The long-time debate between PC and Mac partisans over which platform performs better reached an interesting impasse this week when long-time Apple partner Adobe published a document on its Web site supporting 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. And second, Apple has actually responded to the charges.
Adobe's new PC Preferred site republishes information that first appeared in July 2002, a performance comparison of a then top-of-the line Dell 2.53 GHz Precision Workstation vs. an equally decked-out dual processor Power Mac G4 running a 1 GHz. The single processor Dell crushed the Mac in every test, with Adobe noting, "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 over 3 GHz, while G4-powered Macs have jumped to 1.42 GHz.
Apple, of course, has been fighting what it calls the Megahertz Myth for years. On the company's Web site, Apple describes its high-end 1.42 GHz 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 application performance on the Mac." The assumption here is that the Photoshop tests Apple touts are somehow more indicative of all Pro application performance.
My experience with both platforms tells a different story and it's clear that PCs have outperformed Macs for years now. After long-term tests with several desktop and notebook Macs, the only area in which any Mac was able to outperform any PC was notebook battery life, and this particular advantage was recently overcome with the introduction of the Centrino chipset, which powers new Wintel-compatible notebooks. This isn't to say that Macs perform unacceptably for everyday tasks, as even the low-end iBook I use regularly works fine for such tasks as Web browsing, email, and light word processing. But for resource intensive tasks--video editing, graphics work, and the like--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 PowerPC platform the company now utilizes. Once touted as the future of computing, the performance of the RISC-based Power PC was surpassed long ago by the Pentium line, in which Intel has incorporated various RISC-like technologies, 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 will need to move quickly, as its market share continues to erode as its high-profile Switch campaign has proven ineffective, and changing platforms is always risky. However, the company pulled off a similar platform change when it moved to the Power PC platform years ago. You never know, they could do it again.