MHz Wars: Another Shot (10/5/99)

Now that there's this incredibly rockin' new iMac, Apple's victory in the battle for consumer market share is all but assured, right? Think again. There's still that little matter of price-performance to consider. Oh, sure, the 350 MHz iMac will likely blow away any Wintel-based system in its $999 price class, but the target market-- the average shmoe-- probably won't know that. Instead, consumers are still going to be looking at just two things when shopping for a home computer: how much it costs, and the raw clock speed of the processor in megahertz. Yes, when it comes to the Megahertz Wars, Apple is still lagging badly behind. Cool translucent case, trayless slot-loading CD-ROM drive, and overall ease of use aside, there are folks out there who are going to walk right past the iMac and pick up a cheapo Celeron-based beige box instead, because they'll get an "extra 150 MHz speed" for their money.

Honestly, we just don't see this getting better anytime soon; until the concept of clock speed as speed rating goes away, uneducated buyers (Apple's target market, remember?) are always going to think iMacs cost more yet run more slowly, no matter how many Bytemarks or Quake 3: Arena frame rates Apple throws at them. That's why it's encouraging that faithful viewer Brian Mita points out an article in The Register describing changes to the PowerPC G4 architecture which are designed to provide higher clock speeds, rather than just cool new vector-processing units and special parallel data-handling pipelines and that kind of thing. Because sometimes it's all about the numbers, and we don't mean the ones on the benchmark sheet. By focusing on cranking up the clock speed instead of just making the overall chip faster, Motorola expects that this modified G4 will hit the ground running at speeds starting at 700 MHz when it appears sometime next year. (Of course, who knows where Intel and AMD will be by then, but we're trying to accentuate the positive, here.)

Not that this necessarily helps the iMac line much, which is probably going to be G3-based for a while. Putting a G4 in the new iMac would almost certainly necessitate the addition of a fan, and we all know Steve doesn't want that. So while in the future Apple may have fewer troubles getting the Power Mac G4 across as the fastest personal computer available, if the iMac stays fanless and G3-based it'll still have to trade on its good looks instead of duking it out at the megahertz level. But that's okay, because its good looks can take it really far...

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The above scene was taken from the 10/5/99 episode:

October 5, 1999: It's here, it's clear, get used to it: Steve unveils three new iMacs calculated to separate you from your hard-earned cash. Meanwhile, a bizarre ripple in the time-space continuum temporarily transforms the Apple home page into a realm-protected gateway into the mysteries of the unknown, and Motorola is tired of being the megahertz whipping boy, so the next G4 revision is designed to boost clock speed...

Other scenes from that episode:

  • 1824: And Silence Is Golden (10/5/99)   So there weren't any shocker announcements at today's Apple event that took us by surprise; there's no Apple-branded Palm device that doubles as a sphygmomanometer, Apple isn't buying eBay and renaming it iBay, and Steve Jobs isn't resigning his iCEO post to return to his home planet in the galaxy of Andromeda...

  • 1825: Just Out Of Reach (10/5/99)   We had about as much luck tuning into the live QuickTime webcast of today's festivities as we did trying to figure out why the chihuahua and those cops want that guy to drop the Chalupa-- in short, none...

Or view the entire episode as originally broadcast...

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