Has Apple Made Hardware Specs Irrelevant?

Since the dawn of home computing, those in the know have measured a machine’s worth with a look at the system’s specifications: A Sinclair Spectrum ZX which sported 128K of RAM was better than the 48K version and, likewise, a 500MHz iBook G3 was naturally superior to its clamshell ancestor, which housed a 300MHz processor. Once you understand the terms and the math, it’s simple. Or it was, anyway.

In more recent years, the picture has become a little muddled – is a 2.2GHz AMD CPU superior to its Intel rival? Throw in multiple cores and a choice of video card and a confused mess becomes positively Byzantine. Then there’s Apple, who as usual do things their own way.

Performance Over Processor

The MacBook Air may not be conventionally powerful, but the results speak for themselves

The MacBook Air may not be conventionally powerful, but the results speak for themselves

While each major computer manufacturer bring their own features, flaws and quirks to the table, it seems reasonable to state that Apple are currently at the top of their game. This is all the more remarkable when one considers that the Cupertino based team refuse to get sucked into spec-chasing, instead focusing on build quality, user experience and seamless software. A good example of this is the previous model (2010) MacBook Air, which sports a specification sheet which appears underwhelming at first glance:

  • 1.86GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor
  • 2GB RAM
  • Either a 128GB or 256GB hard drive

However, despite the specs above, actually using one of the previous model MacBook Airs dispels any concerns about the ultra-portable notebook not being up to the task of a general use, every day computer. Part of the horsepower ‘deficit’ seen in the MacBook Airs is made up by the employment of super-fast SSD’s. Because much of our time on computers is spent performing relatively light tasks, processor-wise, the bottleneck of speed is often seen in the computer’s hard drive, rather than processor. This means that Apple can employ cost and energy efficient chips to great effect, without a noticeable cost in performance

One could also point toward Apple’s iOS devices, which can often be seemingly underpowered when compared to their competitors. The first iPad was not thought of as a powerhouse upon launch, yet it was a huge hit nonetheless. Whichever the product, Apple have gone a long way to relegating hardware specs to a less important place when considering a purchase.

Personal Computing For The Masses

Whether one sees this trend of Apple making things easier on potential customers as a positive move or not, they have long signalled a clear desire to do so. One of the first computer companies to implement a ‘point and click’ Graphical User Interface to enable users to execute simple tasks without the need for lines of code, there seems to be a driving force behind Apple to save their customers from needing to learn tech nomenclature when choosing the right computer for their needs.

The Apple Store is one key part of Apple's effort to make computers accessible

The Apple Store is one key part of Apple's effort to make computers accessible

They have a point, too. Buying a new computer is a complicated and challenging process for the non-nerds among us, even with a whole staff of Apple Store helpers in place to help technophobe customers choose the right Mac for them. Until recently, Apple’s efforts to convince users that they can forget Gigabytes, RAM and hard drive space had been met with firm resistance, a resistance that is now falling away with increasing speed.

Conclusion

Power users and those of us who take an interest in such things will continue to pour over Geekbench scores, processor speeds and performance charts for some time to come.

For the rest of Apple’s user base however, it seems that the people working at Infinite Loop are successfully taking steps to make specs irrelevant – the primary question which now needs to be considered by the average new Mac customers is whether to choose a portable or desktop model.


  • Oscar Alaniz

    I think they never liked very much specifications. I remember the days of PowerPC, they processors were slower in numbers that those found in PCs, but somehow Macs always are faster than they numbers suggest.

  • Mike Radovan

    I do own a mac desktop (dual boot) when it comes to editing and anything to do with 3d work it does matter. My current laptop is an HP Envy just for the fact that for the same amount of money I’m getting a machine that can easily out preform a mac pro.

  • http://elziah.com Paul McDonough

    Specifications count for one thing – comparing performance of like for like : how will this windows based pc perform against this windows based pc.

    Its harder to compare against differed OSes, versions etc.

    The simple fact is that you could have the best spec’d PC for 1000miles – but it will still run like a dog if you dont use well optimized Hardware. This is how Apple keep on top – they build their OS to use every bit of its Hardware to its full potential – Microsoft is designed to be compatible with 99% of hardware so it can never optimize in the way Apple can.

    Thats the killing blow and its why systems like OSX can perform so much better then expected!

    • ihatedrivel

      opnion doesnt equak evidence. I am tired of the drivel by people with agendas promoting there own opnions without any facts.

      you do know that osx, is released on various spec machines contain a variety of option this means for instance that contrary to your opnion, the os wasn’t built to run on one machine. Apple would never code the os in such a way as this would require huge work for new products. osx is a general computing os just like windows, with limited driver support and restrictive drm tech that prevent non apple branded pcs.

      specs are the equalizer and just because apple customers are to dumb to know what it means doesn’t mean the specs dont matter.

