Apple Archive

Windows, Macs, OS X, and Real World Performance

- 2003.02.14

Windows users with little Macintosh experience often say that the Mac "feels slow." They find that starting up the computer, opening applications, browsing the Internet, copying and moving files, and other simple tasks feel slower than on their Windows PC.

First, the Mac OS and Microsoft Windows are two completely different operating systems. Even though operation of the user interface is similar, they work in different ways. PCs can vary greatly in startup time because of the instructions in the BIOS that may need to load before Windows can start. Some take a long time and search for each drive before Windows can load; others just assume the drives are there and load Windows right away.

The Mac also has to search for peripherals before the operating system can start up, but Macs tend to be a bit faster at this than many PCs (although newer PCs do it quickly). On the other hand, the Mac OS itself does take longer to load than most versions of Windows.

Startup time also depends upon the speed of the computer. Mac OS 9 on a 1 GHz G4 is going to start up in a few seconds. The same operating system on a 233 MHz G3 will take much longer to load.

Some applications take longer to load on the Mac. Much of this is because Microsoft likes to "integrate" its software products with the operating system as much as possible, so you will find that Word for Windows loads very quickly compared to Word for Macintosh, which takes its time.

Photoshop, which isn't a Microsoft product, has about the same load time on a comparable Mac and PC.

Browsing the Internet - it seems I cover this very often, and the simple fact is that Internet Explorer is integrated into Windows, and the Mac browsers don't have that advantage to increase their speed. (Also, Chimera, Mozilla, and Safari tend to be a lot faster than Microsoft's Internet Explorer for Mac.)

Moving and copying files is definitely fast on a PC. However, I do have to give credit to Mac OS X 10.2, which seems to have significantly increased the speed at which files can be transferred from drive to drive or over a network to your local drive. At present, I'd say that there is probably very little difference between copying files on a PC and copying files on a Mac - and possibly none at all.

By now, everyone (even Pixar) realizes that the PC is far ahead in terms of Photoshop and other high end rendering performance, but when I sit down at a computer, I'm looking at real world performance, not which machine can benchmark higher.

For a while, a Mac with OS X was not a fast computer. In fact, it was probably about the slowest hardware and software combination out there. I have compared it to when System 7 came out and much of the hardware Apple was selling at the Color Classictime was barely able to run it, never mind run it well. The 16 MHz 68030-based LC II and Color Classic, both of which shipped with System 7 installed, were running at an almost unusable level of performance. But a year and a half later, the 33 MHz 68040-based LC 575 could run System 7.1 quite well.

The same thing has happened with Mac OS X. When it first came out, it was only just tolerable on Apple's most expensive hardware. But due to improvements in the operating system itself and increases in the speed of the hardware, Mac OS X has become extremely useable. The G4 iMac runs X very well now, whereas the iMac of 2000 ran it extremely slowly.

Not that everyone can afford to buy new hardware, and not that they necessarily should, but in a few years' time the complaints about OS X being dog slow will be nothing but a memory.

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