Panther at the Low End, and What to Do with Jaguar
If you have two or more Mac users in the house, Panther can be a real bargain, ranging from $40 to $100 per license depending on the number of users. Thanks to a reader who paid the first $129, we bought the family pack and have installed OS X 10.3 on five Macs - my eMac 700, my wife's 14" iBook 600, a son's 12" PowerBook G4/867, and a pair of 333 MHz iMacs.
We all like it. Panther is definitely more responsive than Jaguar, which was an improvement over 10.1. Some reviewers are saying that 10.3 is responsive enough that Mac OS 9 users won't be able to complain about the speed.
Because of the number of systems upgraded, benchmarks were only run once. These are not the average of several tests, and because of this they may be a bit less precise than reports you'll find on other websites.
I first installed Panther on the internal 40 GB drive on my eMac, since I don't otherwise use that drive. I figured that if there were any horrendous bugs, my main drive (an external 80 GB FireWire drive) would be unaffected. Sure, it's slower than my main drive, but this was just to make sure everything was working before I committed myself.
I only ran into one problem after the update - I can no longer log into gaming lounges at Yahoo! Games using Safari. The problem exists in both 1.1 and 1.0 (which was still on my main drive). I suspect it's the latest Java interpreter, and I've reported the bug to Apple. (Everything worked just fine under 10.2.8 and Safari 1.0.)
After a day or so of use, and after finding no serious problems reported on the Mac Web, I installed Panther on my external 80 GB FireWire drive on Sunday. This is a 7200 rpm drive with an 8 MB buffer, so it's a lot more responsive than the eMac's stock hard drive.
The only other software problem I've encountered is with System Optimizer X. The program mostly works, although you can no longer tweak Internet performance, but the scheduler is all messed up and tried to run SOX at every restart - until I removed it.
I ran Let1kWindowsBloom and XBench 1.0.3 on my eMac before updating to Jaguar - and again after the update. I also benchmarked the external RAID array I use for backup, a pair of 80 GB 7200 rpm drives with 2 MB buffers in a single FireWire enclosure.
The eMac has 640 MB of RAM installed. Here are the test results:
Version 10.2.8 10.3.0 Let1kBloom 56 sec 37 sec +66% XBench CPU Test 81.10 82.85 +2.5% Thread Test 42.64 58.48 +37% Memory Test 51.63 63.49 +23% Quartz Test 73.58 87.09 +18% OpenGL Test 81.95 74.90 -8.6% User Interface 58.40 98.26 +68% Disk, internal 38.18 34.21 -10% Disk, external 70.86 69.94 -1.3% Disk, RAID 73.65 72.95 -1.0%
There are a few places where performance dropped, a couple where there's hardly any change, and five tests that show a huge improvement under Panther. Memory tests 23% faster, threading is improved by 37%, and graphics sees a big boost, except for OpenGL. Let1kWindowsBloom ran 66% faster, and the User Interface test in XBench reported almost the same improvement at 68%. Quartz graphics are 18% faster on this first generation eMac.
The faster external FireWire drives saw less of a performance hit under Panther than the slower internal drive. On the other hand, they're nearly twice as fast as the internal drive.
My wife's 14" iBook is a bit memory starved at 256 MB, and I've suggested she get a 512 MB upgrade when she can afford it, which will bring the 'Book to 640 MB. The iBook has the stock Apple drive.
Version 10.2.6 10.3.0 Let1kBloom 93 sec 54 sec +72% XBench CPU Test 39.41 31.49 -20% Thread Test 44.74 53.67 +20% Memory Test 21.78 24.02 +10% Quartz Test 50.42 55.83 +11% OpenGL Test 78.65 77.84 -1.0% User Interface 47.61 71.48 +50% Disk Test 35.04 36.74 +4.9%
Again, the user interface is much faster than under 10.2.x - Let1kWindowsBloom benched a whopping 72% faster, and the XBench UI test saw a 50% improvement. As on the eMac, the thread, memory, and Quartz tests also show improved performance, although not to the same extent.
The surprises are a 20% drop on the CPU benchmark, which may be an XBench anomaly (XBench isn't terribly consistent, and a lot of that is due to the nature of the operating system itself), and an almost 5% improvement in hard drive performance.
