Sudden Slow-Down

Is it just me or did things just get really slow all up in here? It’s probably true that the usable speed of any given computer, to paraphrase Yogi Berra, is ninety percent mental with the other fifty percent being megahertz. Which is to say that if you think your computer is slow, then it’s going to start feeling slow. This is especially the case if Steve Jobs announces a brand new computer, claiming that it runs twice as fast as its predecessor, which itself ran probably twice as fast as the computer you’ve been slogging away on for the past two years.

If you can’t guess, this is the phenomenon that I’m experiencing this week, as positive reports from hands-on usage of the new, Intel-based iMac start rolling in. (There are some less favorable reviews of these new machines’ speed, too, but strangely I’m not registering those notices quite so strongly.) Some early adopters are confirming that the new CPU at the heart of these iMacs, while not necessarily achieving the quantum leap that Apple claims, are indeed very snappy: applications seem to be launching more quickly, scrolling is more “butter”-like, and Web pages are rendering more immediately.

Aging Ungracefully

None of that would be how I’d describe my now vintage 12-inch PowerBook, which has long been my day-to-day machine. It’s never been a screamer, but up until this year’s Macworld Expo, I’d always thought that it performed acceptably. Now, seemingly without any specific change to its configuration, it seems to ponder nearly every command for an interminably long time, and reading un-cached data from the hard disk has the feeling of a fitful, cross-town bus ride more than a straight shot down a highway.

Performance expectations tend to shift mostly with exposure to newer hardware or more CPU-intensive software, but I haven’t had any substantive time with either. Rather, if anything has altered my perception of this laptop’s performance, it’s the professional and semi-professional Macintosh press — and the irresistible marketing siren over at Apple. All of which is feeding directly into a growing sense of disenchantment with my current set-up, and rationalizing an increasingly inevitable purchase of a new machine. I can’t be the only one, though, right?

  1. pardon me, but does “Web pages are rendering more immediately” mean that they used to render immediately, but now they render even sooner?

    sounds like you’re right: the performance problem with those old powerpc macs is a purely mental phenomenon.

  2. Right on. The explanation for me is two-fold.

    1) Machines have a mind of their own. I’ve used the same PC for 4 years, and the minute I thought, “It may be time for another computer soon”, my PC started to slow down. I think it knows what I’m thinking and is starting to resent me.

    2) The desire for a new computer taints your viewpoint. The grass is always greener.

  3. I usually leave my G5 on for weeks at a time, and I’ve learned that apps like Mail and Safari have memory leaks that slowwwwly bring your computer down. I’d suggest quitting all apps, and starting them again to see if there’s a difference.

  4. I landed in a very comfortable stopping point at an 800mhz 15″ TiBook. To be honest, everything I’ve used on OSX (including the up-to-date models at Apple Stores) seems to have the same organic, somewhat-soupy, speed to it. Especially once you get many large apps running. But I’ve definitely had my moments where I wanted to put my fist through the screen from it’s lack of response, mostly when it necessitates many concurrent queries to the 4200rpm snail at it’s heart. It’s when my old beast starts showing symptoms of it’s age such as this (and the ol’ paint rot, ugh) that I’m right there with you.

  5. There is a countering effect. Once you’ve used a computer for a while, specially a non-Windows machine that does not need to be reformatted and reinstalled from scratch every 6 months, the computer is broken-in and comfortable like a pair of old shoes, with every setting just so. Even though OS X prefs in your home directory are way easier to migrate than the nightmare that is the Windows registry, you still have to reinstall a bunch of apps.

    Keep in mind native versions of Photoshop et al aren’t here yet. Don’t expect Rosetta to make up for it. Apple is doing a brisk business selling G5s to companies like design studios that want to get the fastest G5 machines they can to ride over the transition period, which will inevitably be bumpy.

  6. I have a AMD 64 3500+ and a 15″ powerbook 500. I actually prefer the powerbook, which theoretically is slower, without a bother.

    I did however call and order a 17″ powerbook monday from Apple, mainly for the size. What I was informed by my rep was that the new macbooks will be faster if the code for the application was written for it, otherwise applications might be no faster than pre-macbook. He also mentioned there are no plans right now for a 17″ macbook.

    As far as the new mactels, I’m not willing to dive into them until they’ve been test driven for at least a year. Time will tell if they are truely faster, or if it’s our desire for new “gadgets” that makes us give in to the hype.

