Sometimes I feel like the guy in the Guinness ad. You know the one where the Hawaiian surfer waits for the perfect wave. He waits… that what he does. I always think he looks like he's waiting for both of his eyes to point in the same direction. Anyway that's what I'm doing, the waiting, not the eyes. I didn't mean to, I just got distracted for a second and missed the last big wave.
What I should have done is bought a dual 2GHz G5 the day it came out. I could have had years of supercomputing power to charge through my photo tweaking, movie editing and, hell, I might even have been making 3D animations if I'd had the power.
But no, I had too recently upgraded to my G4 tower when the G5 was launched, I figured I'd wait until the 3GHz model that was promised was delivered. Little did I know that the legendary, nay mythical, 3GHz G5 was never to see the light of day. Instead, years later we have the quad-core G5 running at 2.5GHz. That's amazingly fast, as you'll see in our review this issue.
But is it too little, too late? At first I thought, ‘great, I'll go buy one immediately'. But then I'm a cautious early adopter, so I figured I'd wait to get some bench testing done, just to be sure. The results are in and they are impressive, though mostly on the very high-end tasks. But in the intervening cooling-off time my thoughts turned to Intel.
Rumours abound that the Intel-based Macs, due for a summer release by Apple's announced plans, have been brought forward for the Macworld Expo San Francisco in January. While it is expected that the first Intel-based Macs will be the low-end and portable models, it will be a good indicator of how the pro models will perform. It will also demonstrate how well the software developers are getting on making Intel ready software.
So, for now I'm back to playing the waiting game. Waiting for a wave big enough that I can have a clear year, knowing that my computer is state of the art and unlikely to be bettered. Actually, a year is pushing it nowadays. Nine months is more realistic for most Apple products, for iPods it's even less. Then there was iTunes 5, which lasted barely a month before iTunes 6 ousted it. It's as if computers and related equipment are heading towards hyperinflation, with 4G iPods being worth a fraction of what was paid for them six months ago.
But even with this rapid development of new software and new hardware, it still isn't happening fast enough for me. The problem with hardware is that the quantum leap, the next big wave, becomes harder and harder to achieve. Exponential growth in the amount of processors you can fit on a chip has meant that the power of computers has been doubling every two to three years. Not quite as quickly as Moore's Law would suggest, but it's still exponential.
The thing about a number that doubles every time, is that even doubling a small number of times results in incredibly large numbers. However, common sense tells us that this doubling can't possibly carry on at the same rate. That would mean a current G5 with 58 million transistors would blossom into a chip with half a quintillion processors in 50 years. That's 500 quadrillion for goodness sakes, which is clearly too big a number. No, what will inevitably happen is that the gaps between doubling will grow. My waiting for a new fastest Mac ever will stretch to infinity if I'm not careful. So I've got to make a move.
It's just occurred to me that my claiming that 500 quadrillion is a big number might actually sound funny in 50 years time. If this column is still on the Web somewhere, it might show up in one of those ‘weren't people dumb in the olden days' websites. Like the ones with Bill Gates (allegedly) claiming 640k was enough memory for anybody, or the chairman of IBM who (apparently) imagined there was a market for maybe five computers worldwide. My ridiculing 500 quadrillion processors may come back to haunt me, when I'm 90.
More likely, I think, is that I'll still be waiting for that next big leap ahead in technology. I'll still be on the lookout on rumour sites to see if the next generation of Macs is going to be released at Macworld Expo; also to see if Apple has settled its lawsuit with the Issac Asimov estate for the use of the iRobot name on its latest entry-level robots.
No, I guess it's time for me to bite the bullet. I should buy the last of the G5 Macs and just get on with it. While I'm at it, I could buy an Xbox 360, which will be outgunned by the Playstation 3 in 2006; an iPod with video, which will be bettered within six months; and a HD TV, which will no doubt plummet in price after next year's World Cup.
Maybe instead of waiting for waves, I should follow my own course. Rather than being hurled about by the huge swell of media hype and manufacturers' promises, gazing at the horizon for something exciting, I should be motoring on under my own steam to buy whatever I need, whenever I need it.
That's easier said than done, and it takes strength of will to ignore the fact that the iPod you bought was bettered within the month and not be bothered by it. The trick is to base your buying decision on facts not feelings. If you buy an iPod, you'll buy it to do what it does (at the time of purchase), and you should mentally prepare yourself for the fact that it will keep doing that, and only that, for the lifetime of the iPod. So when a fancy video-enabled one comes along, you won't go crazy with desire and drop another £300 on it.
If you need a powerful computer, now is as good a time as any to buy one. It will be slower than computers released after it, but it will do all the things it can do now for the foreseeable future. So get a grip and keep calm. Don't jump on the latest bandwagon unless you actually need the new features.
Oh, who am I kidding? That's how I'd like to be. But I'll just wait for the Intel Macs and the test results before committing to a new model. MW