Users Essay, Research Paper
For years, Macs and PCs have been competing for home users. Apple has recently released the new iMac, and the notebook version of the iMac ? the iBook. Even though several years ago, Macs were better than PCs, now, PCs are better than Macs for home users in terms of performance and expansion options.
To some consumers, performance is often the most important factor in buying a computer. Performance doesn?t necessarily mean how well the computer performs potentially, but only on specific tasks. Both iBook and iMac are designed for home users, most of whom neither care about number of floating-point operations per second, nor know what it means. Very few home users will pay $500 for Photoshop 5.0 to edit photos on their PC. The more likely uses for home computers are: word processing, browsing the Internet, and 3-D gaming. Since the most popular word processor is developed by Microsoft and allegedly optimized for Windows, it would be unfair to compare the Mac version of MS Word with the Windows version. However, comparing the performance in 3-D games and the Internet is fair.
Even though PC Magazine specializes in PCs, it reviewed the iBook as soon as it came out. The article focused on performance of the iBook and compared it to a similar IBM-compatible notebook. Since there are no new IBM-compatible notebooks that match iBook?s specifications, PC Magazine decided to use the notebook they believed to be closest to iBook ? the IBM ThinkPad iSeries 1480. They have very few similarities: the both notebooks are available in different colors, and neither notebook has the fastest processor from its platform.
Apple claims that its notebooks are ?up to twice as fast as comparable Microsoft Windows-based portables? (qtd. in Hill 53). This statement is very vague ? it doesn?t say how they compared the portables, and what Apple meant by ?comparable?. Since similar statements have been made about iMac, speed will be discussed in the next section; for now, let?s make sure that PC Magazine selected an appropriate notebook. The G3 processor from the iBook is one generation behind Mac desktops, whereas the ThinkPad?s Celeron is two generations behind other IBM-compatible notebooks. Even though Celeron is somewhat obsolete, it runs at 466 MHz versus G3?s 300 MHz. Since neither processor is top-of-the-line, and both notebooks are in the same price range, it is safe to conclude that the two notebooks are comparable.
Apple declares that ?fast, easy access to the Internet? is among the ?features [that] made the world fall in love with the iMac? (Apple). As mentioned earlier, the Internet performance is one of the uses for home computers and should be thoroughly tested. In their review, PC Magazine uses i_Bench to test the Internet performance.
According to i_Bench tests, ThinkPad outperforms the iBook on almost every test (Hill 53). The only exception is the test of QuickTime Transition Effects ? the iBook is faster than the ThinkPad (Hill 53). Apple?s QuickTime is one of many formats for viewing compressed video on the Internet and is rarely used because of poor compression quality. QuickTime should not be used to test the computer?s performance for several reasons: it is rarely used, and is most likely optimized for Macs. On the other hand, The Java Virtual Machine test should be looked at more carefully. Java is a platform-independent programming language originally designed by Sun Corporation for another operating system, and is currently used for writing programs for the Internet. This test runs several Java programs within a browser, which simulates ordinary Internet browsing better than QuickTime. The ThinkPad impressively outperformed the iBook with the a score of 43,766 versus just 23,872 (Hill 53).
Comparing the iMacs with IBM-compatible desktops creates the same problem ? finding the PC that is comparable to the iMac. Dave Glue, a programming student, sums up this problem in one sentence: ?If you’re going to downgrade the PC to exactly match the iMac’s MHz rating and hard disk, you’ll have a significantly cheaper PC than the iMac.? Even when comparing computers of equal price, another problem appears ? they run two completely different operating systems. Apple uses BYTEmark (Apple), which tests the processor?s integer and floating point capabilities (Byte) to compare Macs with PCs on both operating systems. Byte claims that BYTEmark simulates real applications (Byte), but it does not explain why Macs perform so poorly in real applications even though iBooks receive the score two times higher than PCs.
Let?s take a look at the performance in 3D games, which is another possible application for home computers. Apple claims that a 400-MHz iMac with RAGE 128 VR AGP 2X shows almost eight frames per second (fps) more than a 500-MHz Celeron-based PC with RAGE Turbo Pro AGP 2X. (Apple) The frame rate is reported by Quake III, a game that is so far from finished, that the test-demo is allowed to be distributed only electronically ? it?s not even a beta version, the manufacturer is only testing how the test-demo runs.
At the first glance, 27.9 fps on a 400 MHz Mac is a noticeable improvement over 22.0 fps on a higher-clocked 500-MHz Celeron. However, when looking at the video card?s model, we see that iMac is using a newer video accelerator. The Celeron?s RAGE Turbo Pro video accelerator is an entire generation behind the RAGE 128 VR used in the iMac. The RAGE Turbo Pro is a 64-bit video accelerator, whereas RAGE 128 is a more advanced 128-bit graphics accelerator. Both chips are manufactured by ATI, which is not very popular among gamers because of its slow processors. For example, my 400-MHz Celeron-based computer with a six-month old Voodoo3 2000 video card shows well over 50 fps. New video cards, such as those based on GeForce video accelerator show over 70 fps. It is not a surprise that iMac?s slow video card easily outperformed an even slower and older video accelerator. Apple made a poor decision in selecting the graphics card for their computers and installed an even worse video card on the tested PC.
