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2004-01 - Continued

For Mac users, this report is a lot less gloomy than the January 2003 version. The greater computational horsepower of the G5 Power Macs allows them to complete all of the tests in this report much faster than the G4 machines they replace.

Mac OS X 10.3 plays a role here too. For the first time since we began measuring card-to-computer transfer rates, the Mac is able to match or exceed the throughput of a computer running Windows. For years, the Mac operating system's ho-hum code for handling FAT-formatted removable media  - including CompactFlash cards - has meant comparatively pokey transfer rates, even on the fastest Mac computers. The all-new FAT plumbing in OS X 10.3 finally puts an end to the slowness.

Software developers also appear to be heeding the call from Mac users for better RAW file processing performance on their chosen platform. For example, the Photoshop Camera Raw plug-in for Photoshop, C1 Pro and MacBibble all take advantage of the dual processors in Mac computers that are so-equipped. The result is processing times for MacBibble and Photoshop Camera Raw on the Mac that are competitive with a fast dual-processor PC. In fact, MacBibble handily outpaces Bibble for Windows in batch conversion of Nikon D1X NEFs.

But the Mac isn't out of the woods yet. The PC is still quicker at a variety of batch processing tasks in Photoshop. Nikon users wedded to Capture will find a top-flight PC is not only a lot quicker than a Mac at opening, saving and batch processing NEF files, it also feels more responsive when stepping through basic operations such as changing WB or zooming. Even on a G5, Nikon Capture still acts a bit like it's stuck in molasses.

Photographers who shoot with the 14n or DCS 760 are still able to work more quickly and process files faster on a PC than on a Mac. Even C1 Pro, despite being optimized for the Mac, is still measurably faster on a PC.

Ultimately, the Mac tied or led the PC in 19 of the 77 tests that comprise this report. Put another way, the PC was faster in 58 of 77 benchmarks. 

And this is comparing desktop machines. Though we haven't published specific performance numbers for laptops in this report, we did run a Mac Powerbook and a Dell laptop through a subset of the same tests. The 15-inch Powerbook G4, powered by a G4/1.25GHz processor, was thumped in every test by a Dell Inspiron 8500 and its P4-M processor running at 2.6GHz. Until Apple is able to stuff a G5 processor inside one of its sexy Powerbook cases, portable Macs are likely to remain noticeably slower than their PC counterparts.

Laptops aside, the combination of faster hardware and better software has brought about a significant performance jump for pro digital photographers using the Mac. And while the PC is still quicker overall, the Mac is at least back in the race.

Apple may make its next move this week if it announces faster G5 processors as expected during MacWorld (Update, January 7: Apple did not announce faster G5 Power Macs after all). But with Intel's next-generation Pentium 4 processor (codenamed Prescott) looming, and the rumoured introduction of the Tejas processor at speeds of 5GHz to 7GHz possibly before the end of 2004, Apple, in conjunction with G5 chip maker IBM, will have to work harder than ever to keep pace with Windows-based computers.

Back to Top: A report on processing performance
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