Introduction

It is a professional 64 bit Dream machine with supersonic speed! It is beautiful. It is about the ultimate user friendliness. It is about a lifestyle. It is a class apart. You guessed it - I am parroting Apple’s marketing.

For some reason, the performance of Apple’s gorgeous machines has been wrapped in a shroud of mystery. Yes, you could find a benchmark here and there, with one benchmark showing that the PowerMac is just a mediocre PC while another shows it off as a supercomputer, the unchallenged king of the personal computer world.

This article is written solely from the frustration that I could not get a clear picture on what the G5 and Mac OS X are capable of. So, be warned; this is not an all-round review. It is definitely the worst buyer’s guide that you can imagine. This article cares about speed, performance, and nothing else! No comments on how well designed the internals are, no elaborate discussions about user friendliness, out-of-the-box experience and other subjective subjects. But we think that you should have a decent insight to where the G5/Mac OS X combination positions itself when compared to the Intel & AMD world at the end of this article.

If you like a less performance-obsessed article about Apple, OS X and the G5, you should definitely give Anand’s articles in the Mac section on AnandTech a read...

In this article, you will find a pedal to the metal comparison of the latest Xeon DP 3.6 GHz (Irwindale), Opteron 250, Dual G5 2.5 GHz and Dual G5 2.7 GHz.

Scope and focus

Apple’s PowerMac is an alternative to the x86 PC, but we didn’t bother testing it as a gaming machine. Firstly, you have to pay a big premium to get a fast video card – as a standard, you get the ATI Radeon 9650 - even on the high-end PowerMacs. Secondly, there are fewer games available on this platform than on the x86 PC. Thirdly, hardcore gamers are not the ones buying Apples, but rather, creative professionals.

So, we focus on workstation and server applications, especially the open source ones ( MySQL, Apache) as Apple is touting heavily on how important their move to an “open source foundation” is.

The 64 bit Apple Machines were running OS X Server 10.3 (Panther) and OS X Server 10.4.1 (Tiger), while our x86 machines were also running a 64 bit server version of a popular Open Source Operating Unix system: SUSE Linux SLES 9 (kernel 2.6.5). We also included an older Xeon 3.06 GHz ( Galatin, 1 MB L3) running SUSE SLES 8 (kernel 2.4.19) just for reference purposes. Some of the workstation tests were done on Windows XP SP2.

IBM PowerPC 970FX: Superscalar monster
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  • iljitsch - Saturday, June 04, 2005 - link

    There seems to be considerable confusion between threads and processes in the review. I have no trouble believing that MacOS doesn't do so well with process gymnastics, but considering the way Apple itself leverages threads, I would assume those perform much better.

    I don't understand why Apache 1.3 was used here, Apache 2.0 has much better multiprocessor capabilities and would have allowed to test the difference between the request-are-handled-in-processes and requests-are-handled-in-threads ways of doing things.
    Reply
  • Phil - Saturday, June 04, 2005 - link

    #79: Wow. I had no idea that they were actually going to do it, I had assumed that it was typical industry nonsense!
    If this is true, then IMHO Apple won't be in much of a better position (with regards to this article) as they'll still need to work on the OS, regardless.

    Can anyone speculate as to why they *really* want to switch to x86/Intel? I wonder if they'll consider AMD too...
    Reply
  • rorsten - Saturday, June 04, 2005 - link

    Uhm, the estimation for power consumption is completely wrong. The only significant CMOS power consumption - especially for an SOI chip - is the current required to charge or discharge the gates of the FETs, which only happens when a value changes (the clock accounts for most of the power consumption on a modern synchronous chip). Since we're talking about current only, this is purely resistive power, I^2R style, and since the current is related to the number of transitions per second, increasing the clock rate linearly increases the current which quadratically increases the power consumption. Reply
  • kamper - Saturday, June 04, 2005 - link

    Here's another story about Apple and Intel from cnet:
    http://news.com.com/Apple+to+ditch+IBM%2C+switch+t...

    Interesting in the context of this article but I won't believe it without much more substantial proof :)

    +1 on getting a db test using the same os on all architectures whether it be linux or bsd

    +1 on fixing the table so that it renders in firefox
    Reply
  • shanep - Saturday, June 04, 2005 - link

    Re: NetBSD.

    Sorry, I just noticed it is not supported yet by NetBSD.

    Forget I mentioned it.
    Reply
  • shanep - Saturday, June 04, 2005 - link

    "Wessonality: Our next project if we can keep the G5 long enough in the labs."

    How about testing these machines with NetBSD 2.0.2 to keep the hardware comparison on as close an equal footing as possible.

    This should mostly remove many red herrings associated with multiple differences in software across different hardware.
    Reply
  • michaelok - Saturday, June 04, 2005 - link

    "i've had for awhile about OS X server handling large numbers of thread. My OS X servers ALWAYS tank hard with lots of open sessions, so i keep them around only for emergencies. T"

    Moshe Bar (openMosix) has been an avid Mac follower for years, I see he has a few suggestions for OSX, including ditching the Mach so you can run FreeBSD natively, which has much better peformance. In fact, thread performance is one of FreeBSDs strong points, although Linux has largely caught up.

    Also research his Byte articles, you can see how a proper comparison can be done, although he does not claim to be a benchmarking expert.

    http://www.moshebar.com/tech/?q=node/5
    http://www.byte.com/documents/s=7865/byt1064782374...
    Reply
  • johannesrexx - Saturday, June 04, 2005 - link

    Everybody should use Firefox by default because it's far more secure. Use IE only when you must. Reply
  • michaelok - Saturday, June 04, 2005 - link

    "with one benchmark showing that the PowerMac is just a mediocre PC while another shows it off as a supercomputer, the unchallenged king of the personal computer world."

    Well, things are a little different when you connect, say, 32768 processors together, i.e. you go from running MySQL to Teradata, so yes, the Power architecture seems to dominate, and the Virginia Tech supercomputer is still up there, at 7th.

    http://www.top500.org/lists/plists.php?Y=2004&...

    " The RISC ISA, which is quite complex and can hardly be called "Reduced" (The R of RISC), provides 32 architectural registers"

    'Reduced Instruction Set' is misleading, it actually refers to a design philosophy of using *smaller, simpler* instructions, instead of a single complex instruction. This is to be compared with the Itanium for example, which Intel calls 'EPIC' (Explicit Parallel Instruction Computing), but it is essentially derived from VLIW (Very Long Instruction Word).

    Anyway, nice article, certainly much more to discuss here, such as SMT (Simultaneous Multithreading), (when that is available for the Apple :), vs. Intel's Hyperthreading. We'll still be comparing Apples to Oranges but isn't that why everybody buys the Motor Trend articles, i.e. '68 Mustang vs. '68 GT?


    Reply
  • psychodad - Saturday, June 04, 2005 - link

    I agree. Recently I read a review which pitted macs against pcs using software blatantly optimized for macs. If you have ever used unoptimized software, you will know it. It is slow, often unstable and not at all usable, especially if you're after productivity. Reply

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