in my PowerBook…) There are several more products out; this should be interesting.

Heh; did Steve Jobs really cut some “very cool stuff” from the keynote because of last-minute snags? That would explain that first hour which consisted mostly of what Brazilians call, very pithily, “filling sausages”… let’s see what the next few months will bring.

There’s a blurry photo of the iMac Core Duo’s innards. About what I expected; this certainly isn’t a standard Intel motherboard.

More anon.


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Congratulations to John Fox, author of MemoryMiner. MemoryMiner won one of the Best of Show awards at Macworld Expo 2006!

And, MemoryMiner uses RBSplitView for its cool user interface… icon_wink.gif

That EFI thing

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In ye olden times, to boot a computer you had to toggle in a short program on the panel switches, or put a special punch card deck into the hopper, or whatever. Personal computers started out either with built-in BASIC in ROM or a very small boot ROM which had just enough code to load the first block from tape or disk, and jump to that. (The built-in ROM is also called “firmware”.)

Later on, the first Macs had most of the core of the OS built into ROM, along with the self-test and boot functions, while the first PCs had a simple configuration utility instead, which came to be known as BIOS. A little later, when many different models began to appear, the BIOS also began to set a number of internal configurations, check firmware for peripheral cards, and so forth. In contrast, Apple gradually gave up on trying to store the OS toolbox in ROM, and instead increased the sophistication of the self-test and boot code. The downside, in both cases, was that operating systems had to know about a large number of machine types, configurations, peripherals and options, while a specific BIOS had to be made for every new CPU board.

After the first PowerPCs came out, Apple recognized the need to handle booting and peripherals in a more machine-independent way and adopted Open Firmware (OF), initially developed by Sun. OF is a complex beast; it has a Forth-like bytecode interpreter to run test and boot software in a machine-independent way. Also, peripheral cards could contain their own driver software in ROM, in theory even for compatibility with various platforms. This feature was largely reponsible for the Mac’s plug-and-play facilities.

Meanwhile, the BIOS limitations in the PC world became apparent and various entities attempted to progress beyond that, with very little success; the pressure for legacy compatibility was too great to make any inroads into the commodity PC market. One of these initiatives, Intel’s Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI) has been shipped on their Itanium boxes, but hasn’t been adopted by the standard PC market. One roadblock is that no current OS is directly EFI-compatible; Microsoft’s Vista will be, though, when it comes out.

EFI has been adopted by Apple for the new Intel Macs and in that sense will be the first large-scale deployment. Like OF, EFI allows peripheral cards to contain their own drivers. Like OF, it has a machine-independent bytecode interpreter. Also, like OF, it allows for a great variety of functions to be run at power-on time. And most importantly, still like OF, it allows for basic device drivers to be loaded and cataloged before any OS is booted, and that OS can check or complement these drivers only if necessary. Thus, EFI can function as a basic hardware abstraction layer. Conversely, the OS can count on certain things being initialized and in place before it gets loaded, and call EFI functions (say, to access peripherals, set the clock, etc.) when it needs to.

The current EFI specification is quite complex, even more so than Open Firmware, often specifically to address legacy concerns. There are many modules and protocols which can be selected to be present by the motherboard’s manufacturer. From eyewitness reports at Macworld, the new Core Duo Macs boot directly into Mac OS X without any visible difference from old models. Nobody has yet reported on what becomes visible in “verbose” mode, though, although it’s possible to go to the EFI console by holding down certain keys during power-on. Command-option-E-F-I, perhaps?

One EFI module we can be pretty sure that Apple didn’t include: the legacy BIOS module, which would allow EFI to emulate a standard PC BIOS and allow booting of MS-DOS and its successors. Microsoft has said that EFI support will not be retrofitted to current Windows versions. So, the new Macs may eventually run Windows Vista, assuming they are otherwise Intel-standard; somehow it strikes me as unlikely that Apple will work with Microsoft to have its hardware certified as Vista-compatible.

A final point about EFI is that it expects bootable drives to use its partition standard, known as GPT. Apparently Apple has managed to make this coexist with its own partition schemes, so that, once a disk has been formatted and installed with the universal Mac OS X on one of the new Macs, it will become bootable both on Intel and PowerPC Macs; quite a feat.

In summary, a no-doubt-intended side-effect of EFI as implemented in the new Macs is that it makes it more difficult, if not perhaps entirely impossible, either to boot current Windows versions on them, or to run Mac OS X 10.4.4 and up on industry-standard non-EFI Intel PCs. Personally, I think dual-booting is a big hassle; Microsoft has already said they will eventually release a Virtual PC for the new Macs, and there’s the whole virtualization alternative, some which has been patented by Apple. More later about that.

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