Daniel Eran Dilger
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Ten Myths of Leopard: 1 Graphics Must Be Slow!

Daniel Eran Dilger
Are you ready for an all out assault on Mac OS X Leopard by Windows Enthusiasts? Earlier this year, I compiled a listing of complaints related to the iPhone before they could even think them up, although self-styled analysts kept trying to perpetuate them for months after I debunked them. I later outlined a similar series exposing some reality related to Apple TV. Before the trolls really get going on Leopard, let’s clear the air there, too. Of course, there are also real issues related to Leopard users should take into consideration. Here’s an honest look at Mac OS X 10.5 against the myths being reported.

Ten Myths of Apple iPhone
Ten Myths of the Apple TV

Myth 1: Leopard’s Visual Effects Slow Everything Down. This myth is borrowed from a common Windows Vista complaint; while Windows XP (and earlier versions) used the simpler GDI graphics engine modeled after Apple’s QuickDraw from the original Macintosh, Vista introduced Avalon, a brand new compositing graphics engine now described as part of the Windows Presentation Foundation.

The result is that PCs running Vista have to do a lot more work to host the new Aero graphics effects and the general overhead of WPF that they didn’t have to do under Windows XP. There is no way Vista could have been faster than XP in graphics, because it’s simply doing a lot more.

When Mac OS X’s Quartz debuted back in 1999 as the first modern compositing graphics engine in a desktop operating system, it was similarly visibly slower than Mac OS 9’s less sophisticated QuickDraw-based graphics. Mac OS X also had to incorporate support for legacy software designed to use QuickDraw, just as Vista is hampered with supporting software created to run on earlier versions of Windows.

Road to Mac OS X Leopard: QuickTime, iTunes, and Media Features AppleInsider

Why Leopard Isn’t Slower.
The difference with Leopard is seven years of optimization. Mac OS X’s graphics compositing engine has been in use for half a decade now. Every major new version of the system has significantly updated the underlying Quartz, also known as Core Graphics. In addition, Apple has also delegated more and more of its graphics effects into dedicated video hardware. Jaguar introduced Quartz Extreme for hardware-accelerated compositing, Tiger introduced Core Image for hardware accelerated filters and effects, and now Leopard applications can activate Quartz 2D Extreme (now called Quartz GL) for hardware-accelerated drawing as well.

In addition, Leopard supplies a variety of prebuilt graphics technology for developers to use, including the new Core Animation and new additions to the Image Kit. Using these will enable developers to optimize the performance of their applications, but existing software already looks and feels much faster because of other under the hood improvements.

While Windows Enthusiasts would love to associate the problems of Vista with Mac OS X Leopard, they will simply look foolish in saying that Leopard drags down Macs that were running Tiger the way Vista taxes the performance of PCs that were usable running Windows XP. Apple’s significant new improvements to Core Graphics is a major reason why.

Slow Areas In Vista.
In contrast, reviewers have pointed out that Vista is slower across the board, in large part due to its graphics, but also due to other factors. Windows Enthusiast site Tom’s Hardware noted in its Vista vs XP benchmarks:

“Windows Vista clearly is not a great new performer when it comes to executing single applications at maximum speed. Although we only looked at the 32-bit version of Windows Vista Enterprise, we do not expect the 64-bit edition to be faster (at least not with 32-bit applications). Overall, applications performed as expected, or executed slightly slower than under Windows XP.”

One aspect of Vista’s graphics slowdown is Microsoft’s political opposition to the OpenGL standard; the company has pushed its own proprietary graphics technology since Windows 95’s DirectX in an effort to tie video games to Windows (initially to kill DOS gaming, but now to prevent Linux gaming from taking over). The result is, as Tom’s Hardware observed:

“Unreal Tournament 2004 and the professional graphics benchmarking suite SPECviewperf 9.03 suffered heavily from the lack of support for the OpenGL graphics library under Windows Vista. This is something we expected, and we clearly advise against replacing Windows XP with Windows Vista if you need to run professional graphics applications.”

