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Intel vs G5 vs G4

Entry 287, on 2006-02-20 at 14:43:14 (Rating 1, Computers)

Recently, I have been doing some tests of a new Apple Intel iMac. I also have a dual processor G5 PowerMac, and various G4s which are useful as comparisons. I wanted to do real-world test of the programs people are likely to use, and was interested in the general speed, as well as any reliability issues the new architecture might introduce.

Because the new machine uses a different processor Apple have created a translator to allow older programs, written for the PowerPC-based machines, to run on the new Macs. The translator is called "Rosetta", and it runs invisibly, so that old programs just run exactly as they always have. The translation does involve a significant hit on performance though, so older programs running through Rosetta are a lot slower than programs created specifically for the Intel processor.

I compared the same programs running on a dual-code 1.83 GHz Intel iMac, a dual-core 2 GHz G5, and a single core 1.33 GHz G4 PowerBook. The G5 and Intel chips are similar in performance when programs don't require Rosetta. Both are much faster than the G4, of course. When running Rosetta, the Intel is a lot slower than the G5, although it is still significantly faster than the G4.

Here's some examples. Launching iPhoto takes one second (compared with 3 on the G5 and 5 on the G4). Booting takes 13 seconds (the G5 takes 17, and the G4 52). Running a Photoshop filter (Photoshop uses Rosetta translation) on a large image takes 13 seconds (the G5 takes 6, and the G4 takes 19).

So the new machine is very good if the software you use doesn't require Rosetta. If you currently have a G4 everything will probably be faster, and some things will be incredibly faster. If you have a dual processor G5 many things will be a bit faster, but others will be significantly slower if Rosetta is required.

A lot of Apple's software is already translated for the Intel processor. Microsoft are saying they will have Office converted soon. Adobe are more of a problem. They say their programs won't be done until next year. Currently, the new MacBook Pros are a very worthwhile upgrade from any existing PowerBook. But the iMac isn't such a significant change, although it now has dual cores, so it is much faster running Universal software (programs designed to run directly on both PowerPC and Intel chips).


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