There’s an Intel sticker on basically every PC, generally impossible to remove without leaving some nasty residue. Macs also use Intel processors, so why don’t they have stickers?

Because stickers are ugly.

That’s reason enough for most Mac users, but to really work this out we need to ask why Dell, Asus and other PC makers put up with these stickers in the first place. And it’s the same reason PCs come bundled with software trials you don’t want: money. Intel pays OEMs to super glue those stickers in place so that people will know the Intel chip is in there.

Apple is seemingly happy to charge a bit more for their laptops if it means there’s no sticker cluttering things up, but companies making cheaper computers generally can’t afford to turn down the money.

So that’s the short answer: Intel pays PC makers to put that sticker there, and Apple is fine with not taking the cash. But this doesn’t answer why Intel pays companies to put those stickers there in the first place.

Why Intel Pays PC Makers to Put Stickers on Computers

Think of it this way: how often do you think about what brand of RAM your laptop has? What about the motherboard? If you’re like most people, the answer is “not at all.” And in the early ’90s, processors were the same way: people didn’t really think about them all that much, at least not in terms of brand preference. The “Intel Inside” campaign changed all that.

TV ads “informed” consumers about the amazing power of Intel processors, and specifically told people to look for computers with the “Intel Inside” sticker. To make sure the stickers were there, Intel handed out discounts and even cash. PC makers, who have always faced small margins, happily took that deal, and to this day most new computers come with Intel stickers.

Those stickers helped make Intel the leading processor maker for three decades. They’re the main reason the average consumer is even familiar with the Intel brand. The campaign was so effective, in fact, that Apple spent money in the late ’90s attacking it.

From Mocking Intel to Using Their Chips

Macs only started using Intel in 2006; before that, Apple’s computers used the PowerPC chip as part of a deal with IBM and Motorola. Apple constantly argued these processors were faster than Intel’s, and in the late ’90s they aired TV ads arguing just that. A memorable one put an Intel chip on the back of a snail.

According to Ken Segall, who worked on the ads with Apple, it didn’t matter whether these ads actually convinced anyone PowerPC chips were faster. The idea was to get the argument out there, and potentially even provoke a reaction.

Needless to say, Intel was not amused by any of this. An Intel web page went up, refuting Apple’s numbers with different benchmark results. Lawsuits were threatened. Steve dreamed that Intel would take the bait. He imagined images of our Intel snail splashed across the world’s business publications.

The lawsuit never happened, but Intel wasn’t exactly thrilled with the ads, or Apple in general. At least, not until 2006.

Jobs: Stickers are “Redundant”

In 2006 Apple announced its transition to Intel-based chips. They even made an unbearably pretentious ad to announce this, calling every PC “dull little boxes performing dull little tasks.”

The change made people wonder: will Apple be putting stickers on Macs? Steve Jobs was asked about this, and said no.

We’re very proud to ship Intel products in Macs. I mean, they are screamers. And combined with our operating system, we’ve really tuned them well together, so we’re really proud of that. It’s just that everyone knows we’re using Intel processors, and so I think putting a lot of stickers on the box is just redundant. We’d rather tell them about the product inside the box, and they know it’s got an Intel processor.

That’s been the party line ever since: Apple is happy to work with Intel, but doesn’t see the need to overtly point the chips out. At least one MacBook Pro box we have here at Geek HQ, from 2011, includes an Intel Inside badge on the side of the box, but the 2016 MacBook Pro’s box has no Intel logo on it whatsoever. And no Mac has ever shipped with a sticker attached the computer itself. It’s not likely that will ever change.

Photo credit: Hamza Butt

Profile Photo for Justin Pot Justin Pot
Justin Pot has been writing about technology for over a decade, with work appearing in Digital Trends, The Next Web, Lifehacker, MakeUseOf, and the Zapier Blog. He also runs the Hillsboro Signal, a volunteer-driven local news outlet he founded.
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