There is now an alternative to Intel that offers more speed and a smaller form factor for Linux users.
One of the great things
about Linux is that it runs on just about anything. Sure, it sings on your Intel PC,
but if you’re so inclined, Linux can power your SparcStation, Amiga, or
Alpha box. Heck, you can even run it on a PalmPilot.
And Linux has been ported to Apple’s PowerPC hardware. Whether it’s
an Apple iMac, a G3 workstation, or an old Apple 7500 brought back to
life, it can run Linux. Linux on the PowerPC microprocessor is as
complete as Linux on any other chip, including Intel. And though Apple’s
Power Mac systems are far and away the most popular PowerPC-based
computers, they are not the only ones. You can also run Linux on a
variety of non-Apple PowerPC systems, including IBM’s RS6000, Motorola’s
StarMax, and PowerStack systems, even Be Inc.’s BeBox.
Why would you want to run Linux on your Macintosh? If you’re
thinking about things from an operating system perspective, you run
Linux on the Mac to get Unix. From a hardware perspective, you run Linux
on the PowerPC to get RISC.
The OS argument for Linux is simply made. Linux is a smart choice if
you’re looking for a stable operating system that doesn’t require the
fastest and most expensive Mac hardware on the market. Linux rarely
crashes. If you’re a MacOS user, tired of those little bombs, this may
well be reason enough. But there’s more: Linux is a true multi-user,
multi-tasking operating system. It is designed so that no single
application can monopolize the CPU, so you can run two programs at once
without slowing down the whole system. Linux’s leaner design is great
for converting older PowerMacs into faster Web servers. And, unlike the
current release of MacOS, you can run Linux with less then 32 megabytes
of RAM. Though there are virtually no commercial applications for Linux
on the PowerPC, there are a wide variety of Open Source Linux
applications to choose from.
The hardware argument all comes down to RISC — the Reduced
Instruction Set Computer architecture that isat the heart of Apple’s
PowerPC microprocessor. The main difference between RISC chips and the
Complex Instruction Set Computer (CISC) design that Intel uses for its
x86 chips is that RISC processors have fewer instructions. This lower
overhead means PowerPCs can complete some instructions more quickly than
You really notice the performance difference with any kind of
number-crunching applications — anything that uses a cryptographic
algorithm, for example. Of course, there’s a philosophical dimension to
this argument as well. Long time MkLinux user, Fred Bacon puts it this
way: “On the days I can’t use Linux, I’d much rather use an Apple than a
The marriage between Unix and RISC processors is a natural one. All
of the major Unix vendors — Sun, HP, IBM, and the former Digital –
ship their flagship Unix systems on RISC systems.
The PowerPC chip uses less power and runs cooler than a comparable
Pentium processor. For the regular user, this translates into more
compact computers and less overheating. The PowerPC is an appealing
choice for anyone doing parallel computing, particularly supercomputer
users, where lots of cheap processing units — iMacs for example — can
be strung together in clusters. This clustered, low-cost architecture
can give some applications near-supercomputer performance. At
Australia’s University of Adelaide, a team of researchers created a
38-node iMac cluster powered by the LinuxPPC Release 4 distribution for
about one tenth the price of a real supercomputer.
Looking forward, the soon-to-be released G4 processor — the next
generation PowerPC — is expected to have a clock rate above 400 MHz. It
will feature copper interconnect design technology, which translates
intomore, even tinier circuits on the same amount of real estate. The G4
will also have the much-anticipated AltiVec 128-bit vector processing
capabilities. Similar to Intel’s MMX, AltiVec will feature a number of
new chip instructions designed to speed up things like image processing,
sound, voice recognition, and networking.
Linux Magazine /
August 1999 / FEATURES