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Others have gathered clues from Intel’s product roadmap. The chip maker is due to ship its newest processor, code-named Yonah, in the first quarter of 2006. The company says Yonah will enable a leap in performance and power efficiency for notebook computers. And performance per watt is exactly what Jobs pointed to when he explained the decision to move to Intel last June.

Given glowing (but anonymous) reports from programmers who have access to early developer-only, Intel-based Macs, it seems a strong bet that new Intel-based Mac notebooks will leapfrog the performance of existing models. And some observers hope for Intel-based Mac notebooks to be cheaper than existing models, depending on their specs. Throw in years of pent-up demand for high-performance Mac laptops – more than a few people who have long dreamt of a PowerBook G5 – and it means that Intel-based Macs could become the new, sexy king of the hill.

The rumor site AppleInsider.com recently reported that “reliable sources” told the site Apple plans to be one of the first or even the first company to produce laptops based on Yonah. Another Apple rumor site, ThinkSecret.com, however, notes that NEC and Dell have already announced plans for Yonah-based notebooks, with Dell hoping for a February launch.

One potential roadblock in an early Apple launch could be the availability of software. Although Jobs revealed at the developer conference in June that Apple has long had an Intel-based version of the Mac OS X operating system running in back rooms, existing software wouldn’t “just work” with the new setup. A similar problem slowed acceptance of Mac OS X – many users refused to upgrade until their mission-critical software was available in a native version, even though they could run old applications in Mac OS X’s “classic” mode, which emulated the old operating system, albeit with a performance hit.

Bare Bones Software, the developer of the professional text and HTML editor BBEdit, has said the move to software that will run natively on Intel-based Macs has been less difficult for them than the move from OS 9 to Mac OS X. But other companies are facing more significant hurdles. Microsoft, for example, will have to not only port over the 30 million lines of code in Microsoft Office, but also adopt a new development environment (a program used by software writers to assemble other programs) before it can even start. Adobe is in a similar bind.

The lack of native versions of professional software, where performance is critical, could slow adoption of Intel-based Power Macs (the Power Mac line of desktops is targeted at pro users, while iMacs are aimed at consumers). But message boards and some rumor sites are looking toward other Intel offerings, such as the 64-bit Merom and Conroe processors, due out later this year, as potential bases for pro Apple desktops.

Media Mac and New Content Deals

Another persistent rumor is that Apple will release some kind of media-center Mac model, perhaps with TiVo-like personal video recorder capabilities, a built-in iPod dock, or streaming iTunes features. Unlike existing Macs, this model would hook into a home stereo or TV, much like a Windows Media Center PC does.

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