Newsletter Issue #519: Are Speed Bumps Hitting the Wall?

November 8th, 2009

In introducing the original Power Mac G5 at the WWDC in 2003, Steve Jobs said the brilliant engineers at IBM would have a 3GHz version within a year’s time. As you know, that never happened, and, a mere two years later, Apple signed with Intel and dumped the PowerPC for good.

Yet it’s now six years after being presented with the promise of a 3GHz Mac, and we’ve barely exceeded that figure. The highest speed rating available for the recently introduced 27-inch iMac is a build-to-order configuration sporting a 3.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo. But that’s actually NOT the most powerful chip Apple is offering. That honor goes to a custom configuration of the Mac Pro that provides a pair of 2.93GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon, an upgrade that nearly doubles the price of the computer.

So just what’s going on here with all these processor clock speeds?

You see, Intel realized some years back that you could no longer simply increase a chip’s clock speed to get better performance. The late and not lamented Pentium 4 came in versions with even higher ratings, but delivered little more than heat and excessive power consumption. They really didn’t perform all that much better in the real world, and forget about squeezing them into a note-book, where they’d seem almost hot enough to boil an egg.

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