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Screw Popular Science, We've Got Popular Mechanics!

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 
After Popular Science actually printed that story that compared a $3400 Vaio to the $1800 iMac (at the time) and letting the Vaio win by a smidge, I was more than a little teed off at them.

I just got Popular Mechanics in the mail today, and on page 38 is a two-page story about the MHz myth, and why other components matter just as much or more.

Since the article isn't online yet, I'll write it out here.

[quote]Originally printed by Popular Mechanics:
Gigahertz Gap?

by Christopher Allbritton

I was in a computer store recently, checking out the new boxes, when I decided to have a little fun. I asked the sales kid whether i should get one of the new 800-MHz G4 iMac or a kick-butt Sony MX system with a 2.0-GHz Pentium 4 chip. The iMac was $1900 and the Sony was close to $3400 with an LCD monitor. Quite a difference.

"What do you want to do with it?" he asks. I tell him basic word processing, e-mail, Web browsing, maybe some digital camera stuff. Nothing serious. "You want the Sony,' he says. "It's got a faster chip."

Twice the RAM and twice the hard drive space aren't the Sony's selling points, apparently. All that matters is that it's got a faster chip.

Ostensibly, he may be right. But for the functions I wanted to perform--still the most common reasons consumers list when asked why they want a computer--the sales kid's response was misleading. Worse, it was a classic case of speed bigotry in which computers are judged not by the contents of their systems, but by the speed of their CPUs. This is an incredibly limited view on how to choose the right computer system. The dirty "secret" of the computer industry is this: Chip speed doesn't matter much anymore.

Need For Speed
But the chip's clock speed is an easy and quick marketing tool, says Kevin Krewell, a senior analyst for Microprocessor Report, an In-Stat/MDR publication. "It's what's driven the industry up to now.'

Think of the CPU as the computer's brain, which manipulates the data moving around the system. As you know, a CPU is made up of several components that do the computing work, such as calculating the values in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet or Adobe Photoshop filters. Other components act like traffic cops and decide which instruction to follow next. Linking all these functions together is the CPU's clock, measured in millions or billions of cycles per second, called hertz. A 2.4-GHz chip ticks 2.4 billion times a second.

The mania for megahertz measurements started when Intel started beating AMD with its Pentium line of CPUs. Krewell says the chip giant adopted as its mantra Moore's Law--"computer performance doubles every 18 months'--but applied it to the chip speed. The company did double its speeds every year and a half or so, but this didn't always lead to a doubling of performance. Ten years ago, computers shipped with 16-MHz chips. Today, they operate at 2.4 GHz. THe chips' internal clocks are 150 times as fast, but computers are not 150 times as powerful.

Currently, Intel manufactures the Pentium 4 chip, which will likely hit 3 GHz by the end of this year. Apple Computer uses Motorola's PowerPC chip, which tops out at 1 GHz. The new Pentium should be three times as fast, right? Wrong. Because of the PowerPC's architecture, Apple's chips often match or beat Intel's chips in benchmark tests.

Of course, you want a fast machine, and chip speed does factor into that. But the amount of RAM, the speed of your hard drive, the strength of your video card, and the speed of your connection to the internet all contribute as much if not more to the overall snappiness of your system.

RAM
RAM is much more important than chip speed for almost everything your computer does. There are few software programs that take advantage of today's fast chips, Krewell says. Even OS X and Windows XP, the new operating systems from Apple Computer and Microsoft, make little use of the power available to them. For instance, I'm writing this column on Microsoft Word for OS X on an Apple PowerBook with a 400-MHz G3 chip. The technology is Sumerian compared to the latest chips available, and yet a quick view of my processor load shows it about 52 percent idle. That means that half of my CPU's processing cycles are doing nothing.

However, like Windows XP, OS X is a RAM hog. The 128MB of RAM suggested by both companies as the minimum amount needed is inadequate and will cause both systems to slow to a crawl. Once I upped my RAM to 384MB, my system sped up considerably. And since RAM is fairly cheap these days--you can get a 256MB chip for about $50--this is the single best investment you can make to speed up your trusty old computer.

Hard Drive
The speed of your hard drive is the next choke on system performance, and it's a critical component for digital video and audio because writing to or from the disk always takes time. Not only does the speed of the drive affect how fast programs launch and save data, but it also affects the overall speed of the system thanks to a memory-management scheme called 'virtual memory.'

WHen the RAM on a computer fills up--this can happen when you have several applications open at once--the system will write chunks of memory not in use to the hard drive in order to free up RAM for other programs. The slower the drive,, the slower the virtual memory performance. And the slower your overall system.

In laptops, 5400-rpm drives are the norm. In desktop systems, however, 7200 rpm is common and there are even 10,000-rpm drives, although they're not cheap. (A Fujitsu 73.5GB, 10,000-rpm drive costs $750 on that company's Web site while an IBM 60GB, 7500-rpm drive costs $151.)

Video Card
Like RAM, video cards are vital. At it's most basic, a video card is a dedicated board with its own chip and RAM--usually called Video RAM or VRAM-which handles all the graphics of a computer, whether it's drawing text on a white background, playing fast games or handling complex 3D models. These boards take the heavy weight of graphics displays off the CPU's shoulders, and they're crucial for games. A fast processor and a skimpy graphics board equal a bad game experience, but the reverse can equal a great gaming experience.

