Big and Fast and Slow

Things have been quiet here because my new iMac arrived at the end of last week. I’ve been diligently getting it set up so I can do some serious work with it; it’s kind of amazing how many little utilities, tweaks and additions to the operating system have become must-haves for me to get things done.

After owning laptops for so long — and after having spent nearly three years with a diminutive 12-in. PowerBook — working on a desktop takes some getting used to. Having such an emphatic statement of computing power displayed so prominently on my desktop is a new experience; this iMac is a beautiful thing of no particular shyness. It’s bright, bold and immense — I mean huge. Mousing up to the top right of my screen feels like an unnaturally long trip; it’s a little like reaching for a jar from the top shelf in my kitchen.

God Speed the Plough… and the Emulator

The machine’s speed seems luxurious and snappy, a huge improvement over my PowerBook G4, which, over the past few months, seemed to struggle wheezingly to do anything. But I’m not seeing those snappy boot times that everyone else claims for the Intel-based Macs; the startup process feels more or less comparable to what I see on my dual G5 at the office. Maybe I got a lemon.

Speaking of performance: the speed of native Universal binary applications only throws the Rosetta’s emulation performance into greater relief. Those applications that have not yet been updated to make native use of the Intel processors — I seem to use lots of them — perform respectably, but also frustratingly. It seems to take a lot of effort to switch from a universal application to a Rosetta application; spinning beach balls abound as the computer stalls and considers the shift. Once the switch is done, the speed of working within the application is tolerable, but the start and stop nature of Rosetta really compromises the whole elegance of the machine. I can’t wait for all of these lingering applications to switch over. Adobe, I’m looking your way.

  1. Here, here! My iMac came in on Thursday and I’ve been installing and tweaking ever since (I think I completed my transition today). Like you said, it’s amazing how many little utilities and tweaks are “must haves” now. For me, the speed jump has been enormous. I upgraded from an older iBook G4 that is now operating at indelectable speeds. I honestly think it’s slowing down. I’ve since turned it into a straight coding machine, no more graphics applications.

    I truly hope Adobe gets up to speed on their Universal apps as the Rosetta drag is rather annoying…all this power is spoiling me.

  2. I feel the same way about the rosetta apps. They are decent when you’re in them, but it’s switching around that kills it. Especially when you have more then one.

    It acts like it’s a caching thing. Like each function you do in the app it caches and THEN is faster. When you switch away long enough it dumps the memory and you sort of start all over.

    My adobe apps have been tolerable for me, but it’s been wearing quickly over the last few months and I can’t WAIT for CS3.

  3. I strongly suggest maxing out your Mac with as much ram as possible if you want to run non-Universal apps. I ran my MacBook with the stock 512MB of ram for a few days and was really disappointed with the Rosetta performance. I then upgraded the MacBook with 2GB of ram and felt much better with the performance. It ran Rosetta-based apps much better. Photoshop is workable for Web design work and Illustrator is still a dog, but you can at least work in Illustrator once it loads up.

  4. Amen, Photoshop is driving me craazy lately. Especially working with files of any considerable size. 1200dpi CMYK? Even with 2GB of memory, 85% of it given to Photoshop, my MBP *creeps* along. I ended up having to drop it down to 600dpi. CS3 is going to make using Intel Macs a completely different experience. Honestly, Photoshop performance feels about the same as my PB 800 w/ 1gb of ram.

  5. Yep, I’ll second that recommendation, get as much RAM as you can in that Intel mac and it’ll be a much happier puppy! I used 512mb on my MacBook Pro for a few months(!) before adding another 1GB and the difference for running multiple apps, waking up from sleep etc is very noticeable. If you run a program lime MenuMeters ( you can monitor the swap file usage, handy to keep track of what’s causing any slowdown on your machine.

  6. As for startup times: at this point in the setup process, I’d guess that you’re only restarting when you do something that requires it. Meaning that you’re restarting so that the system can do something during the startup process – which is what’s taking so long. At some point you should try restarting twice in a row and see how fast it comes up the second time.

