The Mac I Want

MacBook ProIt has been 14 years since I’ve wanted an Apple for its sexy hardware. I’m not talking, mind you, about Apple’s industrial design (when Jobs is in charge). Nor am I talking about Mac OS X, which continues to delight me. I’m talking about the guts: the processor, memory bus, video card, and integration with the operating system.

Finally, the first Mac I could buy without feeling ripped-off on performance is here: The MacBook Pro, with Intel Inside. Glee!

Now, I am not saying that Intel Rules over PPC… the Intel architecture is rather kludgy compared to, say, the much-loved Motorola 68000 series of the original Macs. However, the Mac has been trailing PC hardware (not the OS, the hardware) for over a decade. In 1992, when the first 486-DX2 PCs because available at 2x the performance for 1/2 the price, the Macintosh has been outclassed in terms of raw speed. I should know…I was facing that decision in 1992, and reluctantly went with the PC. Full disclosure: The LucasArts game X-Wing was only available on PC at the time…that may have had something to do with my decision as well :-)

Anyway, speed still didn’t matter as much because all the good graphics software was still Mac, but around 1995 things started to turn the other way when Adobe made a usable version of Photoshop (version 4) available. The rise of 3D gaming and the Internet further pushed the Mac into a game of catch-up. Great software design and a loyal user base is what kept the ball alive, not speedy hardware.

Despite all that, I’ve always wanted a G5 box. They just look so cool, and OS X is so sexy. But as soon as I touched the mouse and felt the lag, I just walked away and kept my money. I did succumb once and bought the cheapest PowerBook I could (a 12″ 1GHz G4), and it’s easily my favorite machine in terms of personality. But fast it ain’t. My 1GHz Compaq Presario notebook is noticeably faster.

No more! The MacBook has a dual-core Intel processor in it (2 processors in one = faster data processing), a faster frontside bus (better cpu-to-memory speed = faster data handling) , and PCI express (quicker graphics transfer = faster screen refreshes). I imagine that some of those sluggish 3D acceleration issues will go away too, because now 3rd party vendors can incorporate portions of Intel-native hand-optimized driver code. It’s all good…hooray! Mac OS X and speed. Together at last. At a competitive price. Someone pinch me.

I see that there’s a new iMac too too, that’s supposed to be 2x faster. The cynic in me was analyzing the ad copy on the iMac page: it sounds like with the dual-core CPU, it’s of course 2x faster than the single-processor version. But there are so many fundamental improvements under the hood, I’m wondering if it’s actually capable of more speed than they’re willing to admit to, say, people who just bought a PowerBook or G5; sorry if that’s you…it’s one of the hazards of being an Apple person! And think of this: the 2x speed may be referring to emulated PPC code, not Intel-native versions of your favorite apps. I eagerly await benchmark results of a totally-native software suite. There will be dozens of announcements over the next few weeks.

Now it feels like 2006! There are new Macs! Will 2006 will be the year to switch?