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.


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.