  7. I’m in the same spot as you: running a 12″ Powerbook from mid-2004. I always think it’s snappy and fast but then I wander across the office, hop on a G5 iMac or PowerMac and this feels like a dusty 486. But it’s not dead (yet) so ya gotta keep plugging away.

  8. Take comfort in the fact that most of the applications you probably use on a daily basis (adobe apps, macromedia apps, office) don’t have intel binaries yet, so they will all run under emulation and probably much more slowly than on your current powerbook. It will probably be at least 8 or 9 months before everything gets up to speed… and by that time there will be newer faster machines that have worked out the kinks of the first generation. So be happy!

  9. I have had my new 17″ DL for 7 weeks now and i’m already lusting for pastures new, following the MacBook hype. It’s definitely psychological, i am a sucker for that Apple marketing machine, was sucked in on septembers hi-res models though from my old old 1Ghz 17″.

    Sorry to be off topic but to Greg above, be careful regarding the 17″ DL, check out this Apple disscussions page, concerning the major hardware fault of which i too am a victim.

    I am feeling rather like this last of the line model’s issues will get swept under the carpet in the shadow of the new MacBook Pro, they officially know of no fix…

  10. I’m falling prey to the hype too (as I type on my home machine – a G3 Lombard that is for lack of a better word “snappy” in 10.3.9, as long as I don’t have an Adobe app open), but jaded perception aside, it couldn’t hurt to run Onyx.

  11. Thanks Tom.
    I’ll keep an eye out for that. I generally won’t use itunes on this one though. I’ll be serving music off of the AMD to the entire office and will use that machine to rip new CD’s.

  12. If experiencing slowdowns there is one thing I found that helps bring life back. Similar to Mike Rundle I leave my PowerBook running for weeks with a lot of apps running.

    1) The steps are to set up a new user account and give it admin rights.
    2) Now log out of your account (shift command Q) and let everything shut down
    3) Log into your other admin account
    4) Let it start up open an app and close it after if fully opens
    5) Log out of this second admin account
    6) Log in to your normal account

    This usually brings quite a bit of life back to my PowerBook. Nearly as good as when there is an OS patch/upgrade. I perform this every couple weeks, or as my milage lags.

  13. DUDE-

    1. You freaking work for new york times-
    2. you have an old computer,
    3. this is what APPLE is going to have for a LONG time (no sense in waiting unless you want the new G5 Replacement)



  14. Ever since the announcement hit the Web I’ve been feeling the same way. My 15-inch PowerBook, that hasn’t even reached her first birthday, is slow and outdated and needs to be traded in for the new one. At least that is my nagging addiction to the latest and greatest technology talking. Is she really a clunker? Or is it just because there’s a new Ferrari on the block? I don’t know. But all I can think about is that brighter screen, Front Row, Built-in iSight Camera (what would I even use that for?) and 4 TIMES FASTER!!! Therefore, the ol’ PowerBook just doesn’t feel the same anymore.

  15. Ok… It’s cofirmed Khoi.
    My new powerbook 17″ showed up this morning and wouldn’t you know, it’s blazingly faster than my 15″ powerbook. At first, you think you’re haluca-seeing, but your not. Go for it! Upgrade.

    Damnit. I just got bit by the hype.

  16. @ben:
    Dude .. I feel you on the lombard … I’ve been waiting, and waiting and waiting and waiting to upgrade mine (g3 333mhz).

    I must have been the 3rd person to place the order for the macbook, but I have to say that ol’ lombard has lasted for over 6.5 years … it kind of sounds funny to hear people talk about their year old laptop that’s getting real long in the tooth 😉

  17. I must be the only person who feels their computer is running fine… I love this little 12″ 1.5ghz PowerBook. With a little more RAM, I think this machine would blaze through things at quite an acceptable rate.

    Anybody know when Creative Suit is going to be Intel native?

  18. Steve,
    Yeah it’s not the newest kid on the block, but the way I see it, it’s my employer’s job to buy fast computers. For personal work/play (and this does include print & web design, at a somewhat *leisurely* pace – I wouldn’t want to open the apps with a client behind me), the Lombard is great. Extremely stable – always comes through in a pinch. I’ll buy something Intel when the time comes though.

  19. Well, I installed a some more RAM into this little computer. 1.25 GB now, and HOLY COW it’s fast.

    I know, all of you tapping away on your G5s with 4 GB of RAM are laughing. But the G4 with some memory is certainly not a slow machine.

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