First Look: From the Lab: Testing iLife's system requirements

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As we wrap up our reviews of the apps that make up Apple’s iLife ’08 suite — iWeb completes the cycle that began with iPhoto —there’s one last bit of business to attend to, involving performance. No new programs join iWeb, iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, and GarageBand in iLife ’08, there are plenty of changes, big and small, to the existing apps. And many of these changes rely on greater horsepower.

Most of iLife ’08 sports the same system requirements as its predecessor—you need a Mac with either an Intel processor or at least a G4 chip if you’re still using a PowerPC-based system (and that chip better be 733MHz if you plan on using iDVD). However, the completely rebuilt iMovie has more stringent demands, requiring at least a Power Mac Dual 2GHz G5 or 1.9GHz G5 iMac for installation.

That has some readers wondering: Just how well does iLife ’08 run on my Mac if I have an older machine? For a more definitive answer, we installed the suite on a wide range of Macs and ran a few tests for each application to see how they perform on different systems.

The first thing we can report is that Apple isn’t kidding about those iMovie system requirements—the new version of the app won’t install on computers that fail to meet the minimum requirements. That’s a change from the past when Apple’s system requirements were more of suggestion than a hard and fast rule. Of the eleven Macs we tested for this story, three were below the minimum requirements for iMovie ’08—an 1.42GHz iBook G4 1.42GHz, a dual-1.42GHz Power Mac G4, and a 15-inch 1.5GHz PowerBook G4—and all three were blocked from installing iMovie ’08.

Judging by the results of our Export iMovie to iPhone test, it seems that Apple may indeed have the best interests of users in mind. The minimum required system, a dual 2GHz Power Mac G5 took 11 minutes to complete the test—two-and-a-half times longer than the 2.4GHz iMac Core 2 Duo, which completed the test in just over four minutes. A 2.1GHz iMac G5 took nearly 15 minutes to complete the test. We tried to test the other minimum required system, the 1.9GHz G5 iMac, but our version of that machine seems to have died while sitting in storage. And though we tried valiantly, we were unable to resuscitate the poor thing, so the 2.1GHz iMac is as close to the bare minimum requirement as we were able to get.

iLife '08 Tests

iDVD iPhoto iMovie GarageBand iWeb
Save project as disc image Import 100 photos Export movie for mobile devices Save song to disc Save project to folder
Mac Mini Core Duo/1.66 GHz 4:12 1:00 7:15 See text 1:00
Mac Mini Core 2 Duo/2GHz 3:11 0:48 5:10 1:25 0:46
20-inch iMac G5/2.1GHz 2:57 1:22 14:59 1:48 1:04
24-inch Aluminum iMac Core 2 Duo/2.4GHz 1:32 0:37 4:04 1:08 0:37
Power Mac G4 Dual 1.42GHz 4:49 1:18 n/a 2:32 1:19
Power Mac G5/ Dual-2GHz single core 3:47 1:03 11:15 1:40 0:59
Mac Pro Quad Xeon/2.66GHz 1:45 0:35 3:59 1:04 0:33
iBook G4/1.42GHz 9:17 2:12 n/a 3:15 1:53
15-inch PowerBook G4/1.5GHz 5:14 2:05 n/a 3:11 1:37
MacBook Pro 2.33GHz Core 2 Duo 2:11 0:58 5:05 1:23 0:50
MacBook Core 2 Duo/2GHz 3:35 0:57 5:50 1:31 0:55

Best results in bold. PowerPC-based systems in italics .

All systems were running Mac OS X 10.4.10 with 1GB of RAM, with processor performance set to Highest in the Energy Saver preference pane when applicable. In iDVD, we recorded the amount of time it took to save a 523MB project to a disk image. We imported 100 jpegs from the desktop into iPhoto. We exported a 6-minute,41-second movie for mobile devices. We exported a 3-minute, 35-second, 9-track Garageband project to disk. We saved an iWeb site to a folder on the desktop.—MACWORLD LAB TESTING BY JAMES GALBRAITH, BRIAN CHEN, AND JERRY JUNG

The all-around fastest Mac in our tests was the 2.66GHz Mac Pro Quad-core Xeon system. Looking at the specs, this was no surprise. It was surprising, however, to see the slim margin by which it led the 2.4GHz iMac Core 2 Duo . With both more and faster processing cores, the Mac Pro was only about 11- to 12-percent faster in the iDVD and iWeb tests, 5-percent faster in the iPhoto and GarageBand tests and just 2-percent faster than the 2.4GHz iMac in the iMovie Export test.

Along the same lines, we found that the slowest system we tested, the 1.42GHz iBook G4, posted the slowest times in all of the tests it was able to run. And though it was pokey when compared to the rest of the systems we tested, it was in no way unusable, except maybe in the iDVD test.

garageband error

Missing in the above chart is the Garageband result for the 1.66GHz Mac mini. When we tried launching Garageband, we got an error saying that the system was missing a Core Audio driver (pictured on the right). We then realized that the system no longer recognized the internal speakers, or headphones, as available audio output devices. We tried reinstalling the OS, we booted off of an external hard drive that worked just fine on another Mac mini—no go. We opened up the case but saw no disconnected wires.

We contacted Apple, but the company was unable to duplicate the problem. We’ve found a few similar issues on some discussion boards, but it’s hard to say whether this is an isolated problem or if we’ve stumbled onto something larger. We’ll continue to look at this problem and report back whatever we find.

We hope that these results help those of you who have been on the fence about purchasing the new iLife ’08 suite.

[ James Galbraith is Macworld Lab director. ]

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