and other high-tech baloney
Alan Zisman (c) 2006 First published in Business
February 7-13, 2006; issue 850
High Tech Office column;
is famous for claiming there were three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies
and statistics. In the High Tech Office we might want to replace
"statistics" with "benchmarks." The idea behind computer benchmarks is
noble: to have an objective test making it possible to compare
different models of computer hardware independent from the software
each is running. The problem is that no one runs a computer without
software, so benchmark data offers at best a fun-house reflection of
the real world.
On January 10, Apple CEO Steve
Jobs announced his company's first Macintosh models built using
Core Duo processors from Intel.
He boasted of benchmark tests showing the new models to be anywhere
from twice to four times as fast as their PowerPC-powered predecessors.
While Jobs did the right thing in pointing out that real-world
performance might not be quite so fast, most of the media ignored the
fine print and highlighted the promise of super speed. A few things to
the name Core Duo suggests, the new Intel CPU has two processors in a
single unit. This promises twice the performance of a single CPU, which
is reflected by the benchmark tests. But users will see improvement
only on applications that have been rewritten for "multi-threading" -
the ability to divide tasks between the two processors. Ordinary
applications won't see much, if any, improvement.
computer processor's speed and power get all the hype, but those
measurements are only one factor in the performance a user sees.
drive and memory access speed and video capabilities all affect
real-world performance. The new iMacs have improvements in these areas,
but nowhere near the 2x - 4x speed improvements being touted. For best
performance, software code needs to be compiled into programs that are
optimized for the hardware. Apple has reworked its operating system and
many of its own programs to make good use of the new Intel processors,
but most third-party software, including commonly-used programs like Microsoft
Office and Adobe
Photoshop, have yet to be updated for the new hardware. Intel Macs can
run them using built-in translation software called Rosetta, but the
translation comes with a speed penalty; these programs feel sluggish,
seeming to run at about half the speed they would on a recent
generation PowerPC iMac. The result: the new hardware runs software
optimized for it faster than the models they replace, but runs other
programs slower than last-year's models.
a few months, more software will be supporting the new Intel-powered
Macs. Users should then see the promised blazing performance. In the
meantime, however, anyone buying a new Mac to see the super speed
promised by the benchmark tests is going to be sadly disappointed.