Hands on with the Mac Pro: Getting started

Application testing

As with the mini, I’ve been using the Mac Pro as much as possible since its arrival. Unlike the mini, however, it’s hard to claim that this machine feels slow doing much of anything. It’s fast—really fast. Even stuff in Rosetta, which bogged down the mini at times, is fast. But enough generalities; here are some blurbs on the same programs I covered in the mini write-up, in both Rosetta and Universal flavors.

Rosetta apps These programs have not yet been compiled to run natively on the Intel chips, so they must rely on Apple’s Rosetta emulation technology to function. The good news is that Rosetta isn’t a stagnant technology. Apple has, in fact, continued to improve it since its release earlier this year. The latest improvements came with OS X 10.4.8, and as Macworld ’s testing showed , there are some very measurable real-world improvements in Rosetta’s performance. So how does that all come into play with Rosetta apps on the Mac Pro?

Photoshop: Although still not native, the speed of Photoshop CS2 under Rosetta on this Mac is quite impressive. I still don’t think the machine is ideal for someone who edits 300MB TIFFs all day, but if you aren’t presently using a Dual G5 or newer and you don’t rely on Photoshop as your primary means of making a living, it should be more than good enough. That’s especially true if you’re coming from an older Mac—you’ll probably find that Photoshop is faster in Rosetta on a Mac Pro than it was in native mode on your old rig. As our full review mentioned, the Photoshop benchmark speed on the Mac Pro was about equal to that of the old Dual 1.42GHz Power Mac G4. So if you’re moving from a single-CPU G4, you’ll probably see a net speed increase.

I didn’t want to repeat the work done for the full review, so instead, I replicated the liquify mesh test I ran for the original XP on Mac write-up, as well as in my first report on Parallels Desktop for Mac. I’ve updated that table with my results for the Mac Pro (as well as for my Mac Book, which I also tested):

PHOTOSHOP CS2 LIQUIFY FILTER TEST

CPUs CPU Speed RAM Time (seconds)
Mac Pro 4 2.66GHz 2.0GB 27
Dual G5 2 2.00GHz 2.5GB 28
Mini XP 2 1.66GHz 2.0GB 36
Athlon 1 2.12GHz 512MB 39
MacBook 2 2.00GHz 2.0GB 56
Mini OS X 2 1.66GHz 2.0GB 77

Testing by Rob Griffiths, very unofficial!

This was my first real “wow!” experience with the Mac Pro: in this particular test, it’s faster than my Dual G5, despite the fact that Photoshop is running in Rosetta. Granted, this is just one test, but in general use, Photoshop feels quite responsive on the Mac Pro. Now, if you happen to be a graphics professional working on 100MB-plus images, and you’re working on a fast Dual or Quad G5, then you’ll probably find that Photoshop is still notably slower than your current rig. But for anyone working with small-to-midsize images on anything other than bleeding-edge PowerPC gear, I think the Mac Pro is a very viable alternative today, even without a native version of Photoshop—especially knowing that the native version is just around the corner.

Photoshop Elements: I don’t have Photoshop Elements 4 (as I started using the full Photoshop application instead). With Photoshop Elements 3, however, speed was more than fine. Given that most Elements users will be working on smaller images, I don’t think anyone would complain about the Rosetta impact in Elements. That’s good, because it’s unclear when (or if) a Universal version of Elements will ship.

Quicken 2006: This program is about as non-intensive as they get, and it ran very quickly on the Mac Pro. In my mini write-up, I mentioned a report that took 7 seconds on the G5 required about a minute on the Intel mini. With the Mac Pro, that time drops to 12 seconds. Although there’s not yet a Universal version of Quicken, it’s really not a problem running it in Rosetta.

Microsoft Word 2004: Using the same 4MB image-laden document as in my mini tests, a top-to-bottom scroll took about 16 seconds on the Mac Pro. This is about 7 seconds quicker than the Intel-based Mac mini, and roughly the same time as it took on my PowerBook G4. The G5 still has the lead here, at 8 seconds. The reality is, however, that Word works fine. Even at 16 seconds, the document is scrolling past at a faster than usable rate. Typing, spell checking, and all of Word’s other features work fine and without any notable delay. If you were to put someone in front of the machine with Word already running, it’s very doubtful they would even notice that it’s running under Rosetta.

Microsoft Excel 2004: As with Word, Excel runs fine. More than fine—it runs fast. Again, there’s no reason to delay a Mac Pro purchase if you’re concerned about a non-native version of Excel. It’s a non issue.

Google Earth: Google Earth is now a Universal application; you can read about it in the next section.

jEdit: jEdit runs even faster, obviously, than it did on the mini. So much so that it no longer even feels a bit “laggy,” as it does on the G5. Instead, it’s just a fast text editor with a slightly odd interface. (It doesn’t quite look like a native app.) I also repeated the CaffeineMark Java benchmarks, and the Mac Pro handily outpaced my Dual G5, with a final score of 14,939 against the G5’s 8,047—the Mac Pro is nearly twice as fast!

Universal Applications These are programs that have been recompiled to run natively on the Intel-chipped machines. All of the Apple-provided applications, for instance, are Universal, and the number of third-party Universal apps increases daily. Apple has an excellent Universal Applications page that presently includes 4,030 listed native applications (that figure was 1,073 when I published the mini write-up back in March).

