Are the new Intel-based Macs faster, or not?

There’s been a lot of debate in the computer world about whether the new Intel-based “Mactel” Mac desktop systems are actually two times faster than Motorola-based G5 Macs and Mactel laptops are four times faster than G4 Mac laptops as Apple CEO Steve Jobs stated when unveiling these revolutionary devices a few weeks ago.
The fastest critic out of the door has been Jason Snell over at Macworld, with his article stating that Intel-based iMacs are fast, but gains don’t match Apple’s claims. Jason says that they found applications only ran 10-15% faster than on Motorola systems.
But I’ve never known Steve “reality distortion field” Jobs to lie, so there must be some basis for his comments that the iMac runs twice as fast with Intel chips, right? As a result, when my friend and colleague David Geller of WhatCounts commented that their apps are running on the Mactel system, I couldn’t resist asking him how the migration effort had gone and what kind of performance result they were seeing.
Q: The application is written in Java. Did you find that Java met its promise of write once, run anywhere, or did you have to tweak and change your code to work on the new Mactel platform?
Yes, our entire ASP and back-end solution is written in Java. No code changes were required since Sun’s Java JVM had already been ported to the Intel platform and released as a Universal (fat) binary on the new systems. Java has long fulfilled its promise for write-once run everyone on the server level. Our platform runs on Linux, Windows 2003 and Mac OS X. For most of our customers, though, they’re hitting our ASP site which is running our code across many servers.

Q: Overall, how hard was the migration effort? How many lines of code versus how long until it was up and running?
Before, to compile our platform, we typed “ant.” Now all we type is “ant.” Same thing. Nothing changed. Just got faster. đŸ™‚ Literally, twice as fast.
Q: Tell me about performance. Is the app faster or slower on the new hardware?
Our code base has about 1,100 individual Java files. They comprise a hundred or so servlets and about 80 different packages. Java developers will recognize these terms. Using the new Intel-based iMac it’s now twice as fast compiling our entire source code tree. In other words… it takes half the time it used to do build everything.
Q: What particular area of the Mactel system are you noticing offers the greatest performance boost? Which seems like it’s the slowest?
We’ve only been playing with the systems for a day, but the UI performance is plenty fast – noticeably so. Apps open faster and move around faster. I had played around with Front Row on the G5-based iMacs it it’s definitely smoother on the new Intel-based systems. We don’t care much about boot-up time because we don’t reboot them. They stay on for months at a time.
Q: Now, if you could have a personal Mactel laptop, would you get one? And would you want to dual-boot Windows XP or Vista on it?
I ordered two new MacBook Pro (terrible name, in my opinion) laptops the day they were announced. So yes, I’d get one. They’re due sometime in February.
With regard to your second question, I have zero interest in dual booting. To me that’s a foolish and time consuming way to do what I need to do. Gamers, though, might feel differently. What I do require and hope to have soon is Virtual PC – or something like it for running XP.
One of the reasons this is attractive and necessary is that we sometimes have to VPN into client sites – but we don’t want to loose our local network connection. Normally VPN will changes things around and reestablish your network so that you’re part of the remote site. By running inside of a VPC session I can have both networks operating at the same time.
I hope Microsoft rushes out a new version of VPC for Intel. I heard that they were thinking 2007 – but that’s crazy. They’ve known this was coming for a while now. It’s bound to sell lots more copies of XP. However, because it is Intel based now the field is more open to other players – like VMWare. Let’s hope someone steps up to the plate fast.
Q: Have you run any PowerPC apps on the new Macs? How did Rossetta do?
Yeah. Office stuff: Word and Excel. Seriously – it was hard to tell they weren’t built for the platform. The emulation layer was pretty much undetectable and the apps works and behaved like they did before. Now, our Macs all have 2GB of RAM, so I suspect that had something to do with the stellar performance. But, everyone here was impressed with how well Rossetta did.
Q: Is there anything you don’t like about the new MacBook laptops?
Yeah. My Verizon EVDO PCMCIA card is now useless! Darn Apple for switching that out and introducing the new Smartcard/34 sized adaptor slot. I just hope the vendors have new cards by February! I really rely upon EVDO when I’m traveling. I once, this is true, got into a cab in Manhattan destined for JFK with a driver who was out making the trip for the very first time. Well, with my PowerBook and EVDO card I was able to pull up Google maps and directions and started navigating in real-time. Worked. Got to JFK in time. Made my flight.
Great stuff, David. We appreciate you sharing your experiences, and hope that you’ll keep an eye on this thread and answer any subsequent questions people might ask? And give us an update once your laptop arrives!

2 comments on “Are the new Intel-based Macs faster, or not?

  1. Dave
    Your question is too good to pass up. I tried to find the SPEC measurements that Apple used to backup its claim but I don’t see them. Maybe Apple will publish them soon????? When?? Before buying a Mac Laptop, I’d sure like to see all relevant and reproducible benchmark results. All very strange.
    Ian Wells

  2. I just bought a Power Book Pro. It has the new intel processor which Apple claims is much faster than the original PowerBook. I totally agree. The new intel processors give a new life and meaning to Macs. I strongly suggest anybody going in for a Mac to buy the new intel chip based version. I fell its atleast 3 times fastrer than my old notebook. My 2 cents…

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