Even general CPU encoding functions were slower in Vista:

“We are disappointed that CPU-intensive applications such as video transcoding with XviD (DVD to XviD MPEG4) or the MainConcept H.264 Encoder performed 18% to nearly 24% slower in our standard benchmark scenarios. Both benchmarks finished much quicker under Windows XP.”

“Our hopes that Vista might be able to speed up applications are gone. First tests with 64-bit editions result in numbers similar to our 32-bit results, and we believe it’s safe to say that users looking for more raw performance will be disappointed with Vista.”

Three Reasons to Excuse Vista’s Slow Performance.
Tom’s offered three excuses to consider in upgrading to Vista:

“Vista runs considerably more services and thus has to spend somewhat more resources on itself. Indexing, connectivity and usability don’t come for free.”

Of course, Leopard runs new services as well. However, it’s based on Unix, which is designed to run multiple processes without bogging down. Windows and its NT kernel is not. I identified this as one of the top five most significant architectural problems in Windows. Microsoft will not be able to resolve this problem without entirely redesigning how Windows works, breaking all applications in the process or emulating them in a compatibility environment on top, as Apple did with Classic applications. Of course, one can already do that on Mac OS X. Perhaps Microsoft will simply license Mac OS X and Parallels as the basis for Windows 7.0.

Five Windows Flaws – 5 Windows’ Expensive Processes

The second excuse to consider for Vista’s lackluster performance:

“There is a lot of CPU performance available today! We’ve got really fast dual core processors, and even faster quad cores will hit the market by the middle of the year. Even though you will lose application performance by upgrading to Vista, today’s hardware is much faster than yesterday’s, and tomorrow’s processors will clearly leap even further ahead.”

Solve Microsoft’s problems with hardware! That’s always been the solution in the past, as Tom’s Hardware notes in its follow up point:

“No new Windows release has been able to offer more application performance than its predecessor.”

Windows XP vs. Vista: The Benchmark Rundown | Tom’s Hardware

In contrast, every version of Mac OS X has offered a leap in usability and performance. Leopard is no different. Of course, there are more insidious myths that need debunking related to Leopard. The next is coming up tomorrow.

What do you think? I really like to hear from readers. Comment in the Forum or email me with your ideas.

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  • noxaengelus

    First off, thank you for having such a great website, it’s as informative as it is well designed.

    Anyway, I’ve noticed improved performance with every upgrade as well, I have a G3 iMac that had a hard drive failure, but while it was running, it managed to handle Mac OS X fairly well, and increasingly well with each successive upgrade, until it finally decided to die.

    I’m using a 12″ PB, no upgrades—512MB RAM, 1.5GHz G4, 64MB graphics, and so on—and I was expecting it to run somewhat slower on 10.5, due to its age, and lack of performance, in comparison to the latest Macs, however I’m surprised, because it actually does run somewhat faster than 10.4.

    It was slow for the first 15-20 minutes, but that’s because Spotlight was indexing my partitions. After it was done, the performance was noticeably faster.

    I expected some of these new features, such as Spaces, new Spotlight stuff, improved interface, to slow my computer down enough to merit a reinstall of 10.4, however, I’m glad I gave it time to get everything sorted out.

    The only performance problem I have with 10.5 is Spotlight, actually. I think it might be that it’s trying to load too much, too fast, while searching, and my system is just too slow to handle it.

    Other than that, applications run smoother, and faster. I’m not certain, but the Flash plugin in Safari doesn’t seem to be wiping out my free RAM quite so much as before, but maybe that’s because the OS is using less of it.

    In any case, it should be amusing to see the nonsense that the media drums up to attack 10.5.

  • duckie

    Excellent site Daniel. I have never been a Mac user but everything you say about Windows pings a painful truth that we IBM PC users have learned to hide in our subconscious to make life bearable.

    Perhaps the most painful truth about Aero is that it doesn’t improve usability – surely the only valid reason to change up to a more hardware demanding GUI. It’s prettier. And that’s it.

  • John Muir

    Leopard’s running slick and smooth on this 2003 vintage PowerBook G4, dispelling the asinine rumour going round that Leopard was only optimised for Intel Macs. Nonsense! Indeed, I ran it on my old 867 MHz G4 (the very minimum supported spec) and it’s still just as fluid as Tiger. Far more usable than Tiger on its minimum machine: a 400 MHz G3 iMac DV.

