Mac Scope

Reclaiming the MHz Lead

Stephen Van Esch - 2001.09.06

It's no secret that Apple (courtesy of Motorola) has been lagging quite badly in the Megahertz War. Stuck at 867 MHz, Apple has stood on the sidelines as Intel and AMD offerings have soared past the 1 GHz mark and now reached the 2 GHz level.

Of course, MHz only matter in the mind of the uneducated public. A faster clock speed does not automatically translate to a faster machine. How power is used is more important than how much power is available.

These arguments (quite valid, really) have been trotted out over the last little while as Apple slowly slid behind in the MHz race. Of course, several benchmarks show the G4 holding its own against Pentium and AMD chips with higher clock speeds. 800 MHz just doesn't sound as good as 1 GHz when a machine is on the shelf, though. The world's psyche is geared toward the "more is better" mentality.

Now, it seems the table may be turning again. Motorola announced that it has developed a way of mating two materials (silicon and gallium arsenide) in a way that allows much more efficient chips. If the PR flacks are to be believed, chip speeds could become up to 35 times faster.

Whether this type of technology ever makes it into a mainstream Apple computer remains to be seen. However, if it does, MHz will suddenly matter again.

The snail advertising campaign re-ignited the MHz war a couple of years ago. A snail with an Intel chip would creep across the screen, and Mac users could revel in their hardware superiority. MHz mattered. In this case, it was a joy to finally rub the Wintel world's smug, superior nose in the hard facts that the G3 chips in Apple computers outperformed the Intel offerings.

Then, of course, Apple lost the edge. Intel and AMD, in an effort to surpass each other, sprinted past Apple's (really Motorola's and IBM's) chips. Apple responded with dual-procssor machines but remained stuck at the 500 MHz for a long while.

In the mind of the consumer, Apple is still behind the others, shipping "only" 867 and dual 800 MHz machines.

Now, however, the tables may turn. How will the Apple crowd respond if Motorola's fast new chips make it to the desktop? Hopefully, a measure of humility will temper our enthusiasm. Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes your behind.

We're about due to get ahead again.

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Stephen Van Esch is the founder and president of the E-learning Foundry, an online training resource for Mac users. Steve loves the Mac and is doubly bilingual, since he's also fluent in Windows and French.

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