Another look at the 20″ iMac Core Duo

Two weeks ago we arrived in Seattle. We planned at least seven weeks here. Being gone for so long required that I set up a portable office so Jen and I could work. She brought her laptop, I limited myself to the PowerBook and 20″ iMac Core Duo. Upon arrival, I accepted a one week contract job helping out Microsoft. That contract meant putting my iMac to work in new ways.

My project was the instruction of a course on LAMP (Linux Apache MySQL PHP/Perl/Python) development. I had to document a process by which Microsoft employees could install LAMP on their computers and then use the LAMP stack in a development environment. Of course, it had to be delivered in the form of Word docs and PowerPoint “decks.” With that in mind, I had to have several things all running at the same time:

  • Windows XP
  • LAMP: Linux (via virtualization)
  • MS Word & PowerPoint

While instructing the course, I learned quite a few things about my Core Duo iMac, Parallels Desktop, and MS Office under Rosetta.

For starters, and reference, Parallels Desktop does a great job of running Windows XP. Previous to this contract, I had no problems running XP under it, but I had not really used it other than to boot it up and see that it worked.

Parallels Desktop & Boot Camp
While Parallels Desktop lets me run XP under Mac OS X, it is not quite as good as rebooting into XP via Boot Camp. I ran into a limitation when I installed and attempted to use Virtual PC 2004 for Windows. It simply will not run under XP when XP is running under Parallels, giving a “CPU not supported” error. Since I needed Virtual PC 2004 to work, I had to reboot into Windows under Boot Camp.

When Jon, the project manager, came over to broadcast the Live Meeting from my house, he looked at Windows XP on the screen and asked, “Where’s the computer?” I replied, “that is the computer.” Apple hardware rocks. As I have pointed out in previous articles, and continue to be surprised by, Windows XP runs much faster and smoother under Boot Camp on my iMac than on the dual 3.0GHz Xeon server I have. I was reminded of how “authentic” my experience was when MSN Messenger asked to enable my video camera. When I allowed it, the system promptly rebooted. I let it try once more with the same results before disabling the built-in iSight’s hardware profile. Am I the only one that finds it inexcusable that a vendor supplied chat program can crash the operation system?

MS Office & Core Duo Macs
Previously I noted that PowerPC apps like MS Office work just fine on the new Core Duo systems running under Rosetta. I have found that my assertation was a bit hasty. While Office does run and appears to work fine, when I began using it I found its performance is intolerably slow. I had to generate a number of PowerPoints and Word docs. None were very large, 15-30 slides for PowerPoint and 5-15 page Word docs. I started out building them on the iMac in Office 2004 but redraws, scrolling, and general use was too slow. This is on a 2GHz Core Duo with 2GB of RAM!

How slow is “too slow?” I did not bother with benchmarks because I had work to do. When I grabbed a scroll bar and drug, I would have to drag and wait for the screen to update, and it would often take up to a second and sometimes a few to redraw a page or a slide. This was after turning all of the auto-* features. If you are content with the speed of OS X or XP on a 4 year old computer, then the performance would be acceptable to you. For everyone else, if you must use Office regularly, avoid the new Intel powered Mac system unless you intend to buy the new version of Office the day it ships so you get get decent performance again.

I worked around the problem in two ways. The first was by running Office under XP (under Parallels). The rest of the time I edited the files on my aged but trustworthy G4 PowerBook. To summarize, the Core Duo equipped macs are really great systems, but if you spent a good portion of your day working in Office or any other app that is not yet Universal, you will want to continue using a PowerPC based Macintosh.

7 Comments

  1. From everything I’ve seen and heard, the “virtualization” that 10.5 will include will be the final release of Boot Camp. Ie, it will not be virtualization per se, but the ability to dual boot into Windows. This method is extremely robust, easy to support (simply provide hardware drivers), and will work with any and all Windows software.

    Its hard to say, but I think Apple will leave the Parallels type solution to third parties like Parallels, VMware, and Microsoft (if they bother releasing a newer Virtual PC). I expect that enough that I have already bought Parallels Desktop at the pre-release price, which is a bargain at $40.