    Unfortunately there are two groups with vested interests in smearing this magical performance drop idea around. Windows enthusiasts along with the press, and the vocal but slim minority of Mac users who’re peeved their G3’s and Titanium PowerBooks aren’t supported and are very likely to dip pretty fast in resale value. The very same groups incidentally who always wished OS 9 really did live forever. Now there’s a surprise!

    Leopard is an awesome development platform, and I can attest with a few days use that it has usability features I’m already depending upon. Equating it to Vista is knowingly foolish; when not openly manipulating.

  • Rich

    I’d love to be a fly on the wall in Microsoft and find out the reasons why they got Vista so wrong. I assume a lot of it comes down to a lack of communication within the company. I really wonder what their codebase looks like too – I’m sure large parts are unmaintainable. Aero doesn’t do anything useful and the UI is a total mess.

  • http://ghscommunications.com potterhead4

    Daniel – really enjoyed the analysis. I think you could have gone further into explaining how most Apple OS upgrades actually improve the speed of operation, even for older computers because Apple really works on tweaking problematic areas of the OS that are major hangups and scales down eye candy automatically and effectively on older machines (rather than taking the Wind’ohs all-or-nothing approach).

    Leopard’s biggest example is probably ejecting network drives – that’s going to be a lot faster regardless of the machine you’re on, and even if benchmarks don’t show speed increases in everyday performance, productivity will definitely go up as a result. Isn’t that really the “speed” the consumer is looking for?

  • edgy

    leopard’s running fine on my PB 1,67 Ghz, even if mail 3 doesn’t allow me to receive any mail anymore :(

    anyone has any clues about the TSF (top secret features) Steve was talking about?

    pcworld (for what it’s worth) claims security might not be as implemented as apple promised…:

  • elppa

    “Perhaps Microsoft will simply license Mac OS X and Parallels as the basis for Windows 7.0”

    Do I detect your tongue firmly in your cheek?

    I would like to see a myth busted about Vista and Leopard instant search being identical. This is something I hear about all the time.

    For example if I type in “MainConcept H.264 Encoder” into Spotlight, this webpage pops straight back, because it has indexed the content.

    In reality, Vista instant search can only do about half the things spotlight can.

  • stormj

    I have an old Powerbook G4 with 512mb of RAM–it’s a 1.2ghz, I believe. The speed improvement over Tiger is dramatic. I can’t say that about my Mac Pro. Slightly faster, but the difference on the old hardware is stunning.

    Rich: Microsoft didn’t get Vista wrong from their point of view. Their MO is to do two basic things: (1) lock people into their pastiches of other’s innovations (DirectX, e.g.) through their monopoly with vendors, and (2) force continued adoption of bleeding edge hardware in order to create the feedback loop necessary to support 1.

    If you made Vista run decently on a 1gh P3, people might stick with the old hardware! That cannot stand!

    Apple has similar incentives, but they rely on brand loyalty to a large extent, and only force big changes when the results are tangible (Color/PPC/Intel).

  • Tilneys

    Apple have surpassed even themselves with this OS release. After 5 days I can honestly say I have never felt a computer run so efficiently. The improvements under the hood must be quite something. Amazing.

    As you say, the anti-Mac nutters will really start to fight like their backs are up against the wall..! But like rats on a sinking ship they will have to abandon it at some stage, ‘cos Windows will certainly sink sometime.

  • http://homepage.mac.com/johnnyapple johnnyapple

    Nice work again Dan. I look forward to nine more! Can we expect one of those nine to address the cost of ownership myth? Paul Thurrott believes Leopard is expensive because it’s updated so often and for full features you need $99 annual .Mac and $79 annual upgrades of iLife. I should sue the ass for causing me to shoot cola out of my nostrils… ouch!

    Paul’ two dimensional review ended with the most accurate statement “Leopard doesn’t change the switcher equation at all”. Yep, the equation still equals Apple.

    After 5 days with Leopard the most obvious new feature to me is the lack of a feature. Has the finder beach ball been discontinued? ;-)

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