John Carmack refutes Apple's G4 claims

The company is synonymous with trendy design, an elegant operating system and, yes, the most overblown claims ever floated in the computer industry. Apple Computer seems hell-bent on proving that they, not the late, great Atari, can hold the grand trophy for hyperbole. And with the pseudo-release of its G4 systems, Apple finally takes the cake.

The iMac, you'll recall, was" faster than an Intel Pentium II 400" when it debuted a year ago at an anemic 233 MHz. The iBook, you might remember, is the "second fastest" notebook on the planet (behind only, you guessed it, Apple's own PowerBook). But the new G4 systems, which are not only "super computers," are three times faster than an Intel Pentium III. It makes one wonder why we aren't all running out to buy Macintoshes.

Maybe it's because none of their claims are true. And while we don't necessarily need a programming luminary such as John Carmack to pipe in with a little reality, it's always good to hear from someone who is respected on both sides of the Windows/Macintosh divide. Because John Carmack knows what he's talking about, and few people would be foolish enough to doubt his take on any technical situation.

"Don't believe any hype about the G4 being 'three times as fast' as a Pentium III. It isn't," Carmack told "Inside Mac Games" magazine. "It is somewhat faster per clock on average, but definitely not twice as fast, and it trails the fastest x86 machines by quite a few MHz right now, and that isn't likely to change due to its short pipeline length. The G4 is great. I like it. Everyone should keep their claims rational."

Carmack also introduced some other information that's interesting, given Apple's recent claims of hardware superiority.

"The \[ATI\] Rage128 card in the \[blue and white G3\] Macs is running twenty or thirty MHz slower than the Rage128 you get for the PC. Apple started getting Rage128 cards before ATI had worked out all the production issues," Carmack says, which is interesting given that Apple had sold these systems with a tag line touting the ATI card as the "fastest 3D card on the market." "A PCI Rage128 in a 400 MHz Windows system performs noticeably faster…\[than a G3 Macintosh\]."

Many Apple advocates have tried to make a case that Apple's "Velocity Engine" extensions in the G4 are somehow vastly superior to the SIMD and MMX extensions that Intel has introduced over the years. Unsurprisingly, Carmack says this isn't the case either.

"\[The Velocity Engine\] has the same basic capabilities as the Intel and AMD extensions, but it has several conveniences beyond them," Carmack notes. "The main one is just architectural--trinary ops are a lot nicer than destructive binary ops. Like the Pentium III, but unlike AMD, the registers are separate, so they can be used at any time. There are improvements in permutation and other housekeeping tasks. The incoming memory streaming is nice, but Intel's write combining is better for outgoing streaming."

As for the iMac, Carmack states the obvious: It's underpowered and unacceptable as even an entry-level system for most people.

"The base iMac should have 64 Mb of RAM, Rage128 graphics, better speakers and a better mouse," he says. For serious gaming, it would need even more hardware.

The point behind all this isn't to dump on Apple or the Macintosh. To be honest, I've cheered their recent escape from the dustbin of irrelevance. But though Apple's got plenty of good hardware and software, they constantly overstate the capabilities of their systems in an apparent bid to increase sales and win public approval. The company makes good stuff. I just wish they didn't have to lie every time they told us about it.


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