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Old 03-30-2012, 08:16 AM   #1
benwiggy
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Intel "cycle"

Whilst I am generally interested in new technological developments, I don't avidly follow all the news and rumors about Intel processor releases.
However, as I'm in the market for a new iMac, I've recently been quite keen on Intel news, in the hope that a Mac refresh might follow soon after.

Am I right in thinking that Intel have delayed the usual frequency of new hardware? It seems like Mac Pros haven't been updated for two years because of a lack of sufficiently new CPUs; and the iMacs also have gone for longer than usual without a refresh while we wait for Sandy Bridge (or is it Ivy? I can never remember.) The same for MacBook Pros.

I did read something that suggested Intel had a large surplus which they wanted to get rid of, as computer sales had been down. But is that all it is?

I realise that predicting what Apple is going to do and when is a fool's errand, but can anyone who follows (and understands) chip technology shed some light on the current situation.

My 2006 iMac, which has done sterling service for many years, has now developed two vertical pixel-wide stripes down the entire screen, one blue, one red, about 3 inches apart. So I'm eager for a new Mac as soon as they refresh.
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Old 04-01-2012, 12:54 PM   #2
NovaScotian
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After waiting for ages to upgrade my Power Mac G5/2.3 (late 2005) I decided to bite the bullet and go for a 27" iMac (mid-2011, 2.7 GHz Intel quad-Core i5). I was not willing to spring for the extra $400 for a 3.1 GHz model nor did I go for an SSD, but I did buy more memory from Crucial. Not surprisingly, I've found the new Mac to be entirely up to snuff for everything I do, so I'm glad I finally got off the pot and did it.

It is getting more and more to be the case that the limits on computing performance are not just processor limitations anyway in my view; 20 MB/sec download bandwidth and disk drives are. In a sense then, you're really waiting for SSDs to increase in capacity at a good price if you expect big performance gains any time soon.
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Old 04-02-2012, 02:49 AM   #3
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It's true that any CPU is more than a match for most ordinary tasks. Applying Photoshop filters used to be seen as a benchmark of processor performance, with times measured in seconds. Now, filters are applied instantly.

However, I've always thought that the better the processor you get now, the longer the computer will be able to "keep up" with new OSes and software over the years. So for me, buying the best CPU is not about what I can do, but for how long I can do it.

I'm keen to get an SSD, and am hoping that the next revision will have bigger or cheaper SSDs.

But the real point of my question is: has there been an unusually long gap in refreshes because of an unusual delay in Intel's chip releases? Or is something else afoot?
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Old 04-02-2012, 08:32 AM   #4
NovaScotian
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Quote:
Originally Posted by benwiggy
....But the real point of my question is: has there been an unusually long gap in refreshes because of an unusual delay in Intel's chip releases? Or is something else afoot?

I've been reading the explosion of multicore processors this way: Intel has hit a thermal wall at speeds in the neighborhood of 3 GHz. Their only salvation is multi core architectures. Given that most of the apps on the market now are as threaded as they can be without some threads simply waiting for others, I'm not convinced that beyond quad core there's much gain in general. Even dual core machines are not twice as fast as their clock.

I have a menu bar app that shows the activity in the four cores of my machine and there aren't many apps that exercise all four; mostly they're loafing. Further, AppleScript, for example, is not multi-threaded so a script chugging away at a nasty sort is using only one of the cores hard.

If you do a bunch of Photoshopping or perhaps some heavy lifting with Mathematica or MatLAB (which has a parallel computing module) or emulate Windows to run something there then you'll flex a modern processor's muscles, not really otherwise.

To me, the hot topic is SSD technology. Now that Macs have the potential for an optical hookup via Thunderbolt, I'm waiting for Thunderbolt-connected external SSDs that I can afford.
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Old 04-03-2012, 09:26 PM   #5
Jasen
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NovaScotian
... Their only salvation is multi core architectures. Given that most of the apps on the market now are as threaded as they can be without some threads simply waiting for others, I'm not convinced that beyond quad core there's much gain in general. Even dual core machines are not twice as fast as their clock.

I have a menu bar app that shows the activity in the four cores of my machine and there aren't many apps that exercise all four; mostly they're loafing.

Well, you have to look at it the right way. There can be a gain with more cores simply due to the load balancing the OS does. Any single process will not see a benefit, as it is limited to the clock speed of the processor and cannot be further divided up among multiple cores, however, the system as a whole benefits because any single CPU-intensive task will not bog down everything else. The true benefit comes in the ability to run many programs at once without any one (or two, or three) hogging all the CPU time.
The way most consumers currently use the average computer does not benefit from more than a few cores because they never run enough tasks simultaneously to truly take advantage of it. Servers certainly do though. Many developers, graphic/video artists, power users, etc can as well, but we're a minority. This was part of the attraction to me for getting my Mac Pro. I didn't need a top-speed gaming rig, but wanted something to allow me to run multiple VM's at once for application development and testing. In this regard, I can run a couple VM's simultaneously in the background and it really doesn't affect the speed of the host OS so much. I love it. Now, if my wife is on here surfing the web or whatnot, it's just a normal old computer to her. She can't tell that it's any faster than her Dell laptop. Because for that one task, it's really not.

Since we've seem to hit the clock-speed barrier (at least with electron-based processing) the next huge leap, I think, is going to be in systems that can spread single-process loads across multiple cores. I would predict that we find a way to this at the OS level first, and then one day at the processor level. This would eliminate the need for application level developers to have to learn concurrent programming methods completely, and any intensive task could be inherently balanced across the system.

