Apple–Intel architecture

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This article is about the architecture of Intel-based Apple computers. For information about the transition to this architecture, see Apple's transition to Intel processors.

The Apple–Intel architecture, or Mactel, is an unofficial name used for Apple Macintosh personal computers developed and manufactured by Apple Inc. that use Intel x86 processors,[not verified in body] rather than the PowerPC and Motorola 68000 ("68k") series processors used in their predecessors. With the change in architecture, a change in firmware became necessary; Apple selected the Intel-designed Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI) as its comparable component to the Open Firmware used on its PowerPC architectures,[not verified in body] and as the firmware-based replacement for the PC BIOS from Intel. With the change in processor architecture to x86 Macs gained the ability to boot into non-Apple operating systems, while Intel VT-x brought near-native virtualization with OS X as host OS.


Apple–Intel architecture (Mactel) is an unofficial name used for Apple Macintosh personal computers developed and manufactured by Apple Inc. that use Intel x86 processors.[citation needed] As the name implies, it refers to changes in the architecture from the earlier PowerPC, Apple 68k, and other preceding processors.[citation needed]



Apple uses a subset of the standard PC architecture, which provides support for Mac OS X and support for other operating systems. Hardware and firmware components that must be supported to run an operating system on Apple-Intel hardware include the Extensible Firmware Interface.

The EFI and GUID Partition Table[edit]

Main article: GUID Partition Table

With the change in architecture, a change in firmware became necessary.[citation needed] Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI) is the firmware-based replacement for the PC BIOS from Intel. Designed by Intel, it was chosen by Apple to replace Open Firmware, used on PowerPC architectures. Since many operating systems, such as Windows XP and many versions of Windows Vista, are incompatible with EFI, Apple has released a firmware upgrade with a compatibility support module that provides a subset of traditional BIOS support with their Boot Camp product.

GUID Partition Table (GPT) is a standard for the layout of the partition table on a physical hard disk. It is a part of the Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI) standard proposed by Intel as a substitute for the earlier PC BIOS. The GPT replaces the Master Boot Record (MBR) used with BIOS.


To Mac operating systems[edit]

Intel Macs can boot in two ways: directly via EFI, or in a "legacy" BIOS compatibility mode. For multibooting, holding down "Option" gives a choice of bootable devices, while the rEFInd bootloader is commonly used for added configurability.

Standard Live USBs cannot be used on Intel Macs; the EFI firmware can recognize and boot from USB drives, but it can only do this in EFI mode–when the firmware switches to BIOS mode, it no longer recognizes USB drives, due to lack of a BIOS-mode USB driver. Many operating systems, such as earlier versions of Windows and Linux,[1] can only be booted in BIOS mode, or are more easily booted or perform better when booted in BIOS mode, and thus USB booting on Intel-based Macs was for a time largely limited to Mac OS X, which can easily be booted via EFI.

To non-Mac operating systems[edit]

Main article: Boot Camp (software)
Mac Mini with Intel Core

On April 5, 2006, Apple made available for download a public beta version of Boot Camp, a collection of technologies which allows users of Intel-based Macs to boot Windows XP Service Pack 2.[2] The first non-beta version of Boot Camp is included in Mac OS X v10.5, "Leopard."[citation needed] Before the introduction of Boot Camp, which provides most hardware drivers for Windows XP, drivers for XP were difficult to find.[citation needed]

Linux can also be booted with Boot Camp.[3][better source needed]

Digital Rights Management[edit]

Digital Rights Management in the Apple-Intel architecture is accomplished via the Dont Steal Mac OS X.kext, sometimes referred to as DSMOS or DSMOSX, a file present in Intel-capable versions of the Mac OS X operating system.[citation needed] Its presence enforces a form of Digital Rights Management, preventing Mac OS X being installed on stock PCs.[citation needed] The name of the kext is a reference to the Mac OS X license conditions, which allow installation on Apple hardware only. According to Apple, anything else is stealing Mac OS X. The kext is located at /System/Library/Extensions on the volume containing the operating system.[4] The extension contains a kernel function called page_transform() which performs AES decryption of "apple-protected" programs. A Mac OS X system which is missing this extension, or a system where the extension has determined it's not running on Apple hardware, will be missing this decryption capability, and as a result will not be able to run the Apple-restricted binaries Dock, Finder, loginwindow, SystemUIServer, mds, ATSServer, backupd, fontd, translate, or translated.[5]


The Intel Core Duo (and later, including the current i5, i7 and Xeon) processors found in Intel Macs support Intel VT-x, allowing for high performance (near native) virtualization, which gives the user the ability to run and switch between two or more operating systems simultaneously, rather than having to dual-boot and run only one operating system at a time.

The first software to take advantage of this technology was Parallels Desktop for Mac, released in June 2006.[citation needed] The Parallels virtualization products allow users to use installations of Windows XP and later in a virtualized mode while running OS X. VirtualBox is virtualization software from Oracle Corporation, which was released January 2007.[citation needed] Available for Mac OS X as well as other host operating systems, it supports Intel VT-x and can run multiple other guest operating systems, including Windows XP and later. It is available free of charge under either a proprietary license or the GPL free software license[citation needed] and is used by default when running Docker images of other operating systems[6]

VMware offers a product similar to Parallels called Fusion,[according to whom?] released August 2007.[citation needed] VMware's virtualization product also allows users to use installations of Windows XP and later under OS X.

Regardless of the product used, there are inherent limitations and performance penalties in using a virtualized guest OS versus the native Mac OS or booting an alternative OS solution offered via Boot Camp.

See also[edit]

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ Note, Linux and rely on BIOS mode to initialize the video hardware, and hence under EFI-booting, Linux and X do not have hardware accelerated video.[citation needed]
  2. ^ "Technology | Apple makes Macs run Windows XP". BBC News. 2006-04-05. Retrieved 2015-10-11. 
  3. ^ Anon. (2012). "Linux netticasinon asentaminen MacBook Pro tietokoneeseen" [Finnish language organizational blog entry], Mactel (May 29), see [1], accessed 11 October 2015.[better source needed]
  4. ^ Victor Mihailescu (January 13, 2006). "Don't Steal Mac OS X!". Softpedia. Retrieved 2007-01-17. 
  5. ^ Amit Singh. "Understanding Apple's Binary Protection in Mac OS X". Retrieved 2015-10-11. 
  6. ^ "How to Use Docker on OS X: The Missing Guide | Viget". Retrieved 2016-05-20.  External link in |website= (help)

External links[edit]