Apple Archive

How Much Power Is Enough?

- 2002.03.08

How much power do we really need?

When the Mac IIci was introduced in 1989, many people thought that it would last them for years. Who could fill up an 80 MB hard drive when programs were typically under 1 MB each and the OS used no more than 2 MB of disk space?

You might have thought the same thing in 1994 when you bought a Power Mac - what could ever be faster, and why would you ever want more than 256 MB of RAM?

That's probably what every computer buyer thinks about when they buy a new computer. "How is it possible that I could ever require more than this?"

This raises the question: How much power do we really need in a computer?

And the answer is no simple one. It's possible to be very happy doing spreadsheets on a Macintosh II Mac IIwith a 21" monitor if you're running an older application. But you will find the graphical Web unbearable on the same Mac II, even if you have the maximum (128 MB) amount of RAM.

I am writing this on a Power Mac 9600/233. In 1997 and '98, the 9600 was the top of the line. Right now it comes well below the current low end with its relatively slow (compared to today's 500 MHz and faster G3 & G4 machines) 233 MHz 604e processor.

But I still use my 9600 for some basic tasks. I run OS 9.1 and do a great deal of typing in Word 2001, quite a bit of Internet browsing with IE 5.1, some instant messaging, and even a bit of photo editing with Photoshop 6. Everything that I do on this machine feels pretty fast. The only slowdown that I have observed is that browsing the Internet slows down slightly when I'm also playing MP3s. Everything else works fine. Word 2001 runs at a very comfortable speed, and even Photoshop isn't bad.

One thing you may have noticed is that all of these applications came out at least two years after the computer was introduced. If it still feels fast today, imagine how fast it must have felt in 1998 with System 7.6.1 and applications such as Office 98 and Photoshop 4.0.

On to my G4. It is considerably newer, could be considered over four times as fast, has almost three times the RAM, and has six times the hard drive space of the 9600. It will run almost anything I want it to very quickly with no slowdown whatsoever. QuickTime movies play perfectly, screen redraws are instant, and applications load quickly. I can't complain; it does everything I want and more.

Give it two years and things will start feeling slow. It will take a while to open newer, larger applications; new multimedia standards will be slower than old ones; and even opening menus and windows may start to feel slow.

Right now a 9600/233 does a very satisfactory job with the tasks that most computer users do often. You might think that with a new 1 GHz G4 you could do more, but that's not necessarily true. Yes, you will be able to run OS X and connect your iPod, but Internet, email, playing music, and word processing aren't going to be much faster, if at all.

In two more years, there will probably be only a few new applications that will run on my 9600. In the meantime, almost every application commonly used at home (aside from games) runs perfectly fine on the 9600. The average user doesn't do anything that actually requires a brand new G4. However, the benefit of having a new computer is that it will last through several more years of new applications and operating systems and will be more compatible with future peripherals.

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