As with the Rosetta applications, the following apps are the same ones I tested back in March for the mini write-up—other than Google Earth, which has moved from the Rosetta to the Universal section. In that vein, what I wrote then about BBedit, Camino, and OmniGraffle still holds true, so there’s no real need to revisit those apps. (One improvement is that there is now a Universal Flip4Mac browser plug-in.)

Google Earth: Smooth, fluid, fast, and simply fun to use, the native version of Google Earth is a joy on the Mac Pro. No complaints at all, and zooms in and out are accomplished without delay.

Finder: As with the earlier write-up on the mini, I ran my “open 100 new Finder windows, close 100 Finder windows” test. I’ve updated that table for my results on the Mac Pro (and the MacBook, which I also tested):

Rob’s Empty Folder Test

Open 100 new windows Close 100 new windows
PowerBook 21 6
Dual G5 15 5
MacBook 12 3
Mac mini 10 4
Mac Pro 5 2

Testing by Rob Griffiths.

As you can see, it’s no contest—the Mac Pro was twice as fast as the mini, and knocked a full 10 seconds off the time required on the Dual G5. If you haven’t gotten the sense yet, this is one fast machine.

Even more impressive were the results at 200 folders. Previously, the G5 was the quickest with a larger set of folders, opening them all in 31 seconds and closing them in 10. The Mac Pro’s times? An amazingly-quick 12 seconds to open, and only 4 seconds to close all of them—those are basically the same times as required for the MacBook to deal with 100 folders. The Finder has obviously benefited from the much faster hardware.

Other programs: Since March, Snapz Pro has also been updated for Intel-powered machines, though it’s not yet a full Universal binary. It runs just fine, though, and given how much work I do with screenshots, that’s a very good thing.

Application launching tests: What follows is an update to my application launch tests from the Mac mini report. I didn’t bother to run these tests on the MacBook, just the new Mac Pro. The table below shows the initial launch time, from double-click to usable state, and an immediate subsequent “relaunch” time. Initial launches were run after a reboot on each machine. Note that the relaunch times figures aren’t indicative of real-world usage, unless you often relaunch apps immediately (or very quickly) after last using them. As more time goes by, OS X will have to essentially reload the applications from scratch, as the RAM will have been put to other purposes. But it’s still a good indication of how quickly the machine can reactivate a recently-used program.

So here’s how the Mac Pro compared to the three other machines in application launch times:

ROB'S LAUNCH TESTS

1st launch   2nd launch
Mac Pro Dual G5 Mac mini PowerBook   Mac Pro Dual G5 Mac mini PowerBook
Excel 3.9 3.2 13.0 3.9 2.7 2.2 6.3 2.2
PS Elements 3 13.8 12.1 34.9 23.2 7.2 5.9 16.3 8.4
Photoshop CS2 15.2 16.7 55.3 26.4 9.0 6.1 22.8 6.7
Word 6.5 5.9 11.6 5.7 2.2 1.5 3.7 1.8
BBEdit 2.8 2.8 5.7 6.8 <1 1.0 1.0 2.3
Camino 2.1 5.0 3.3 4.5 <1 1.7 0.5 1.5
Google Earth 5.6 6.0 14.8 9.4 1.9 2.2 6.7 3.1
iChat 3.8 3.9 2.9 4.2 1.0 1.5 0.5 1.4
iTunes 2.9 4.5 3.1 3.8 1.0 1.5 0.5 2.2
Keynote 6.0 9.9 11.1 14.2 1.5 5.3 1.9 4.1
Pages 3.1 5.1 4.2 8.2 1.1 1.8 1.5 2.2
Safari 1.5 4.0 1.3 2.5 <1 1.5 0.1 1.3

ROSETTA APPS IN ITALICS

Google Earth was originally a Rosetta app. It has been retested on the Mac mini in its new Universal form. Times were hand-timed on a stopwatch, and are probably accurate to about a half-second either way.

Keep in mind that my G5 is a workhorse—there are many drives, the machine tests tons of hints, I install and remove hundreds of apps each year, and so forth. It’s in no way a fair comparison to an out-of-the-box Mac Pro, but I still think the table is interesting. As you can see, there’s still a speed hit from Rosetta, but all the Universal apps open notably quicker on the Mac Pro than they do on the Dual G5. As noted in my original write-up, second launch times on the Intel-powered boxes are amazingly fast. Many of them seem to be open before you’ve even completed the second mouse click. This fast relaunch behavior really helps make the machine feel speedy.

Three takeaway points

  • If you throw enough horsepower at a problem, the problem basically goes away. Rosetta was the problem, and a pair of dual-core Woodcrest CPUs was the required horsepower. If you’re a heavy Photoshop (or other non-native graphics app) user, and you’re running on a quad CPU G5, then you may be disappointed with the Mac Pro’s Rosetta performance in general applications. For anyone else, though, I think Rosetta has really ceased to be much of an issue.
  • Photoshop beating a Dual G5 in a timed filter application test absolutely amazed me. I would have lost money if I’d made a bet before running the test! This is just further proof that Rosetta isn’t much of an issue if you’re not throwing massive files at Photoshop.
  • The Mac Pro is a very, very, very fast computer. I’ll get into that in more detail in future installments as well.
  • I hope you’ve found the first section of my Mac Pro report of interest. I’m now hard at work on the second and third parts, so stay tuned for further updates!

    [ Senior Editor Rob Griffiths writes Macworld ’s Mac OS X Hints weblog. ]

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