The Aftermath of the First Article

We received a flood of mails and posts from our readers requesting that we test the Apple machines with Linux too and questioned why we hadn't done that in the first article. We have to point out that the objective of the first article was to compare the platforms, and therefore, it is only natural to use Mac OS X on the Apple machine. Very few Apple machines run Linux, but in this article, we test this combination to shed more light on our findings.

Secondly, we spent most of our time trying out different MySQL setups to find out whether or not the poor MySQL numbers were a result of bad tuning. We tested and tried with, for example, the "skip-locking", "key_buffer" and "thread_cache" parameters, but none of them could help the Apple platform to perform significantly better. The out-of-the-box MySQL setup on Tiger is not very different from a typical SUSE Linux out-of-the-box installation, except that skip-locking is not enabled on the Apple platform. The reason seems to be that quite a few Xserves are used in clusters. Enabling "Skip-locking" gives a 1-3% performance boost to the Xserve and PowerMacs. We can say with 99% certainty that the MySQL configuration was not the cause of the poor MySQL performance.

The vast majority of the reactions of the Apple user community were very positive, despite our low server benchmark numbers. Many Apple users told us that they were glad that we had pointed out that Mac Os X still needs a bit of performance tunings. Anand reported the same thing as what many Apple users pointed out, which is that the responsiveness of the OS is not spectacular:
"The overall responsiveness of the system was decent, but go back to using a top-of-the-line PC in Windows for a few minutes, and you definitely feel a bit sluggish on the G5"
We still receive suggestions because of the first article, and one question that was asked a lot was: "why not test with different compilers?" The reason was that gcc was the default compiler on both Mac OS X and Linux. Testing with compilers would widen the scope of this kind of article too much, and we wanted to use the same compiler on all CPUs. That being said, we retested with the gcc 4.0 compiler because the 3.3 version performed pretty poorly on the Power FX platform.

I would like to thank the readers for the valuable feedback. In this second part, we'll correct the inaccuracies in the first.

Scope and Focus

Again, we are focusing on workstation and server applications, especially the open source ones (MySQL, Apache) as Apple is touting heavily the importance of their move to an "open source foundation".

The 64 bit Apple Machines were running OS X Server 10.4.1 (Tiger) and Yellow Dog 4.0 Linux version 2.6.10-1.ydl.1g5-smp. The reason we chose Yellow dog is that Terrasoft, the company behind this Linux version, optimises only for the G5. So, Yellow dog is by far the most PowerPC optimized Linux distribution out there.

Our x86 machines are still running a 64 bit server version of a popular Open Source Operating Unix system: SUSE Linux SLES 9 Service Pack 1 (kernel 2.6.5).

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  • stmok - Thursday, September 1, 2005 - link

    LOL...As everyday passes, it seems more "interesting things" are revealed from Apple solutions.
  • ViRGE - Thursday, September 1, 2005 - link

    Granted, some of this was over my head(more than I'd like to admit to), but your results are none the less very interesting Johan. Now that we have the Linux/G5 numbers, there's no arguing that there's a weakness in MacOSX somewhere, which is a bit depressing as a Mac user, but still a very useful insight as to how there's obviously something very broken in some design aspect of the OS(it simply shouldn't be getting crushed like it is). My only question now is how Apple and its devs will respond to this - it is pretty damning after all.

    Thanks for finally getting some Linux/G5 numbers out to settle this.
  • sdf - Friday, September 2, 2005 - link

    By changing hardware platforms.

    No, seriously.

    A transition from PowerPC to Intel would be the perfect time to correct ABI flaws like this. It isn't that the G5 causes the slow down, it's that the slow down (maybe) can't really be fixed without breaking binary compatibility. A CPU transition is clearly going to do that anyway, so maybe they'll just wait...
  • toelovell - Thursday, September 1, 2005 - link

    I am kind of curious to see how Darwin would work on an x86 based system for these same tests. There are x86 binaries for Darwin 8. So it should be possible to run these tests and compare Darwin with Linux on an x86 platform. This would help to see if the OS really is the limitation. Just a thought.
  • JohanAnandtech - Thursday, September 1, 2005 - link

    If linux is capable of pushing the G5 8 times higer than with Mac OS X, there is little doubt on my mind that the OS is the problem. Or did I understand you wrong?

    Anyway, I have no experience whatsoever with Darwin. My first impression is that installing Darwin on x86 is probably a very masochistic experience, due to lack of proper drivers. We might get it working but can it really run MySQL and other apps? THere are probably libraries missing... Will the results be representative of anything as it is probably tuned for just getting it running instead of performance? Anyone with Darwin x86 experience?
  • wjcott - Thursday, September 1, 2005 - link

    The only interest I have in a mac OS is if they are going to sell it without a computer. I would love to have OS X, but I must build the machine.
  • Quanticles - Thursday, September 1, 2005 - link

    Every component must be fine tuned to the upmost degree... Every BIOS Setting... Every Hidden Register... *crazy eyes* =)

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