Connection Speed
Finally, the speed at which you connect to a network can affect how fast your computer feels. A 2.2-GHz chip will render Web pages quickly, but what us is that when you're on a modem that runs at 28.8 kilobits per second and the data is trickling into your machine? Your best bet is to get a cable modem or DSL for your home connection and you'll see your computer speed up. It's a real eye-opener, and you'll realize that chip speed matters little when it comes to INternet functions.

Bottom Line
Despite all this, chip speed remains central to computer manufacturers' marketing plans. That's because chip speed is the easiest way to catch your attention: Misinformed consumers figure the faster, the better. The reality is, a computer with at least a 500-MHz chip and 256MB of RAM will meet the needs of a majority of users: e-mail, Web browsing and word processing. Keep that in mind the next time some sales kid tries to convince you to upgrade.<hr></blockquote>
post #2 of 11
Fair and balanced article (not like Fox News claims). Unfortunately, P.M. has about half the circulation of P.S. Every bit helps however.
Things Ain't What They Seem!
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Things Ain't What They Seem!
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post #3 of 11
Thread Starter 
[quote]Originally posted by MacsRGood4U:
<strong>Fair and balanced article (not like Fox News claims). Unfortunately, P.M. has about half the circulation of P.S. Every bit helps however.</strong><hr></blockquote>

Are you sure about that? I thought it was the other way around....(circulation)
post #4 of 11
Great article. At least some people know the truth.
post #5 of 11
Thread Starter 
[quote]Originally posted by MacsRGood4U:
<strong>Fair and balanced article (not like Fox News claims). Unfortunately, P.M. has about half the circulation of P.S. Every bit helps however.</strong><hr></blockquote>

Finally found the letter and response I was looking for, in the September 2001 issue. It was under the caption "Helpful Hint" on page 12.

[quote]Originally printed by Popular Mechanics:
<strong>I recently bought a copy of PM. The content was interesting but the layout looked like a magazine from the '50s. I can't tell the difference between your articles and your ads. Why don't you make your layouts look more modern like some of the other successful magizines with a similar audience (i.e. Popular Science, Car And Driver)?

Zac Brooks
Via Internet

Successful? Considering that we are 99 years old and consistently outsell both Popular Science and Car And Driver on the newsstand, perhaps they should consider looking more like us.

Ed.</strong>
<hr></blockquote>

Maybe you should research before you speak your "facts."

[ 06-06-2002: Message edited by: Spart ]</p>
post #6 of 11
ABC which audits circulation indicates on their public access site the following monthly circulation based on 6 month average:

Popular Science - 1,567,079

Popular Mechanics - 1,211,630

Car And Driver - 1,371,761

Now I've got my "facts" straight.

[ 06-06-2002: Message edited by: MacsRGood4U ]</p>
Things Ain't What They Seem!
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Things Ain't What They Seem!
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post #7 of 11
Thread Starter 
[quote]Originally posted by MacsRGood4U:
<strong>ABC which audits circulation indicates on their public access site the following monthly circulation based on 6 month average:

Popular Science - 1,567,079

Popular Mechanics - 1,211,630

Car And Driver - 1,371,761

Now I've got my "facts" straight.

[ 06-06-2002: Message edited by: MacsRGood4U ]</strong><hr></blockquote>

Damn...what a bunch of fscking liars (Popular Mechanics, that is). They don't even know how many magazines they are selling as opposed to other mags...

[EDIT: Still, that's nowhere near half. A little over 3/4 of what PopSci sells.]

[ 06-06-2002: Message edited by: Spart ]</p>
post #8 of 11
[quote]Originally posted by Spart:
<strong>After Popular Science actually printed that story that compared a $3400 Vaio to the $1800 iMac (at the time) and letting the Vaio win by a smidge, I was more than a little teed off at them.
</strong><hr></blockquote>

Is a smidge worth the price difference of $1600?
post #9 of 11
Thread Starter 
[quote]Originally posted by ThinkingDifferent:
<strong>

Is a smidge worth the price difference of $1600?</strong><hr></blockquote>

If you haven't read the article, I can understand.

They didn't state the price except for in the first part. The rest of it was letting a computer that cost nearly 2x as much as the iMac barely beat it and then them giving it praise. BS.
post #10 of 11
[quote]Originally posted by Spart:
<strong>"Successful? Considering that we are 99 years old and consistently outsell both Popular Science and Car And Driver on the newsstand, perhaps they should consider looking more like us."
Maybe you should research before you speak your "facts."[ 06-06-2002: Message edited by: Spart ]</strong><hr></blockquote>
[quote]Originally posted by MacsRGood4U:
<strong>Popular Science - 1,567,079
Popular Mechanics - 1,211,630
Car And Driver - 1,371,761
Now I've got my "facts" straight.
[ 06-06-2002: Message edited by: MacsRGood4U ]</strong><hr></blockquote>
Okay, gentlemen. PM is clearly only referring to newsstand sales, not full circulation. You're both factual.

FYI, subscriptions also factored in to circulation numbers. IMHO, PM is the better publication, but its layout is kinda dated.
post #11 of 11
Thread Starter 
[quote]Originally posted by gordy:
<strong>FYI, subscriptions also factored in to circulation numbers. IMHO, PM is the better publication, but its layout is kinda dated.</strong><hr></blockquote>

Yea, I like Popular Science's layout much better, though it's a little overdone.

Both MacAddict and Macworld have excellent layouts.
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