Low-end Celeron systems out-perform iMac

I feel that I should preface this story with a short note: My earlier iMac opinion pieces generated a lot of mail from the Mac community because of my criticisms of the system. This particular story, however, is not an opinion piece, but is rather based on statistical evidence provided by PC Magazine's technical director, Nick Stam, and PC Labs. One thing that gets lost in some of my Apple stories is the admiration I have for the company and its engineers. One thing you should understand, however, is my loathing of that company's advertisements, which are, of course, more than a little misleading. You may have seen a recent iMac ad claiming that the new 233 MHz G3-based iMac was "faster than a Pentium II 400."

Not surprisingly, this isn't true.

What is surprising, however, is that PCs based on the low-end Celeron 333 actually out-perform the iMac. According to Nick Stam, the ByteMark performance benchmark that Apple quotes is compiler-dependent. When Apple performed its own tests, it used a compiler that was optimized for the G3 CPU used in the iMac, but used an outdated Intel compiler that was optimized for a 486 CPU when it performed the benchmark on a PC. At PC Labs, Stam compiled the exact same benchmark, but this time optimized it for the Pentium II (P6) line of processors.

The results, shall we say, will not please iMac fans.

Not only did a 400 MHz Pentium II toast the iMac (to use Apple marketing terminology), a lowly 333 MHz Celeron processor performed a full 50% faster than the iMac as well. The system tested, incidentally, was a $1400 Dell desktop, with roughly identical specs to an iMac (it was the slowest Dell they could get). Even the PII 400 was down-graded to make it more closely resemble the iMac.

The application benchmarks offer the final nail in the coffin.

Stam ran over 30 applications on both systems, including PhotoShop, Claris Works, Microsoft Excel, FileMaker Pro, Microsoft Word, and even the game Quake. In over 90% of the tests, the Dell Celeron outperformed the iMac.

And to put the iMac vs. PII 400 issue to rest, the Pentium II 400 doubled the performance of the iMac when the benchmark was actually tuned for the right chip. So much for that claim.

Remember, however, that the iMac is a low-end machine, Apple's first in years, so one should expect it to perform with the big boys. The only thing confusing about the whole issue is that Apple would choose to deliberately mislead the public about the machine. If they had just been honest about it, no one would have said a thing.

If you're interested in this information, please check out the PC Magazine Web site for the full details. They have an iMac First Look article that's worth reading

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