It takes a long time to install Panther on a 333 MHz iMac - and with the stock 6 GB drive in one iMac, I had to remove all of the iApps to make room for the installation. At least 10.3 put all these apps back on the hard drive.
I only ran 10.2.8 tests on the iMac with the stock Maxtor 6 GB hard drive and 320 MB of RAM. The second iMac has a 7200 rpm drive and 192 MB of memory.
Version 10.2.8 10.3.0 Let1kBloom 115 sec 82 sec +40% XBench CPU Test 22.03 20.81 -5.5% Thread Test 24.49 29.95 +22% Memory Test 17.58 18.51 +5.3% Quartz Test 33.31 38.31 +15% OpenGL Test 8.72 10.60 +22% User Interface 19.05 50.87 +167% Disk Test 28.08 21.70 -23%
Although the iMac has an ancient video chipset (ATI Rage Pro Turbo) and only 6 MB of video memory, Panther makes the most of limited resources. The Quartz test runs 15% faster under Panther, OpenGL 22% faster, and Let1kWindowsBloom 40% faster. But the most impressive result of all comes from the User Interface test, where Panther is 167% faster than Jaguar at the tested 1024 x 768 resolution with millions of colors.
The CPU test is a bit slower under Jaguar, but memory is faster, and threading is improved by 22%. As noted with the eMac's internal hard drive, the slower the hard drive, the more it suffers under Panther. In this case, the Disk benchmark is 23% slower than under Jaguar.
Now on to the other iMac, which has a partitioned 20 GB 7200 rpm hard drive. In every test except for the Disk Test, the iMac with 320 MB of RAM outperformed the 192 MB machine:
Model 192 MB 320 MB Let1kBloom 104 sec 82 sec +26% XBench CPU Test 14.94 20.81 +39% Thread Test 26.34 29.95 +11% Memory Test 15.31 18.51 +21% Quartz Test 31.83 38.31 +20% OpenGL Test 8.83 10.60 +20% User Interface 40.20 50.87 +27% Disk Test 38.76 21.70 -44%
As long as OS X has been available, the recommendation has been to install as much RAM as your Mac can handle. The iMac with the extra 128 MB of RAM won every comparison that didn't involve the hard drive, demonstrating the boosting from a little memory to a lot can easily provide a 20% or greater boost in performance. If you're running OS X with less than 256 MB, consider upgrading if your Mac supports it.
The only place where the second iMac shone was the disk test, where the Seagate Barracuda trounced the stock Maxtor drive in the first iMac. Even an iMac, with a 16.7 MB/sec. IDE bus, will benefit from a faster drive. The stock drive never hit 10 MB/sec. throughput on any benchmark, while the 7200 rpm drive benchmarked 79% higher, moving data over the IDE bus as fast as possible during some tests.
For faster booting, faster program launching, and faster saves, once you've boosted RAM, look into a faster hard drive. You'll definitely notice the difference.
The fastest Mac in the family belongs to my son Brian, who started college this fall. He chose to buy a 12" PowerBook G4 as his school computer, and he tosses it into his backpack and bikes to school with it every day that he has classes. At 867 MHz, the PowerBook's CPU should benchmark about 24% faster than my 700 MHz eMac. (Although this was a current model a few months ago, it nearly qualifies as low-end, since Apple only makes one model with a slower clock speed.)
The PowerBook was not benchmarked before Brian installed Panther.
Version 10.3.0 Let1kBloom 29 sec XBench CPU Test 104.13 Thread Test 73.60 Memory Test 82.36 Quartz Test 105.27 OpenGL Test 92.04 User Interface 117.97 Disk Test 54.53
Impressive performance. Too bad we didn't benchmark before the upgrade.
What About Jaguar?
Yes, we've all griped about the fact that Apple doesn't offer any discount for upgrading to Panther, except for those who bought G5s or picked up a new Mac in the past few weeks. The family pack helps if you have more than one Mac user in the house.
But there's one benefit to Apple's "no upgrades" policy - you may well have one or more full copies of OS X (10.1 or 10.2) that you can sell on eBay, put on an older Mac, or donate to a friend, a school, or a local nonprofit that uses Macs. Maybe we can add another million OS X users that way.
Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.
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