When Apple Computer Inc.
upgraded its professional line
of desktop computers on Wednesday, they provided customers with a 25 percent speed increase on the high-end model. While the Power Mac G5s now top out at 2.5GHz, they failed to meet the prediction of Apple CEO Steve Jobs at last year’s Worldwide Developers Conference that Apple would release a 3.0GHz G5 within a year. Industry analysts are unanimous in saying that the current problems are not Apple’s fault and are not that concerned about making the 3.0GHz mark. If fact, one analyst commended IBM for being able to get as much speed from the chip as they have.
“It’s not terribly significant, but of course, nobody likes to miss their goals,” IDC analyst Roger Kay, told MacCentral.
“That’s always the danger in making technology claims like that,” said JupiterResearch analyst Michael Gartenberg. “You just have to hope that the laws of the universe can keep up with your claims. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal that they didn’t hit that particular benchmark. I don’t think we are going to see any Apple execs promise a particular speed anytime in the near future.”
All of the analysts agree that the problem is related to the 90-nanometer technology adopted by the semiconductor industry. Intel, AMD and IBM have all had to face the same issue when they made the switch to using the 90-nanometer process.
“The whole market has hit this 90-nanometer wall at the same time,” said Kay. “There’s a lot of confidence that they will overcome it, but it means that speed increases probably won’t come as fast as they did in the past.”
IBM has outdone the competition and even though they didn’t produce a 3.0GHz chip, they should be commended for the speed increase they were able to produce one analyst said.
“In switching to 90 nanometers, the industry has had more problems raising the clock [speed] than anyone anticipated a year ago,” said Peter Kastner, Executive Vice President and Chief Research Officer for the Aberdeen Research Group. “Intel, for example, has only cranked up a couple of hundred megahertz from 3.2GHz to 3.4GHz. IBM gets an ‘A’ for the second quarter for being able to crank the chip up from 2GHz to 2.5GHz — that’s a 25 percent increase.
“Will they get there? Probably, but it may take another year,” Kastner added.
The only question that matters
Analysts were also unanimous in their opinions on clock speed: It doesn’t matter. In fact, they said clock speed was never an accurate measure of performance for a computer, reiterating Apple’s “megahertz myth” claims. What does matter is what Apple is providing to their customers and how productive they can be after factoring in clock speed, architecture and all the other factors that make a computer system fast.
“The question is, are they providing enough functionality for their high-end users and the answer is, yes they are. That’s the only question that matters,” said Jupiter’s Gartenberg.
IDC’s Kay agrees and feels the current line-up of G5s provides Apple’s core markets with the power they need.
“The professional content creation market is not really price sensitive, they are performance hungry for anything you can give them and the current generation of G5s gives them a lot,” said Kay.
Longtime semiconductor analyst Peter Glaskowsky said that a 20 percent difference in CPU clock speed would generally translate into a five percent feeling in performance of the machine. However, this will only be evident to the high-end user working on 200MB images, according to Glaskowsky. In fact, for most users, he said that the network performance and graphics card would influence overall performance more than the CPU does.
“From a practical perspective, they are still getting a really good deal,” said Glaskowsky. “2.5GHz on this processor is a really excellent level of performance compared to where the Pentium 4 is because it’s not as efficient a CPU and it’s not running that much faster right now.”
Supply a concern
While analysts aren’t concerned about the clock speed of the G5s, some are concerned about IBMs ability to keep up with the demand for the machines.
“I question IBM’s ability to meet Apple’s increased G5 processor demand moving forward given the company’s availability challenges to date,” said Tim Deal, senior analyst with Technology Business Research.
Aberdeen’s Kastner isn’t so much concerned about the availability of low-end and mid-range models — his concern lies with the IBM’s ability to supply enough CPUs to meet demand for Apple’s high-end 2.5GHz system, expected to ship next month.
Kastner believes that it was important step for Apple to move its professional desktop products to an all dual-processor line-up.
“Apple’s customers have been buying richer G5 configurations than Apple had anticipated. With the heavy compute loads of many of Apple’s markets of strength, such as graphic arts, media and education, dual processors will help a lot,” said Kastner.
Putting the rumors to rest
The rumor mill surrounding Apple events, technology and product releases is probably the most robust in the technology industry, partly thanks to Apple’s policy of not talking about future product releases before they’re actually announced. Yesterday, Apple’s Director of Power Mac Product Marketing, Tom Boger, cast aside that policy to say that there would be no PowerBook G5 anytime soon. Boger explained that there were engineering challenges involved in migrating the G5 architecture to both the PowerBook and the iMac. Boger’s comments effectively put rumors about Apple’s future in those product categories to rest — a move analysts applaud.
“It was important for Apple to put to rest things like a G5 PowerBook. You never want rumors to upset your sales and Apple has made it clear that they are not going to see a G5 in a PowerBook anytime in the near future,” said Jupiter’s Gartenberg.
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