Update on 64-bit MacBook Pro, octo-core Mac Pro, quad-core Xeon Xserve

I'm at Intel Developer Forum this week, and the first day of IDF always brings an avalanche of new product news. Intel's new processors have set up a thrilling Q4 product blitz for Apple.

Today's announcement of the availability of embedded-grade Intel Core 2 Duo CPUs makes new 64-bit MacBook Pros a slam dunk before the end of the year. They could make Apple's "Octoberfest" (my term) along with Xserve and Xserve RAID. The 32-bit Core Duo MacBook Pro struck me as an early adopter machine when it launched, and there are a lot of PowerBook owners who will wait for 64-bit before taking the x86 plunge. PowerBooks are very popular with developers, and they'll want to code to Leopard and the full 64-bit frameworks rather than code to 32-bit and have their apps run degraded on the 64-bit hardware that will make up the substantial majority of Apple's x86 installed base. I look at iMac as Apple's AC-powered developer desktop (among their other roles), and it's certainly positioned to crush modular PC desktops. For these reasons, I expect iMac to track Intel's roadmap more closely than other models. That raises the question: Will Apple put embedded Core 2 Duo in iMac before MacBook Pro?

I strongly doubt it. Apple's 64-bit refit of iMac is still fresh. The embedded Core 2 Duo would make iMac a winner in power consumption, but after they give iMac's perfect form factor its due, performance will be the competitive criteria on which mainstream press and on-line reviewers will focus to rank iMac among Apple's competitors. No one expects iMac to perform like Power Mac, which raises the next subject.

Intel also announced the delivery of a "content creator and power user" cut of its quad-core Core Microarchitecture CPUs. On September 22, Apple sent out some mid-life marketing on Mac Pro, positioning to it as "your scientific powerhouse." The timing could be coincidental, but coincidences don't come around often. I don't think Mac Pro will go 8-core with Intel's early adopter quad-core CPU. Intel's mainstream quad-core is still on track for Q1 '07, positioning an eight-core Mac Pro as a headliner at MacWorld.

It would make sense to me to hold back MacBook Pro for January as well, except for the fact that kicking MacBook Pro up to Core 2 Duo now would shake loose the pent-up demand and give Apple a nice calendar Q4 unit and revenue boost, which is the whole point of Octoberfest. Pairing eight core Mac Pro with Leopard for a Q1 ship--January availability would be a terrific bomb for Steve to drop at the keynote--would make a good anchor for the show.

What about octo-core Xserve? That will be the real test of Apple's faithfulness to the Intel roadmap. I should get a look at Xserve on Thursday, and there'll be hints in the design pointing to the platform's flexibility with regard to rapid uptake of new Intel technology. I think Apple might feel out the market for a while after x86 Xserve ships to see if really has to play "us, too" with the rest of the Intel OEM crowd on Intel roadmap lockstep. Intel has Apple all to itself, but all other Intel OEMs have set up design (those few OEMs that do their own design) and manufacturing to stick to Intel announcements like a noonday shadow. Did Apple do that, too?

We'll see foreshadowing of Apple's long-term strategy in January. In the meantime, we'll do very nicely with Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro, Woodcrest Xeon Xserve and SATA/SAS Xserve RAID.