I think the next huge step in CPU technology after that is going to be photon-based processing. They've already been experimenting with it. Or even perhaps ternary(trinary) architectures. That wouldn't increase physical speeds, but it increases efficiency in processing. I'm excited to see what's going to happen.
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Old 04-04-2012, 10:17 AM   #6
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When I think about my days in the early 70s as part of a team trying to run 4 Zylog Z-80s (at 4 MHz) in a robot and keep them under control with 2 MHz PIOs and emulating the whole mess on a Digital Equipment PDP 10, I'm astonished at how far we've come.

As a grad student in the 60s I shudder to think about punching cards to run on an IBM 1130 with a bunch if D/A and A/D convertors that interfaced to a large analog computer. The idea was that the analog did the integrations and the IBM did the number crunching for variable coefficients. Korn and Korn wrote the book on hybrid computing but before we finished the project it was already obsolete -- computers and integration algorithms got fast enough to do the integrations in real time.
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Old 04-07-2012, 06:56 PM   #7
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My IT days began when 8086's and DOS were standard. I still remember seeing a Mac Classic for the first time and thinking, "this changes everything!"
I worked with some old timers who had many a horror story about punch cards, and carrying around a giant stack of them to run a single program. Hard to believe we used to work that way.
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Old 04-07-2012, 10:34 PM   #8
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I do not think the cycle is all that an unusual. If you remember the Core 2 Duo (not be confused with the Core Duo). It performance was glacially different between Late 2007 and Late 2010 just before the I series processors came out. Over the three years there was about 25 percent change at the same clock speed (think the geek benches were in 2500 and 3500 resptively [though the latter was comparing a base 2.2 to 2.4 ghz processor] so it was more 30-35 percent faster but partially by clock speed).

The high end processors that Intel made that Apple was using the MacPro were very fast

The Macpro 2,1 Late 2007 Early 2008 had Dual Quad Core 3ghz processors with a geekbench score around 10,000.

Basically +- The same level of of performance as the best current Imac running i5 and I7 series (Late 2011 models).

And of course 2009 and 2010 models some of those ran Geek bench scores of 12000 and 20,000 respectively (the latter I believe for a 12 core).

My understanding is that the new I series are marginally faster with a better GPU built into the chip set, and the high end workstation chips much improved. Time marches on it just takes a long time for chips to go faster. I would say once every 3-4 years there is a large leap.

As to buying to future proof I do not really agree. No matter how much spent in 2012 April, there will something that smokes it 2015 or so. Generally the spread for over spending is pretty low. It is best to buy at a medium to low level what will do the job for you now. Then you can afford to update sooner. And of course keeping an eye on technology helps too.

I was very aware that I was buying a tax write off the last of the Core 2 Duo Macbook Pros in Late 2010 when a 50 percent faster I5 Dual Core or 100 percent faster Quad Core was going to become available a few months later. Similarly buying a MacPro now when a new one is hopefully eminent is not wise unless one needs ones now.

Last edited by anthlover; 04-07-2012 at 10:47 PM.
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Old 04-08-2012, 01:37 AM   #9
benwiggy
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Quote:
Originally Posted by anthlover
As to buying to future proof I do not really agree. No matter how much spent in 2012 April, there will something that smokes it 2015 or so. It is best to buy at a medium to low level what will do the job for you now. Then you can afford to update sooner.

Of course new machines will come along every year that will be faster than last year's model. But my point was that a faster CPU will be able to cope with demands made on it for longer.

There's the old adage that computers get more powerful, and new software takes advantage of that power, requiring more resources (CPU and RAM), so you need more powerful computers.... <rinse and repeat>

I've got a 2006 iMac, the first of the Core 2 Duos, which runs Lion well, but with only 3GB RAM as a maximum, it's starting to show its age. It was the middle of the three models available at the time. I think I got it for less than you pay for the low-end iMac now.

I would rather buy less frequently, instead of buying a low-end machine every two years. However, I agree that nowadays CPUs are becoming so powerful that they are no longer the limiting factor in performance.

I started computing like many kids in the UK in the 80s on the BBC Micro. 8-bit 6502 at 1MHz. 32K Ram. 16K OS, and I had most of the OS calls memorised. A very good procedural BASIC with built-in assembler.

Last edited by benwiggy; 04-08-2012 at 01:40 AM.
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Old 04-08-2012, 09:16 AM   #10
anthlover
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My Colleague I am trying to state almost the opposite that it takes almost 3-4 years for a large change in performance.

That for many people overspending now is not a wise investment.

That for most it is best to figure out the performance level they need to carry out what they want to do today and the near future and not to overspend, hoping that spending 5K or more today, instead of $1500-2500 would have a system that would meet their unforeseen needs.

That is good to be aware of technology release cycles if you can. For those looking for Geek bench scores approaching relatively recent Mac Pros.. For the last couple of years some would have been better served by an Imac 21 or 27 or even a Quad Cord Mac book Pro.

Of course there some with particular needs that needed the additional performance/flexibility of even the still Current 2010 series Mac Pro Towers, that might be the best choice. Though with the advent of thunderbolt: More and more raid arrays are becoming available that leverage this connection on Imac and Macbook Pros, options for Jacking in two thunderbolt displays, etc. Lacie even released a thunderbolt to Esata adapter opening up even more options.

In any case most aware that all the current Macs are in theory/rumor do for a refresh soon (next few months).

Last edited by anthlover; 04-08-2012 at 09:24 AM.
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Old 04-09-2012, 07:00 AM   #11
Jasen
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It comes down to whether you see your computer as a long-term investment or a disposable hardware gadget. Considering the quality of some of these low-end computers, and the price of some of the high-end, neither way of looking at it is more correct than the other.
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