What thinking different will get you

I have seen a lot of shameful things out of desperate Mac zealots over the past few years, as Apple's inevitable twilight has stretched out into a rainbow of colored computers and low-frequency CPUs. Steve Jobs has come back on the scene to parody himself, making wild claims for the performance and utility of the fruity computer company's decidedly behind-the-curve products. Photoshop has morphed itself into the sole arbiter of workstation performance. In the absence of actual innovation, we've heard earnest arguments about how the omission of a floppy disk drive was a "visionary" move. And rather than being one function of overall processor performance, clock frequencies have ceased to matter at all—low frequencies are a twisted badge of honor, an indicator of "real" performance.

But I have to say that I think perhaps this piece of pro-Mac propaganda beats all. It's surreal to read it and think someone seriously thought it would be a good idea, and probably believes it's making a straigtforward point. The author, a self-proclaimed Mac user and Apple stockholder, has complied a massive comparison chart pitting the very fastest (866MHz G4) Mac against a range of PCs, all of which have the very highest-end Pentium 4 processors with RDRAM. Prices and features are considered.

Guess who wins.

That's right, the fruity system with the 866MHz processor, PC133 SDRAM, and system bus to match. For $2508, you get 256MB of PC133 memory, a GeForce2 MX card, and the ability to run four or five of the world's most popular software packages (just don't run them at once)—that, folks, is the big winner.

The big chart format of this thing is daunting and oddly compelling, despite its utter wrongness. But unlike most really big, deceptive undertakings, the devil is not in the details here. The details—comparisons of the number of USB ports or the ratings of "virus susceptibility" won by the machine that can't execute x86 binary code—do contribute nicely to the intended force and effect of the comparo. In this case, though, the devil is sitting right up front, in these phrases:

733MHz G4 considered roughly equivalent to 1.0 GHz Athlon, 1.2 GHz Pentium III, or 1.7 GHz Pentium 4 in OVERALL performance.
Pentium 4 equivilence [sic] based on TechTV's own in-house results.
The "overall performance" comparison is based on this benchmark comparison at TechTV of—you guessed it—Adobe Photoshop 6 performance. Specifically, TechTV's benchmarking geniuses ran a total of six Photoshop filters. From this meager selection of tests in an application highly optimized for the G4 and known to have problems on the Pentium 4, these computers' overall performance in a range of uses has been magically determined. And so it is written: at 733MHz, with PC133 SDRAM, the G4 processor is the equal of any Pentium 4 around.

Conveniently, there's no further mention of the Athlon.

This, folks, is what you get for thinking different: something different from actual thinking. If you hold the fun house mirrors just right in your mind, it's 1984 again, and Macs are still competitive, still innovative, still able to take on the best PCs and make them look stodgy, colorless, slow, and kludgy by contrast. Never mind that G4s were barely competitive with the best x86 processors before they got stuck at 500MHz for a year solid as the x86 processors raced past one gigahertz and toward two. Never mind the platform enhancements, from faster memory to new front-side bus speeds to high-speed internal interconnects, that have come to the x86 platform during the same interval. If you lay your delusions out on a chart just right, it will make all of those uncomfortable thoughts melt away.

(Blame indeego for getting me riled up.)

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