The days of megahertz and gigahertz are nearly over, and working out who’s got the fastest computer will take a degree in mathematics.

Are you convinced that you’d finish work sooner if you had a faster computer? In my experience, the speedier your workstation the more work you’re given – and you’re usually the last person out of the studio. So the faster your computer, the slower you are to finish work. I’m not sure if this is curious, obvious or just bloody annoying…

It used to be easy to tell who had the fastest computer. Take a look at the smug expression on Mr 3GHz’s face when he hears the startup sound and is able to work almost immediately while you sit staring at the splash screen and trundling progress bar. If you’ve had enough of Windows’ egg-timer or the Mac’s spinning beach ball, going out to purchase the latest speed monster appears to be the quickest solution. How many GHz would you like? One? Oh, come on! Two? Ho ho, you can do better than that… A hundred? Steady on!

Apple has talked its throat sore on the issue of what is still charmingly called the “Megahertz Myth” – no one outside of Albania sells a computer in MHz these days – pleading with a none-too-interested public that processor speed isn’t the be-all and end-all of PC performance. There’s hard-drive speed, cache, system bus, amount of RAM, type of RAM, video card, I/O connections…zzzzzzz. All we want is a single number bigger than anyone else's, so give us the gigahertz!

Intel made its name offering the biggest numbers in the business. Then along came chip competitor AMD, whose processors sometimes beat Intel’s Pentium at real-world tasks but ran a little slower – and so had smaller, less appealing numbers. AMD simply stopped boasting about ever-greater GHz, and talked about industry benchmarks that showed its chips were faster despite the smaller numbers. Now, Intel has been forced to admit that megahertz and gigahertz aren’t the only things you should look out for when picking a PC.

“The numbers aren’t indicative of any level of performance, unless you redefine what performance means,” explained Don MacDonald, vice president of Intel’s sales and marketing group. Intel is replacing its big numbers with other numbers that indicate the level of features in each series of chip. Pentium M chips will carry the higher 700-series moniker, while faster clock-speed Pentium 4 Mobile CPUs will make up the 500 series. Mobile Celeron products will carry the 300-series brand. Today’s 3.4GHz Pentium 4 might become a Pentium 4 550. And a similar P4 chip, running at the same speed, but with a larger L2 cache, might receive a higher processor number such as 555.

Intel says that higher-numbered processors in a lower series will sometimes outperform lower-numbered processors in the series above, while identical numbers for desktop and notebook processors may represent very different feature sets.

Yes, working out which is the fastest computer is no longer easy. And while this is a pain in the PC, it should at least mean that nobody will know yours is the best PC in the studio, and less of the heavy jobs will land on your desk. If you want to leave work early, a slow computer – or one that no one knows is lightning fast – is the perfect desktop companion. Take it easy – the tortoise gets home before the hare.