Articles: CPU

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Part 1: The Computer, in a System-Shell

As a starting point, let us recall what a typical computer is made of, since the functional units of the PC (x86) and of the Mac are basically the same. Whatever their names, we always have the following stuff inside the system case:

  1. System case itself (with the power-supply unit);
  2. Microprocessor;
  3. System bus;
  4. System memory;
  5. Graphics card;
  6. Hard disk drive and optical drive (CD-ROM or DVD-ROM or some kind of combo);
  7. Operation system and applications.

So, let’s discuss each of the items one by one. Item 1 is undoubtedly the business card of Apple. Impeccable design of the solutions has always been a distinctive feature of the Mac. Remember the iMac with its transparent case where you could see the insides? The industry immediately grasped at the new solution, although it seems rather trivial and boring now. Back then, it was a small revolution. The machines from Apple have always been elegant, coming in beautiful cases. I would say that it is the Apple design concepts that helped a lot to improve the exterior of the PC: you’ve got more options now besides the standard putty-color sarcophagus of a system case.

Skipping over Items 2, 3 and 4 (we will discuss them at length shortly, since they are going to become the main topic of this article), let’s run through the rest of them.

Item 5 is graphics cards. In the past, graphics cards on the Mac were quite different from what the PC had: the two architectures had nothing in common with regard to graphics. As time was passing by, the PC got much more skillful at graphics, while the Mac found itself lagging behind. Of course, the drive for more graphics power on the PC was mostly caused by the ever-growing popularity of 3D games that wouldn’t run smoothly on a slow graphics card. This “drive” stimulated demand for faster graphics cards, which in its turn made the manufacturers develop even faster models. When the PCI bus and, later, the AGP came to the Mac, it practically caught up with the PC – fastest graphics cards models are available for the Mac. At least, the gap is negligibly small nowadays. Summing it up, I would say that the Mac is slightly slower than the PC in the graphics hardware field.

Hard disk drives… There was a time when Macs were based around the SCSI interface with all its later revisions. SCSI drives used to be much faster than their humble IDE counterparts and this fact also contributed a lot to the myth about the sky-high performance of the Mac. In the 80-s, that was not a myth, though, but reality (back then, the Mac was overall the PC’s superior in hardware, that’s true). The market lives according to its own rules, though. Open standards and wild competition pushed the price of the PC down, and the price of the Mac, which at first was comparable to that of the PC, started feeling rather steep. The price gap was only increasing over time. Demand for the Mac degenerated and there were fewer machines sold, and their manufacturing cost grew accordingly.

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