Mac performance: Now THAT’S progress!!

PC Magazine published a detailed and enthusiastic review of the new 20″ 2.4GHz iMac.

You can read the review for the superlatives, of which there are many, but the upshot is that it scored a 4.5 (out of 5) and received the magazine’s Editor’s Choice.

In fact, it came close to a perfect rating:

“Other PCs show that you can support virtually every popular card format…. That omission in such a multimedia-optimal desktop, more than anything, is why the iMac misses a perfect overall rating.

And yet, their glowing review is not what this post is about.

Rather, I was struck by a comment made more or less off-hand when specifying the iMac’s performance benchmarks:

“Performance on Photoshop CS3 was even faster: a blazing 42 seconds. CS3 is optimized for Intel processors (finally), and we’re going to be using both CS2 and CS3 to test Macs for the time being. You can see the improvement when you compare these scores with those of the PowerMac G5 Quad from two years ago, which cost almost $10,000 and took 57 seconds on CS2.”

A speed increase on their Photoshop test from 57 seconds to 42 is impressive enough — a 25% improvement — but what’s amazing is that this is a mid-range iMac beating a top-of-the-line quad-core G5 Mac from only two years ago! That Mac was nearly $10K, the iMac in question is $1,650 (middle 20″ model plus 1GB memory).

There are professionals who bought the G5 quad Mac two years ago for the ultimate performance, but here’s a new mid-level iMac beating it handily on PC Mag’s Photoshop tests. Of course, the quad G5 also has slots, swappable graphics cards, multiple hard drives, choice of monitors, and the quad processors will outperform the iMac with apps taking advantage of all four cores. Still, the iMac tested is not even the high-end model (to say nothing of Apple’s actual high-end: the Mac Pro). Certainly the 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme would have been even faster.

I know Moore’s law is alive and well. And since new machines are generally faster than the ones they replace, over the course of a couple years the difference can be pretty significant. But the difference displayed here seems far more than usual even with that in mind. I don’t think Moore is enough to describe this kind of delta between an ultimate high-end pro machine and a mid-range consumer model only two years later. In my view, it’s not just the two years; it’s that the Intel processors are kicking some serious ass. It seems to me Intel is the logical reason for such a dramatic performance change.

Sometime after my first draft of this post I listened to Macworld Live Podcast #92, and they mentioned that the same iMac performed in their tests about twice as fast as the G5 iMac from two years ago! The consensus on the podcast was also that this is primarily the result of the transition to Intel.

To sum up: The new 2.4GHz 20″ iMac is 25% faster than a top-end quad G5, and 100% faster than a mid-range single G5, from just two years ago. Wow. No matter the reason, this kind of performance for the money is great for consumers.

My new iMac is winging it’s way from Shanghai even as I “speak,” and should get here on Friday. I’m anxious to see the performance difference compared to my nearly three-year-old HP laptop with its AMD processor and 5400RPM hard drive.

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6 thoughts on “Mac performance: Now THAT’S progress!!

  1. My new iMac is on its final delivery mile … always the slowest part. Looking forward to the speed increase over my G4 PowerBook. 🙂

  2. the fact that Steve Jobs said that ‘Killer iMacs are coming in January.”, most likely at Macworld.

    When did he say that? Jobs recently said to Apple employees that they have the best Macs in the new product pipeline ever and that the stuff coming out in the next year is off the charts. It doesn’t mean by any stretch that new iMacs are coming in January.

  3. “I assume that if Adobe is even slightly competent the CS3 in OSX would beat handily Boot camp XP or Vista, as these are relatively sluggish OS’s?”

    I’m not sure how “Boot Camp XP” is any slower then “regular” XP. In fact, I’m not clear on any real differences between them.

    In any case, this is about comparing OS X to OS X. Presumably CS2 on the quad core G5 was tuned for best performance on that CPU, yet the Intel-tuned version outperforms it.

    Besides, if Adobe is great at tuning for OS X then their Flash player would not be abysmally slow compared to Windows.

  4. It’s amazing what two mere years can mean in the high-tech world!

    I’m looking forward to your review of your upcoming arrival of your new iMac aluminum. I will probably buy one myself. If I can’t get myself a sexy wife, at least, I will end up with a sexy machine!

    My only real regret with the new iMacs is that I would prefer a better graphic card and the fact that Steve Jobs said that ‘Killer iMacs are coming in January.”, most likely at Macworld.

    All-in-all, a great article and great perspective on the new iMacs and congrats on your new upcoming iMac.

  5. You highlighted the true speed differences, which is is easy to lose in all the buzz and whining. I suspect I will need someone to pick up my pieces if I migrate from my dual-G4 to something more modern. 🙂

  6. I assume that if Adobe is even slightly competent the CS3 in OSX would beat handily Boot camp XP or Vista, as these are relatively sluggish OS’s?

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