  7. Yes, I agree that RAM is an absolute must. I have a Macbook Pro with 2 Gig of RAM and this copes pretty well with all the applications I constantly keep running, including Photoshop. I think maybe the slow boot time could be a conflicting app, maybe check it out.

  8. I loaded up my iMac with 2 gigabytes of RAM. I guess it’s conceivable that the start/stop behavior is being caused by virtual memory paging, though if so that seems a little excessive.

    As for the slow boot times, the slowness occurs before I even see the gray Apple logo — there’s about a minute lag before the logo appears. Once it gets to the Mac OS X screen, it zips by.

    So this morning I tried unplugging all my FireWire 400 devices (I have three hard drives totalling five partitions) before rebooting. This dramatically decreased the boot time, and I think I’m seeing something comparable to what most everyone else is seeing on their Intel-based Macs now.

    Hurray! Except this implies that I can’t keep my FireWire drives plugged in on boot, which is lame. This might be for the best anyway, because the FireWire implementation in this rev of Mac OS X seems broken. After the slow boot time, or after waking from sleep, the iMac refuses to recognize the drives until I power them off and on again. It’s a pain in the ass.

  9. Glad to see you seem to have figured out what was causing your slow boot times.

    I picked up a 20″ Intel iMac back in April (my initial reactions, which still hold true), and I agree, these new iMacs are gorgeous machines. So much so that it’s almost painful to work on any other Mac. I made sure to max out my RAM (2GB), in order to compensate for any Rosetta-related slowdowns, and aside from a few lags here and there in Photoshop, it just screams.

  10. Have you tried plugging in a single firewire drive, and booting then? It’s possible that the iMac’s firewire controller doesn’t like the controller on one of the (probably older) devices. As this occurs at boot-time, before the OS has a chance to load, it really, really feels like a hardware problem, not OSX’s.

    Try booting with each of the FW drives plugged in, one at a time. The behavior you describe is certainly undesired, and shouldn’t be unsolvable.

  11. Hmmm…. I’m not seeing the same results at all. I just got a new Intel iMac (24″ 2.33GHz) and it seems faster in every respect to my G5 iMac at work (20″ 2.0GHz). Also, I don’t notice a lag switching between photoshop and non-Rosetta apps. The booting up is faster, the app launching and photoshop rendering is faster, everything seems faster!

    The only thing I mention is the fact that adding an additional GB of RAM made a noticeable improvement in speed (and reduced the spinning beach ball to very infrequent).

    Just my .02 kb

  12. I got my wife a new MacBook Pro 15″ with the standard 512MB of memory. She complains that switching applications is VERY slow. Much slower to her mind than with her old iBook. When she starts up Dreamweaver things really go downhill.

    The simple answer is to add more memory but I’m a little skeptical. How come even basic applications are slow for her? Could there be some problem with the configuration?

    I’m running a standard PowerBook G4 and thought she would be getting better performance with the Pro.

  13. I’ve had a MacBook Pro for maybe 9 months now. It has 2GB RAM. Switching between apps can sometimes be extremely slow, like nearly 60 seconds. This is far more noticable when running many Rosetta apps. More RAM certainly helps speed things up, but quitting all the rosetta based apps (which can take an age in itself) or restarteing solves the problems.

  14. With 1Gb on my 2.16Ghz MacBook Pro, it often feels like a 266Mhz G3 and OS X. Such a shame. Clearly Adobe and MS apps are the major blame, bu…

    paging and VM seem laborious even if I am just using safari and the finder. (both are UB right, right, of course… welll???)

    I am glad I waited this long to make the move to an intel-based mac. I would have been shooting myself if I jumped on the bandwagon with a core1duo 18 months ago.

    I believe it’s time to bit the bullet and add 2GB of ram – that seems to be the best way to alleviate the VM and paging issues and speed up rosetta apps. It’s gonna hurt the wallet, but daily life will be less painful!!!!


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