In part one of this series we looked at a few reasons why Apple may have purchased PA Semiconductor, and debunked a few possible reasons as to why they didn’t.
And in doing so, we were left with two valuable concepts that need further exploration: how to differentiate Apple’s platform from all of the other generic beige boxes out there, and how to protect OS X from thieves and pirates.
But if the answer isn’t in moving the Mac platform back to a proprietary processor design, then what gives?
What can PA Semi do for the Mac?
Well, how about designing a co-processor?
Back in the day, adding the circuitry to a CPU to do floating point operations was expensive. So expensive, in fact, that in many cases it was a separate chip, with the end user buying a computer with an empty socket on the motherboard that would be filled if it was needed.
So what does a Mac do that could greatly benefit from a custom processor?
From playing DVDs to iTunes to iChat to iMovie to Final Cut, encoding/decoding video streams is still a time and processor intensive process. Offload that to a video-coprocessor, and suddenly the Mac could be the platform of choice for real-time home and professional video editing.
Or with real-time hardware compression, how about dozens of participants in a video iChat?
Or transcoding video on-the-fly so a full-sized movie can be downsized to play on your iPod or iPhone just as fast as it can be copied?
Or what if we went the other way, and your could rip a DVD for use on your iPod or Apple TV? And in minutes instead of hours?
Or it supported the option of doing digital video recording (DVR) direct from cable? Heck, add a digital tuner to the chip while we’re at it.
Apple could even tie support for the custom chip into Core Video, making it’s use transparent to developers. Emulate the same processes in software, but if your Mac has the magic chip… zoom.
And all of that doesn’t even BEGIN to cover the massive amount of data one needs to process in order to handle high-definition video (HD).
Another next thing to consider is encryption.
Users can protect some of the data on their hard drive with FileVault, but that’s yet another process that takes time and impacts performance. In fact, if you’re doing video editing Apple recommends that you DON’T use FileVault, or that you keep your movies and clips in some other location than your Home folder.
But what if a custom chip allowed us to encrypt/decrypt data to and from disk with no performance penalty whatsoever? What if the data on any drive connected to your Mac could be protected from prying eyes and identity thieves?
Now, what if OS X system files and applications were not only digitally signed, but digitally encrypted using a hardware-based chip?
Not only does it help protect your system software and files against modification by malicious software, but now OS X is once again tied to Apple hardware, since it would only run on Macs containing the secret decoder ring.
All of these things could benefit users greatly, make our computers safer and faster and easier to use, and provide compelling reasons to buy into the Mac platform as opposed to buying generic Windows-based beige boxes.
And it’s move that Microsoft, with its army of codependent vendors all running in different directions, would be hard pressed to match.
There are undoubtedly other things that could be added, or existing chips that could combined and merged in order to reduce costs and improve reliability, but I think that’s enough for now.