    What I would love to see is a decent set of Win32 APIs (like WINE) built into OS X 10.5, so you can install and run Windows software without having to install Windows. The folks over at Darwine are working away at it and some basic Windows apps work now. With Apple’s resources, they could have a solution that would run 75% of the Windows software without having to buy Windows.

    The ability to run Windows is already selling tons of Apple computers. I just helped my father-in-laws lady set up her new 17″ iMac Core Duo, complete with Windows XP installed. Two years ago she wouldn’t hear of switching, but her Sony laptop recently shared a can of Coke with her. Now it is a very cool toy for Kayla. Being able to have XP to fall back on was the key to overcoming her resistance to switching and now she has a very nice Mac.

    If Apple can make it easy for these casual PC users to run Windows software without having to reboot (ala Boot Camp) and without paying for a Windows license, then the barriers to entry are significantly reduced. Just walk into any store, buy either Windows or Mac software, and it will “just work.” If a feature like that shows up, I’ll have to mortgage my daughter to buy more Apple stock.

  2. Jay

    I’ve been enjoying a bit of back-and-forth with my brother-in-law over the latest “Get A Mac” TV ads; he can’t stand them, of course (he’s a hardcore PC geek). He feels they’re oversimplified and misleading. My argument is that the ads aren’t for people like him; Apple knows there’s a segment of folks who just won’t consider a Mac, and the ads are targeting folks like your … jeez, what would you call her? Never mind.

    Anyway, he likes to take apart his machines and get into the guts, and Macs just aren’t meant for that for the most part (from what I understand; feel free to correct this noobs perspective if necessary). He’s also guilty of stereotyping every Mac fanatic as just that.

    I keep poking holes in his thoughts whenever possible, mostly from stuff I read here. 😉

  3. Like most geeks, your brother-in-law apparently does not understand marketing. One of the biggest differences between good and great marketing is the simplicity of the message. Of course the ads are overly simple, they are 30 second spots.

    I wonder if he feels the least bit misled when Microsoft claims that their software is more secure than a bank vault, or when Microsoft claimed Linux was more expensive than Windows (see also eWeek article)? Look into those a bit and they are not just misleading, they are outright deceptive. Does that bother him?

    It is also quite obvious that your brother-in-law is a PC user and not a hardcore developer. How do I know? It’s obvious because about 3-4 years ago, all the hardcore developers, IT managers, and PC uber-geeks became substantially less ignorant of Mac OS and Apple hardware. Since then, you can go to any computer industry trade show these days and you will see more Apple laptops than any other brand. Why? Because it is great hardware.

    Granted, quite often those Apple laptops are running Linux (and/or Mac OS) but that is half the point; the Mac is a PC. Now, perhaps you are using the definition of a PC as a computer that runs MS Windows, and if so, then the Mac is still a PC by that same definition! The Intel based macs run XP just like any other PC.

    So what must be meant by “hardcore PC geek” is “hardcore Microsoft zealot.” That is just fine, send him over to Microsoft’s Get the Facts web site and let him drink the Kool Aid. Meanwhile, the brain drain from the Microsoft developer community will continue as they migrate away to OS X, Linux, and other Open Source solutions.

    Some great ammo can be taken from folks who are baised but honest enough to admit it. The Mini Microsoft blog is fantastic and it explains in great detail why Microsoft is currently falling behind. Another great article is Broken Windows Theory, also by a Microsoft insider. Of course, Computerworld also has some great articles, such as the 20 things you won’t like about Vista.

    The times, they are a changing. Those willing to remain within the Gates of an overpriced computing monoculture are jumping out the Windows. Last year I finally liquidated our Microsoft stock after holding it through years of underperformance. Read some of the info at the links I referenced and I think most sane people would arrive at similar conclusions to mine. The smart money has moved on.

    And about that tinkering…apparently your brother-in-law hasn’t seen a G3, G4, or G5 PowerMac in the last 5 years? Or a Centris or Quadra before that? Or even a Mac II from way back at the beginning? All have cases that easily open, exposing all the guts, including PCI slots, RAM slots, etc, etc. There might even be some photos of a couple dual G5 systems opened up here: http://matt.simerson.net/gallery/v/eBay/. Apple has always had their pro series of desktop computers.

