Rosetta vs. Boot Camp vs. VT

When the Intel based Macs were first introduced, the only option for running non-native binaries was through Rosetta, a binary translator. As we showed in our iMac Core Duo review, performance using Rosetta was pretty horrible, but that was compared to an iMac G5. Would someone upgrading from a PowerBook G4 really notice the performance difference between an application running natively on their G4 and an application running on top of Rosetta on a MacBook Pro?

To find out I ran the same MS Word tests I ran a couple of months ago on the iMac Core Duo, and compared the results between the native version of the application running on the PowerBook G4 and the Rosetta powered MacBook Pro. As an additional pair of reference points I also ran the same benchmark using Word 2003 on a Windows XP partition using Boot Camp as well as Parallels' Workstation VM.

Non-Native Performance - Microsoft Word

Although Rosetta on the MacBook Pro wasn't that much worse than the G4 in opening the test document the HTML conversion process was significantly slower. What's truly impressive is how much faster everything is under both Boot Camp and running under Parallels' VM. Although we can't explain it, the VM consistently posted slightly faster times than under Boot Camp, although it wasn't perceivable other than by stopwatch.

Non-Native Performance - Microsoft Word

What these tests show is a very interesting alternative to Rosetta - simply running the non-native application in Windows instead. While you don't get all of the benefits of running something in OS X, you do get a huge increase in performance. It's also quite impressive to see that the VM solution truly is basically as fast as running Windows XP natively using Boot Camp.

I dug a little deeper to see how the Boot Camp and VM offerings stood up to one another in a couple more tests. The first being a script that Intel uses to measure performance using Adobe Photoshop CS2 (if I could run the script under OS X I would, but it is not supported).

Windows XP Performance - Adobe Photoshop CS2

Once again the Parallels' Workstation VM manages to be a bit faster than Boot Camp, which doesn't exactly make sense but the results were consistent.

I wanted to run both sets of Winstone benchmarks but Business Winstone 2004 consistently failed to complete running in the VM. The applications themselves didn't crash but I suspect there may have been a timing issue related to the VM. Luckily, I could at least get Multimedia Content Creation Winstone running and got a set of results from it:

Windows XP Performance - MMCC Winstone 2004

While Boot Camp is slightly faster, the difference is hardly noticeable. This is quite an important benchmark because it shows that disk as well as CPU performance isn't hampered by running Windows XP on a virtual machine. Unfortunately what these benchmarks don't measure is the responsiveness of the UI, which truly does suffer under the VM option.

Using Windows XP on a VM Network Performance and MacBook Pro vs. PC Notebooks
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  • Visual - Thursday, April 13, 2006 - link

    you have some borked page 18 after the "final thoughts" page showing up in the dropdown.
    in printarticle.aspx it shows up as a duplicate of page 17 for some reason

    as to the article itself - good job :)
    my guess as to why the vm is faster than the real thing is because the hdd emulation works somewhat like a ramdrive - its a file on the apple hdd but it probably gets cached up by osx or by the vmsoftware itself.
    Reply
  • plinden - Thursday, April 13, 2006 - link

    quote:

    my guess as to why the vm is faster than the real thing is because the hdd emulation works somewhat like a ramdrive - its a file on the apple hdd but it probably gets cached up by osx or by the vmsoftware itself.


    That could be - I have maxed out at 2GB RAM in my iMac, and I get wired RAM is close to the max and a hefty number of Page Outs (up to 210,000 last time I looked. before it setayed below 5000 even after being on for a week) while running Parallels VM.
    Reply
  • ibisbowti - Thursday, April 13, 2006 - link

    I been using the 1.83 Core Duo for about a week now. I think it is one of the latest builds according to the serial number. No problems at all, other than it does get pretty warm. Heat issue seems better after latest firmware update. I think the aluminum is designed to be a big heat sink! I thought the Front Row software would be a little gimmicky, but it is pretty cool, especially when sitting the unit on a coffee table and watching the HD movie trailers, IPhoto pics, etc with others. It's an awesome machine so far. Reply
  • artifex - Thursday, April 13, 2006 - link

    Since you say you ran the same tests as in your earlier review, I'd like to see graphs comparing the results of the Intel iMac vs. the MBP. and add in ones for the Intel Mini, if you can. I suspect we'll see iMac > MBP > Mini, but it would be nice to be sure.

    Also, if you could slap Parallels on the Mini and tell us how much of a hit the virtualization takes because the hardware virtualization is disabled for that line, that would be really interesting.

    Thanks.
    Reply
  • AppaYipYip - Thursday, April 13, 2006 - link

    "Apple quality control at it's best"

    That comment bothers me. Overall, there are no other manufacturers that come even close to Apples quality, design, and workmanship. Yet, you find one key that sits slightly off and suddenly feel the need to make such a blanket statement. If it bothers you so much, take it back and Apple will repair it for you, in record time.
    Reply
  • Calin - Thursday, April 13, 2006 - link

    The IBM thinkpads (before the Lenovo deal) were regarded as the best business laptops (or at least PC laptops) as quality and workmanship. Too bad they were designed with cramped keyboards (at least the models I saw) and no trackpad. Reply
  • Ryan Norton - Thursday, April 13, 2006 - link

    I'm a PC guy but I like Macs a lot and will probably buy a Macbook Pro, either now or when Merom ones come out. I figure Anand probably is too. Yet I work with Mac zealots who give me endless shit about the unequivocal superiority of Apple everything over PC (except for games, which they concede). So when someone like me finds a glaring flaw that seems like something that should have been spotted before it got to the end user, it's easy to take a cheap shot at Jobs =^) Reply
  • Sunrise089 - Thursday, April 13, 2006 - link

    If I had my dream review of this product, here's how I would have you test gaming performance:

    Test performance in Windows mode. Then compare it to other Core Duo notebooks. Then see if there is any game written natively for OS-X under Core Duo, and run the OS-X version and the Windows version to see the difference in OS on performance on the same machine.

    Other than no gaming info, terrific review.
    Reply
  • Calin - Thursday, April 13, 2006 - link

    This could be thanks to slower drivers in BootCamp Windows XP, or slower hard drive access/speed. Everything else is a disadvantage for VM: one more level of indirection in disk access, less memory, running the OS X behind the VM.
    Could you do some disk speed comparation between VM and native XP?
    Reply
  • BigLan - Thursday, April 13, 2006 - link

    I think it's going to be hard drive speed throwing off the benchmarks. The BootCamp partition is going to be at the outer edge of the disk, with much slower speeds than the VM client virtual drive which is on the faster Apple partition.

    I'm not sure if it's possible to assign the entire HD to a windows partition using Bootcamp, but that's about the only way i can think of to level the playing field.
    Reply

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