The debate between PC and Macintosh partisans over which platform performs better reached an interesting impasse this week when longtime Apple Computer partner Adobe Systems published a document on its Web site that supports claims that the PC is indeed faster. This development is interesting for two reasons. First, Apple has always used specially written Adobe applications to demonstrate the Mac's performance claims, so it's a bit problematic when the creator of those applications basically refutes the information. Second, Apple has actually responded to the claims.
Adobe's Web site (see the URL below) republished information that first appeared in July 2002--a performance comparison of a then top-of-the line 2.53GHz Dell Precision Workstation versus an equally decked-out dual-processor Power Mac G4 running at 1GHz. The single-processor Dell Precision crushed the Mac in every test; Adobe noted, "While the computers used in this study are no longer the fastest in their respective classes, the information is still valid. The PC outperformed the similar Macintosh machine, at an impressive rate." Today, the fastest PCs feature clock speeds faster than 3GHz, whereas G4-powered Macs have jumped to 1.42GHz.
For years, Apple has been fighting what it calls "The Megahertz Myth." On the company's Web site, Apple describes its high-end 1.42GHz Power Mac as "32 percent faster than the fastest PC on the market with a 3GHz Pentium 4 processor \[when\] using nine commonly used actions and filters that stress overall system performance--including processor, memory, system bus, and hard drive--in \[Adobe\] Photoshop." And this week, Apple responded to the Adobe site specifically. "Apple stands by our claims that our latest Power Mac systems perform equal to or better than competing PC systems," the company wrote in a statement. "The reported tests on Adobe's Web site showing slower performance of After Effects on a Mac than a PC is more an application test than a platform test and is not indicative of all Pro \[nonconsumer\] application performance on the Mac." Apple's claim, apparently, is that the Photoshop tests it touts are somehow more indicative of the performance of all Pro applications than are the After Effects tests that the Adobe site describes.
My experience with both platforms refutes that assumption. After long-term tests with several desktop and notebook Macs, the only area in which I've found any Mac to outperform any comparable PC was notebook battery life, and the Centrino chipset, which powers new Wintel-compatible notebooks, recently overcame that advantage. I'm not saying that Macs perform unacceptably for everyday tasks; even my low-end iBook works fine for such tasks as Web browsing, email, DVD playback, and light word processing. But for resource-intensive tasks (e.g., video editing, graphics work), PCs running Windows have long dominated the Mac.
Also, the increasing performance gap between Macs and PCs comes at a tough time for Apple, which is reportedly examining a replacement for the Power PC platform. Apple once touted the RISC-based Power PC as the future of computing, but the Pentium line, in which Intel has incorporated various RISC-like technologies, long ago surpassed the Power PC in performance, blurring the line between CISC and RISC architectures and ending the debate over which is superior. Apple's choices appear to come down to an IBM advance on the Power PC platform called the Power PC 970 or possibly moving to an Intel-based architecture. Whatever the company chooses, it needs to move quickly; Apple's market share continues to erode. The company's high-profile Switch campaign has proven ineffective, and changing platforms is always risky. However, the company pulled off a similar change when it moved to the Power PC platform years ago. You never know, Apple could do it again.