      Apple reminds me of the old saying sell the sizzle not the steak. you guys keep diluding your specs dont matter while pc users actually are mature enough and integgilent enough to evaluate the best choice for our job.kee

  • http://www.arsenalreport.com Ix Techau

    Specs are only interesting to people with lesser knowledge – it’s the same people who think buying a higher megapixel camera means that it’s better.

  • http://www.lri.me/ Lri

    According to http://primatelabs.ca/geekbench/mac-benchmarks the Geekbuench score of my new MacBook Air (13 inch Mid-2011, 1.7 GHz Core i5, 4GB) is about 6500, which is much faster than the score of my MacBook Pro (17 inch Mid-2009, 2.8 GHz Core 2 Duo, 4GB), about 4500.

    I think “percent faster” is the new hardware specs. Even many geeks have stopped caring about the individual specs.

  • http://www.italyweddings.com Ben Singleton

    I believe the biggest spec related question both pc and mac users will continue to ask is “how long will it last?”

  • Twocifer

    Ten years ago, I spent nearly 6 months planning, revising, and implementing a build for a Windows PC that would be powerful enough for audio production, graphic design, and still be able to rock at gaming.

    I pined over what processor, how much RAM, what video card, what audio card, etc. I changed my plan twice over those 6 months before I finalized my purchase list. The computer lasted roughly 6 years, but in reality only remained a “powerhouse” PC for just over 3.

    Now, I’m clueless on what specs really mean anymore. As said above, I feel certain specs have fallen the way of the megapixel… in 2004, having a 5MP camera in a point-and-shoot was pretty high quality (for a point-and-shoot). Now, high end DSLR’s tout 2-3 times that (at least), and it really doesn’t matter at all.

    When I started pricing out my next iMac, I’m not sure what all the specs truly mean anymore. RAM is about the only sure thing I know I need a lot of (Video editing, VFX, 3D modeling). Other than that…your guess is as good as mine.

  • http://nataliav.me Natalia Ventre

    Specs don’t matter because any new model will work for most of people. I agree that the question now is about portable or desktop and how big you want the display.

  • Sigilist

    Specs will always have there place, and this article touting an SSD as compensation for a low powered processor is pure pandering to the base. An SSD put into another machine with a more powerful processor makes for a more powerful (not just faster) machine. There is NEVER one component that says it all about any make or model, and the fact that we are closing on a day when any OS can be run on any machine makes OS superiority null and void. (Apples and Oranges as the saying goes).

    I can tell you flat out, that measuring any machine by the (assumed) the common user’s needs is full to the brim with equivocating generalities. This is where such a perspective is exposed as a desperate avoidance of anything that might impinge on belief (vs knowledge).

    I use both PC and Mac (and honestly, the guts aren’t as different as the average mac-user chooses to believe). I use vm’ed OSes on both because different environments attached to different OSes (yes, E and OS are not as integrated as the average user likes to think) offer different advantages. Overall, software potency in the Mac world has always lagged vs the PC world, so for the most powerful software in certain special pursuits, non-Mac environments are a necessity. And guess what? Once I’ve showed some Mac users who thought they had the best of it in blogwares, video editing, vector/raster integration in imaging, virtualize communications, etc…. and showed them that “easy” doens’t have to be dumbed-down, they want to go VM as well. But often they find that suddenly their Mac can’t always match up… and its always in the hardware of the specific unit.

    Specs will always matter. But specs taken as a whole and not just the select pieces that one finds most supporting for one’s own opinion.

  • Stephen

    I think technological progress has made hardware specs irrelevant. The only reason you needed to worry about the computer’s specification before was that if it wasn’t sufficiently high you wouldn’t be able to do what you wanted to. Now just about everything is fast enough for just about everyone which means that the people who now care about the specification of their computer are serious enough users to either 1) already know what sort of spec they need or 2) go and research it. The sort of people who are “confused” by different computer parts tend to be people who resent having to learn a whole new subject just to write emails and use YouTube and those people will be happy with any computer available today.

  • http://toptopgames.com Cyrus

    I agree with this. I used to look at the specs alot. After seeing the macbook air 2010, being quite fast with low specs. I seemed to forget about it and actually purchased the macbook air 2011 knowing that the specs were low but the performance was extremely good. Apple seems to focus on making their software being powerful for low specs.

  • Noko

    Yes, at least for the masses. I have a 08 MacBook Aluminum for regular use, pretty low tier (even when it was new) but it gets the job done for simple tasks.

    Then I have my self-built PC with W7 and Ubuntu installed (on another drive), for actual work (vfx/motion/3D/game engines (hobby)/graphic and web design). (it was actually cheaper to build than my MacBook).

    Whether we like it or not, the PC era is over for the masses, but tablets (and Apple computers) will never replace the PC market, as their main use is for consumption of media, not the creation of it.

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