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Apple: Machines are more than megahertz

The Mac maker struggles to deflate the "megahertz myth" while still bumping up the numbers on the chips for its machines.

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 Jobs introduces new Power Mac G4
Steve Jobs, CEO, Apple
NEW YORK--Several months back, Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs spoke of narrowing the clock-speed gap between the chips in Macs and Windows-based machines. But as the gulf continues to widen, Apple is once again trying to convince consumers not to judge its computers on megahertz alone.

In an October conference call with analysts, Jobs said the company would unveil machines with faster G4 processors in an effort to close the "megahertz gap" with Intel chips during the first half of 2001 and would look to "make substantial progress in the remainder of the year."

Although Apple has indeed introduced faster machines, including an 867MHz Power Mac on Wednesday, Intel's chips now run at up to 1.8GHz--or more than double the clock speed of the fastest Mac.

Perhaps as a result, Apple is again making the pitch that megahertz doesn't matter and that its machines are still faster at the tasks many people perform.

During Wednesday's Macworld Expo keynote speech, Apple did some now familiar demos showing its chips outperforming the fastest Intel Pentium 4 at tasks such as video and photo editing. However, to further drive home the point, Jobs brought out Apple hardware guru Jon Rubinstein to get into some of the nitty-gritty of chip design, including latencies and dependencies that can slow chips down.

Although such issues are more often discussed at engineering conferences than at mainstream computer shows, Rubinstein used clever graphics to show that chips with long pipelines, like the Pentium 4, can perform slower than ones with shorter pipelines, such as the PowerPC chips built by Motorola and IBM and used in the Mac.

Apple said it is not giving up the effort to close the gap with Intel, even as it works to educate consumers that megahertz is not the only measure of performance.

"We try to do both at the same time," Apple Vice President Phil Schiller told CNET

"We want to do what we can to close the gap of perception with (regard to) megahertz," Schiller added. At the same time, he noted that Apple's speed increases for the Power Mac are among the largest ever in terms of the number of megahertz. Until Wednesday, the Power Macs ranged in speed from 466MHz to 733MHz. The machines now range from 733MHz to 867MHz.

Analysts praised Apple for trying but questioned its effectiveness.

"It was important to get the message out, but I think it fell flat by the looks of the crowd," said Michael Silver, a Gartner analyst.

Added Chris LeTocq, an analyst at Guernsey Research: "I think they got closer this time, but they missed the punch line."

However, a number of attendees at the show said they were in complete agreement with Apple that counting megahertz is not the way to measure a computer's performance.

"They're right," said Christopher Marson, a graphic designer from the Bahamas. "It depends how fast a machine runs software."

Other Mac fans at the show expressed similar opinions.

"Megahertz is just one of the many factors that affects performance," said Paul Hunter, who manages computers for the Greenwich, Conn., public schools.

Micki Katz, a consultant for Mac Mediatek in New York, agreed but said the perception issue is important for Apple as it seeks to attract new PC buyers and converts from the Windows world.

"In terms of Apple trying to get more market share, they need to do a better job of educating the public," said Katz, who helps graphics workers set up their computer systems. "I think the general perception in the public is that it does matter."

Katz said Apple's presentation was good but noted it was not necessarily reaching the people who really needed to hear it.

"We're all Mac people, and we're all 'yeah, yeah.' But what about the other people? It's a tough question."

Likewise, Joshua Prowisor said that megahertz doesn't matter to him in his present role teaching and managing computers for the Gibbsoboro school district in Westhampton, N.J. But the former CompUSA salesman said he knows that is what many computer buyers look at.

"It's like an engine," he said. "People look at horsepower, but torque is just as important."