posted by Rayiner Hashem on Tue 15th Nov 2005 17:44 UTC

"The Inevitable"

Let me address the inevitable "Ubuntu vs. OS X" comparison. The thing that surprised me most about using the PowerMac was not that OS X's UI was better than Ubuntu's, which I have known for quite some time having used both regularly, but how small that difference really was. As I said, OS X's UI is a step up from GNOME's. However, I wouldn't say it is in a completely different league. In terms of the fundamental UI elements, GNOME is extremely competitive. In some areas, file type management as I noted above, GNOME is better, largely because it is more rigorously consistent. On the other hand, OS X's interface is faster, sexier, and a touch more polished, which is icing on the cake. In terms of ease of configuration and maintainability, both machines were comparable, which is expected given that each machine was purposefully built to work with its respective OS. Lastly, Linux, as a kernel, is miles ahead of Darwin. Ultimately, if it were just a matter of "Ubuntu versus OS X", I'd see little reason to keep the PowerMac. What really makes the Mac shine are its applications. Even commonly-used OSS programs, like VLC, are better in their OS X incarnation. Add to that the software you can only get on OS X, TexShop and Aquamacs in my case, then there is a compelling argument for OS X.

The Value Judgement

I would like to, for a moment, address the issue of value. The question is: is the PowerMac worth it? This is a complex question, with subjective elements, but there is no reason that it cannot lend itself to analysis. The PowerMac, as configured, would cost $2700 retail, if the added RAM were bought from a third party. The X2 cost $1700, and factoring in a hefty profit margin of 20%, what Apple makes on its high-end machines, would sell as a $2000 retail machine. The price difference comes to $700, just a bit below the average retail selling price of desktop computers. For the extra $700, the PowerMac is slower, louder, uses cheaper parts, and runs OS X. The mathematics of the situation are clear. If OS X is worth an extra $700 plus performance and silence to the buyer, the PowerMac is a good value. Since the PowerMac is staying by my desk, it's obvious what OS X and the software that runs on it is worth to me. However, to very many people, OS X and its applications will not be worth that much.

The Switch

I would also like to address "The Switch". The way I see it, switching was a very good thing, for multiple reasons. From a performance standpoint, the 970MP is not the savior of PowerPC on the desktop. It is, simply, too little, too late. A gross generalization of the above benchmarks would peg the G5, when running code not specially optimized for it, at about 85% the performance of the X2. As I said before, I consider this insignificant. However, let's look at it from a marketing perspective. 85% of the X2 4400+ puts the mid-range 970MP squarely below the lowest-end Athlon X2, the 2.0 GHz 3800+. That's not a good thing when the chip is in a machine that costs more than its competitors' high end ones. There is, of course, the issue of the upcoming PA Semi PowerPC chip. In my opinion, the PA Semi chip represents precisely what screwed PowerPC on the desktop to begin with. It is an embedded chip, and we all know how great it was for Apple to rely on an embedded chipmaker to supply their desktop processors. Furthermore, it's performance is lackluster compared to today's machines, much less the machines of 2007 with which it will compete. It's SPECFp is good, about as high as the best Opteron's, but its SPECint is at the level of the slowest Opterons available. The PPC970 and the Pentium 4 should have been a lesson to people that a chip with great floating-point performance and mediocre integer performance is not going to fly with developers. This is especially true considering that FPU performance is becoming less important with the advent of GPUs and GPU-enabled media libraries like CoreImage. PowerPC-lovers need to look hard at the Opteron and see why the market has embraced it so well. The Opteron is not the leader in any one category. However, it is an extremely well-balanced chip that shows great performance in a large variety of problem domains. It doesn't need great compiler technology to perform well, and it doesn't choke on particular types of code. It has a decent price, decent power usage, and is nicely scalable. It is, in short, everything that the PPC970 isn't, that the Cell isn't, and what Intel is hoping Conroe and Merom will be.

The Last Word

The PowerMac G5 is a frustrating machine. As a piece of hardware, it is inferior in almost every way to the Athlon X2 machine sitting next to it. That is not to say that it is a bad piece of hardware, but rather that it can't match up to a very excellent machine. However, software is what counts and OS X is the platform that runs the applications I want to run. For that reason alone, the PowerMac isn't going anywhere any time soon.

About the Author
Rayiner Hashem is a student of aerospace engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. His interests in the field of computing include operating systems, programming languages, and compiler technology.

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Table of contents
  1. "The Story"
  2. "The Interface"
  3. "The Software"
  4. "The Software, Continued"
  5. "The Snappy"
  6. "The Snappy, Continued"
  7. "The Inevitable"
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