    Now, ask yourself which Operating System is better suited for tinkerers. Microsoft Windows, or Mac OS. You can go download the sources for Darwin, the foundation of Mac OS and tinker away. Try doing that without spending dearly for a MSDN account, which will only get you access to very limited portions of source.

  4. Jay

    First, I should apologize to my brother-in-law should he ever stumble upon your blog — after re-reading my comment, I painted a pretty unfair picture of him. 😉 He’s certainly no close-minded Microsoft zombie, though much of his recent employment has required him to become uber-familiar with that line of software, leaving him little time to play with anything else. (I’m probably just digging myself a bigger hole here — JDOS, I’m really not trying to take any jabs at you here, honest.)

    Anyway, you must admit that even though the Mac pro line of desktops has always been “tinkerable” (is that a word?), they’ve been priced at a point that would keep most people from picking one up if they neither had a desire to learn OSX (or 8 or 9 or whenever the first G3 came out) nor appreciated the Apple aesthetic. Why drop a couple grand when you can build a Wintel desktop for several hundred? Those barriers are still there, though Apple has yet to introduce their pro line of Intel-based desktops (though I can’t imagine the price will drop all that much).

    I’d gladly concede that in the laptop arena, Macs are far closer or better in all areas (price, software, aesthetics, etc.) — I don’t think that’s arguable, frankly.

    Anyway, thanks for the links; they’re great reading. And again, sorry to both you and my brother-in-law for making him out to be something he’s not. 😉

  5. “Why drop a couple grand when you can build a Wintel desktop for several hundred?”

    Surely you are kidding? I will admit that Apple hardware has been premium priced until recently. However, even when the G3 systems were out, they weren’t that overpriced. You can’t get or build a Wintel worth using for several hundred bucks. Perhaps I’m just a hardware snob, but decent Wintel hardware (of which I have bought much to install *BSD or Linux on) never cost substantially less than MacOS hardware. Sure, you could pay less, but you were getting less.

    In my experience, buying cheap PC hardware has never ended up costing less than buying good PC hardware. You make more trips to the store buying cooling fans, power supplies, CPU and RAM upgrades, and before long you have piles of those inexpensive parts laying around to keep that cheap PC running.

    Of course, my perspective is slightly skewed by using computers as productivity tools. If it breaks, someone can’t do their job while it is being repaired. Somebody else, whose time I am paying for, is repairing it. The total cost of ownership for a Mac is quite a bit less than a PC and it has almost always been that way. As a simple litmus test, check out the price of used Macs on eBay. Sure, I used to pay more to buy a Mac, but I also got more when I sold it. The cost of ownership is a much more important metric to me than price.

    Here’s some more information on TCO. 🙂

    http://www.securityawarenessblog.com/
    http://www.networkworld.com/best/2006/022706bestbreaker-schwartau.html?page=1

  6. Rainer Duffner

    About the price of Apple-HW vs. the rest:
    The low end is certainly “lower” in Wintel-o-crap-PC-land.
    But just go to the Apple Store website and spec a Dual DualCore G5 upto the maximum (16 GB RAM etc, perhaps minus the FC-card and the X-Serve RAID).
    Now, go to SUNs or HPs website and spec a comparable workstation.

    You’ll probably find that the G5 will undercut the XW9300 or Sun Ultra40 relatively fast.
    (OK, this is comparing list-prices, but nevertheless it’s remarkable)

    It’s also telling that in 20 years of trying, none of the PC-“manufacturers” were able to build something like the Mac-Mini. Aopen tried, but failed.
    Now, 2006, Apple comes along, having refused to build “Intel PCs” for as long as they existed and poof: even their first try of an Intel laptop is better than 99% of the rest of the market. Beating vendors that did nothing in the last 20 years but build Intel-Laptop after Intel-Laptop (one might also argue that they really did nothing anyway).
    They also re-created the MacMini as Intel MacMini in the same form-factor – which again no other manufacturer achieved.
    This actually makes me really angry: we had to put up with all the crap, because vendors were too lazy to read the Intel-specs on how to actually build sensible PCs.

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