The Apple/Intel Report: Should You Buy a Power Mac Now?

October 29th, 2005

Give me a break. Some of the statements I’ve read in recent days about whether the latest refresh of the Power Mac line is worth your attention seem downright silly. They usually go like this, and I’m not singling out any specific person for criticism here, but: Apple is moving to Intel beginning next year. It won’t be long before even today’s Power Mac is long in the tooth, so why spend a bundle on one?

Besides, gas is expensive and the family SUV drinks a gallons and gallons of it while you’re out doing your daily chores. You have to have priorities, and maybe you could live with your present Mac workstation a year or two longer. If lots of people feel this way, it may well be that the Power Mac G5 Quad will fail big time in the marketplace. Or maybe buy a compact car, so they have enough money left over to acquire that new Mac after all.

Does any of this make sense to you?

Well, let’s journey back in time, say four years. At that time, the fastest Power Mac used a G4, and, as far as anyone knew, would continue to use a G4 in the foreseeable future. But it would, of course, get faster. You could take this trip back to 1991 and use the Motorola 68040 as an example with the same result.

You could, back then, argue, that it made no sense to buy the fastest Mac of the time, because there would be a faster ones a year or two in the future, and probably a lot sooner. Why buy a new computer at all? There’s always a faster one on the horizon, and you can’t afford to keep chasing the end of the rainbow. This processor speed race is just a silly marketing tool anyway. Isn’t your computer fast enough as it is?

All right, I think this is all getting a little too ridiculous to treat sensibly. But consider one more thing: Suppose, just suppose, that IBM didn’t have problems delivering ever-faster versions of the G5 in sufficient quantities and in a timely fashion. What if Apple didn’t need to move to Intel? All right, that simultaneous top secret project of building Mac OS X for x86 wasn’t done just as an exercise. Maybe it was Steve’s goal all along, and he was just looking for an excuse, but that’s really an area of speculation that I won’t go into right now.

But if you could depend on a much faster Power Mac G5 next year, would your conclusions be the same, that it’s not worth buying one right now? It would make just as much sense, which is little to none.

Now I don’t know when the Power Mac will become a MacIntel. This commentary site never trucks in rumors, although I try to speculate for fun, but surely not for profit. The reason I don’t know is that there is no such model on the immediate horizon, and since Apple’s processor switchover timetable will not conclude until the end of 2007, it’s safe to say that it may not happen until the very end of the process. Although there’s no official announcement of any specific plans, the tea readers have gone over Intel’s processor roadmap and suggested that the first MacIntel will probably be the Mac mini or the PowerBook. Sure, the latter just had a very minor upgrade, if more pixels on the screen and faster memory can be regarded as an upgrade.

Then, I suppose, you could argue that there’s no sense buying a PowerBook now, because the latest upgrade doesn’t count for much. Besides, if you’re over 25, you probably need glasses to see text on the screen unless you manually adjust text sizes in your favorite applications. But that’s just idle talk, because I haven’t had a chance to work on the new PowerBook, and I fail to see a compelling reason to trade in my 1.5GHz version.

The long and short of it is that if you need a new Mac now, buy the fastest one available. With all the new product introductions in recent weeks, don’t expect anything to be replaced for a while, except maybe the iPod. Apple is moving extremely fast with those things. Even that allegedly “secret” Mac mini upgrade is hardly worth the trouble. Only people with stop watches will notice the difference if they react fast enough. In fact, I’m somewhat tempted to consider a Power Mac G5 Quad. It’s not that my first generation dual 2GHz version is all that old in the scheme of things. It still runs pretty fast for my taste, and it has been optioned to the hilt with 2GB of RAM and an ATI Radeon X800 XT graphics card. The fastest process I run, which is encoding the live feed of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, goes off without a hitch, and I’m able to run a number of applications a the same time without a hint of a stutter.

You know, maybe I should just wait after all. What do I need a new Mac for anyway, right?

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