Waiting for a Real Speed Bump

2003: New iMacs and eMacs were released yesterday and were greeted with less than effusive praise. “Yawn,” seemed to be the general response, even from the usually zealous Mac press. The real excitement seemed to center around the price drops and improved options instead of the iMac speed bump.

Mac Scope

Sure, the 25% speed bump is welcome, and the price drop is a nice thing for buyers, but the whole hardware scene seems to be getting Mac users down. Well, maybe not getting them down, but at least casting a cloud over things. The attitude now is “what have you done for me lately?”

Speed bumps used to be greeted with some sense of excitement. No longer. It appears that speed bumps (and additional processors) aren’t an indication of real progress. Once upon a time, a speed bump meant things were getting better and better. Now, it seems, a speed bump means that Apple is just covering its behind as Intel’s chips keep getting faster.

Anyone remember when the first dual-processor Power Macs were introduced? The general reaction seemed to be that Apple was leaning on dual-processors to make up for the lack of speed, instead of a party atmosphere.

The longer this drags out, the worst things will get for Apple. If Apple announced a brand new chip that ran at 1.8 GHz tomorrow, what would the reaction be? Yawn again, most likely. 2 GHz? You might get a bit of a reaction. 2.5? Now you’re talking!

The point is that Apple will need a substantial increase in processor power to shake things up. While users may have once been satisfied with a 100 MHz jump every once in a while, Apple has fallen so far behind that only a substantial increase in power will make us sit up and take notice.

Many people have speculated that customers are holding off on upgrading their machines until they see a significant speed increase. How much of a speed increase will be required before people start putting down their hard earned money? I’m certain that a 200 MHz increase won’t do it. 500 MHz? That might be worth it.

The next generation Apple chip (whether from Motorola, IBM, AMD, or Intel) had better blow the doors off the current crop. Otherwise, most people will likely just keep plugging away with their old Macs. It’s not really that much slower, now is it?

Just about the only upside is that Apple may benefit if it delivers the goods. There’s likely quite a bit of pent-up demand for faster machines right now, and Apple can probably expect a serious run on its next-generation chip.

Update: The Power Mac moved to much faster processors in June 2003, ranging from a single-processor 1.6 GHz model to a 2.0 GHz dual-processor powerhouse. This was a big step forward from the 1.42 GHz maximum speed of the Power Mac G4. The iMac didn’t migrate to G5 until August 2004 and at the same 1.6 and 1.8 GHz as the lower-end Power Mac G5s from June 2003. This was a significant step forward from the 1.25 GHz iMac G4 models.