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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  • edchi - Tuesday, June 26, 2007 - link


    I haven't tried this yet, but will do tomorrow. Here is what Apple suggests to create a better MySQL installation:

    http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=303...">http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=303...
    Reply
  • grantma - Tuesday, April 18, 2006 - link

    I found Gnome was a lot more snappy than OS X desktop under Debian PowerPC. You could tell the kernel was far faster using Linux 2.6 - programs would just start immediately. Reply
  • pecosbill - Wednesday, June 15, 2005 - link

    I'm not going to waste my time searching to see if these same comments below were made already, but the summary of them is those who are performance oriented tune their code for a CPU. You can do the same for an OS. Also, the "Big Mac" cluster in VA tech speaks otherwise to raw performance as OS X was the OS of choice. From macintouch.com:

    Okay, stop, I have to make an argument about why this article fails, before I explode. MySQL has a disgusting tendency to fork() at random moments, which is bad for performance essentially everywhere but Linux. OS X server includes a version of MySQL that doesn't have this issue.
    No real arguments that Power Macs are somewhat behind the times on memory latency, but that's because they're still using PC3200 DDR1 memory from 2003. AMD/Intel chips use DDR2 or Rambus now ... this could be solved without switching CPUs.
    The article also goes out of its way to get bad results for PPC. Why are they using an old version of GCC (3.3.x has no autovectorization, much worse performance on non-x86 platforms), then a brand spanking new version of mySQL (see above)? The floating point benchmark was particularly absurd:

    "The results are quite interesting. First of all, the gcc compiler isn't very good in vectorizing. With vectorizing, we mean generating SIMD (SSE, Altivec) code. From the numbers, it seems like gcc was only capable of using Altivec in one test, the third one. In this test, the G5 really shows superiority compared to the Opteron and especially the Xeons"

    In fact, gcc 3.3 is unable to generate AltiVec code ANYWHERE, except on x86 where they added a special SSE mode because x87 floating point is so miserable. This could have been discovered with about 5 minutes of Google research. It wouldn't had to have been discovered at all if they hadn't gone out of their way to use a compiler which is the non-default on OS X 10.4. Alarm bells should have been going off in the benchmarkers head when an AMD chips outperforms an Intel one by 3x, but, anyway ...
    I hate to seem like I'm just blindly defending Apple here, but this article seems to have been written with an agenda. There's no way one guy could stuff this much stuff up. To claim there's something inherently wrong with OS X's ability to be a server is going against so much publicly available information it's not even funny. Notice Apple seems to have no trouble getting Apache to run with Linux-like performance: [Xserve G5 Performance].
    Anyway ... on a more serious note, a switch of sorts to x86 may not be a hugely insane idea. IBM's ability to produce a low power G5 part seems to be seriously in question, so for PowerBooks Apple is pretty much running out of options. Worse comes to worst - if they started selling x86-powered portables, that might get IBM to work a bit harder to get them faster desktop chips.
    -- "A Macintosh MPEG software developer"
    Reply
  • aladdin0tw - Tuesday, June 14, 2005 - link

    This is my first time to see someone use 'ab' command to conduct a test, and trying to tell us something from the test.

    In my opinion, ab is never a 'stress test' tool for any reason, especially when you want to conclude some creditable benchmark from this test. If we can accept 'ab', why I have to code so much for a stress test?

    The 'localhost' is another problematic area, DNS. Why not using a fixed ip as an address? The first rule of benchmaking is isolated the domain in question, but I can not see you obey these rule. So how can you interpret your result as a performance faulty, not a dns related problem?

    I think you should benchmark again, and try some good practices used in software industry.

    Aladdin from Taiwan
    Reply
  • demuynckr - Sunday, June 12, 2005 - link

    jhagman, the number in the apache test table means the request per second that the server handles. Reply
  • jhagman - Wednesday, June 08, 2005 - link

    Hi again, demuynckr.

    Could you please answer to me, or preferably add the information to the article. What the does the number in the apache test table mean and what kind of a page was loaded?

    I assumed that the numbers given were hits per second or transfer rate. I've been testing a bit on my powerbook (although with a lower n) and I can very easily beat the numbers you have. So it is apparent that my assumption was wrong.

    BTW, gcc-3.3 on Tiger knows the switch -mcpu=G5
    Reply
  • rubikcube - Wednesday, June 08, 2005 - link

    I thought I would post this set of benchmarks for os x on x86 vs. PPC. Even though XBench is a questionable benchmark, it still is capable of vindicating these questions about linux-ppc.

    http://www.macrumors.com/pages/2005/06/20050608063...
    Reply
  • webflits - Wednesday, June 08, 2005 - link

    "Yes I have read the article, I also personally compiled the microbenchmarks on linux as well as on the PPC, and I can tell you I used gcc 3.3 on Mac for all compilation needs :)."

    I believe you :)

    But why my are results I get way higher than the numbers listed in the article?
    Reply
  • mongo lloyd - Tuesday, June 07, 2005 - link

    At least the non-ECC RAM, that is. Reply
  • mongo lloyd - Tuesday, June 07, 2005 - link

    Any reason for why you weren't using RAM with lower timings on the x86 processors? Shouldn't there at least have been a disclaimer? Reply

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