Generally, PCs are faster than Macs at most commonly used tasks. IBM-compatibles also run the Internet programs and 3D games faster. Despite the obvious performance advantages, people buy iMacs and iBook. One of the reasons for that is the way Apple advertises their computers ? Apple concentrates on the Mac?s exterior.
The main reason for iBook?s and iMac?s popularity is their appearance. The colorful translucent cases separate these computers from PCs. Whether Apple?s plan is to use the eye-catching shapes and colors of these Macs to cover the flaws in performance, or just to catch consumers? attention, it seems to work well. PC manufactures finally realized that people buy these computers mainly because of the looks, and decided to make similar computers. However, unlike iMacs?, the good looks of PCs do not come at cost of decreased performance.
As Hill writes in the article from PC Magazine, the new iBook ?is one of the largest notebooks we?ve ever seen? (53). Considering the relatively small screen of the iBook by today?s standards ? 12.1 inches, the iBook is extremely large and heavy. On the other hand, the IBM ThinkPad, even with the 14-inch screen, is just less than a pound heavier, and about a centimeter thinner than the iBook. Although ThinkPad is the only IBM-compatible notebook currently available in different colors, more of such notebooks will soon be released.
Looks are the only reason for iMac?s popularity; however, several PCs that look just as good as the iMacs exist. Sony Sliptop PC comes only in blue, but has a stylish 14-inch LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) panel. The Gateway Astro comes has an all-in-one design, and more USB ports than iMac. Computers from eMachines look exactly like the blue iMacs. Many other computers from companies like Gateway and NEC come with flat built-in LCDs.
As one can see, the IBM-compatible platform offers users more options for consumers? those who want a fast PC that will attract attention, can buy it. People, who want a computer that looks good, can buy a PC that runs faster than a comparable Mac. There are also other advantages that PCs offer, for example expansion options.
Computer industry changes every month; what was considered top-of-the-line a couple of months ago, is now obsolete and no longer in production. There are two ways to keep up with the constantly changing technology: buy a new computer every time a faster one comes out, or simply upgrade your old computer (Perry xvii). Adding more RAM, changing hard drive, replacing CPU, and installing a new video accelerator, can greatly improve computer?s performance. Installing TV-tuners, CD-recorders, and audio cards, adds new functionality to computers. However, in order to add components, computer must have room for expansion, which Macs lack.
One would expect a lot of from a 6.6-pound notebook. However, iBook disappoints with very limited expansion options it so desperately needs. Among the things that need to be added are: speakers, because the sound is ?horrible? (Hill 53); a DVD drive, because the 24X CD-ROM is outdated, and a floppy disk drive, which doesn?t come with the system. As Hill states in his review of the iBook: ?There is no PC Card slot, no floppy disk drive, no serial or parallel ports, and just a single-channel USB-port? (53). That means that iBook can only use one USB-based device unless an external hub is added; which defeats the purposes of a portable. Almost all IBM-compatible notebooks come standard with the ports mentioned above. The PC Card slots can accept many devices including multimedia cards and SCSI controllers (Perry 351; Norton 418), none of which will be available for the iBook. Basically, users are stuck with the iMac the way it is sold. The only possible option for expansion is adding memory, because the single USB port will probably be used for an external floppy disk drive.
The iMac offers slightly better expansion options that the iBook. Besides an additional USB port, the iMac has two FireWire ports. FireWire is currently used only for transfer of images from digital video cameras, and is standard on many desktops including Sony Slimtop. The 24X CD-ROM is replaced by 4X DVD drive, but there is still no floppy drive. Unless users add an USB hub they cannot upgrade further, because a keyboard uses one USB port, and a floppy disk drive will take up the other port. This means that in order to add a printer, the user will have to purchase a sixty-dollar USB hub that will match the tangerine case.
Apple does not give users a lot of choice for expansion ? users can only add external devices because there are no PCI slots. PCI is an internal bus that runs approximately ten times faster than USB, and supports many devices such as SCSI controllers, that USB does not. Also, the memory expansion is limited in terms of memory types. The iMac supports only 100 MHz SDRAM; whereas PCs support 133 MHz SDRAM and the new 800 MHz RDRAM, which greatly improves performance (Norton 285). Also, iMac?s RAGE 128 VR video accelerator cannot be replaced with a faster GeForce-based video accelerator because it is designed for PCs and is not compatible with Macs.
Most home users don?t want to spend thousands of dollars on buying a new computer each year. PC owners have a wide choice of components for their computers, and can save money in the long run by upgrading PCs instead of replacing them.
As one can see, there?s no reason to buy a Mac because PCs for home users are better in every way. Home users do not care about Photoshop performance because they will never use a photo-editing program designed for professionals; however, performance on the Internet and in 3D games is important. The IBM-compatible platform gives more options for future upgrades, faster computers, and the good looks of iMac.
Perry, Vivian, ed. PC Upgrading & Maintenance. Alameda, CA: SYBEX Inc., 1997
Norton, Peter and John Goodman. Inside the PC. Indianapolis, IN: Sams Publishing, 1997
Hill, Jon. ?iBook Report.? PC Magazine. 1 Dec. 1999: 53
Rupley, Sebastian. ?iMac Overhaul.? PC Magazine. 1 Dec. 1999: 34