The Computer Blog

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Cinebench Runs - Four Macs Compared

As I promised, I spent some time running Cinebench 10 against most of the Macs in my house. The machines represented here are: (1) a 3.06 GHz with the ATI Radeon 2600HD GPU; (2) a 2.66 GHz dual-core, dual-processor Xeon Mac Pro with a NVIDIA GeForce 7300GT GPU; (3) a 2.33 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Mac Book Pro with the ATI Radeon X1600 GPU; and (4) a 2.0 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo iMac with a Radeon 2400 HD GPU.

There really were no surprises.

First, if you look at the “Single CPU Rendering” results, you can see that the machines line up according to clock speed, which is what you would expect. The 2.0 GHz iMac is the slowest while the 3.06 GHz iMac is the fastest.

Secondly, you can see the effect of both clock speed increases and the number of cores in the “Multiple CPU Rendering” results. Even the fastest dual core machine, the 3.06GHz iMac, cannot make up for the processing power gained by going to a dual core, dual processor set-up that is slightly slower in pure clock speed.

I think the most interesting chart, though, is the last one. This is measuring pixel shading using Open GL functions. Notice that all the ATI chipsets outscore the NVIDIA GPU. (The MacPro has the NVIDIA GeForce 7300GT video card.) I'm really interested in seeing what happens to its scores when the Mac Pro gets its Radeon 3870 HD video card within the next few weeks.

Keep the NVIDIA's weakness in mind as we take a look at some iLife benchmarks I’ll be posting over the next few days.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Barefeats Was Right!

It was Rob-art’s testing at his Mac performance website that alerted me to the problems with the NVIDIA 8800GS GPU chipset being used in Apple’s iMac. I keep a Mac Pro for really heavy graphics and video work and gaming, so my primary use for an iMac is to work with “everyday applications” and some light photography and video work. When I was ordering it some ten days or so ago, I decided to order a 3.06 GHz iMac with the Radeon 2600 XT GPU rather than the NVIDIA 8800GS GPU, not only to save me $150 but also to optimize the machine for the things I’d be using it for. Of course, I knew there was some possibility that updated drivers might improve the NVIDIA’s chip’s performance, but something in my gut told me that Rob is probably right about there being a fundamental flaw in the NVIDIA GPU when it comes to handling Core Image functions. I have to admit, too, I have a personal bias toward ATI chips, a holdover from my PC building days. I really love them, and I try to buy systems with them whenever I can.

Last night, I finally got the time to run a couple of the tests Rob-art used in his evaluation of the Radeon 2600 XT versus the NVIDIA 8800GS. When I ran the iMovie 7 Import test, the import time came out to be exactly the same as his (running the last generation’s 2.8 GHz iMac with the Radeon 2600), i.e., 40 seconds. While that was a bit of a personal disappointment, it showed that the GPU had more influence over the iMovie 7 import task than the CPU and that the Radeon is definitely the better GPU for the job. The extra speed of the 3.06GHz CPU came more into play when I performed the iDVD Encoding task. There, the task completed in 135 seconds versus Rob’s 147 seconds using the 2.8 GHz iMac running the same GPU. Both were significantly faster than the 3.06 GHz iMac running the NVIDIA 8800, as you can see here.

By the end of the holiday weekend, I hope to have run benchmarks using Cinebench 10, the iMovie 7 Import test, the iDVD Encode test, and perhaps one or two more test using my 3.06 GHz iMac, my 2.66 Mac Pro with its stock NVIDIA 7300 GT video card, and my 2.33 GHz MacBook Pro running its Radeon X1600 with 256MB, as well as my wife’s 2.0GHz Core 2 Duo AL iMac and her 2.0 GHz Core Duo MacBook. (I’d like to run Photoshop CS3 benchmarking tests, but the recently discovered 20 authorization/deauthorization limit for CS3 products make me hesitant to move a copy of CS3 around.) I will discuss the results here and probably also post them separately on my website to make them readily available without having to search through the blog. I am looking to buy the Radeon 3870 HD and run it in my Mac Pro when it’s released and will add its benchmarks to the mix as soon as I can. (Rob-art will have a more complete analysis on the 3870 and probably one up sooner than I will, so check there first if you’re interested in that. ) I’d especially love to tie in some Cinebench testing with the G5, G4, and AMD shootouts still posted on my site, but I’m not sure I’ve got a common version of Cinebench to run. That said, some of the machines benchmarked in those old articles are still in my family and most can run Cinebench 10 if I can get the owners to run it for me and send me the data.

It’ll be interesting to see how it all turns out and what I can put together, so I hope you’ll drop by every now and then to see what’s going on.

Microsoft Office 2008 SP1 May Hose File Launching

Though I hadn’t seen it myself, I had read at the MacFixIt website about problems some people were having with the Microsoft Office 2008 Service Pack 1 Update. Until last night. My wife mentioned in one of those asides that really mean “ I’m having a problem I need you to fix” that when she double-clicked on a Microsoft Office file, the correct application launched but the file refused to load. MacFixIT and the Mactopia websites both had a recommended fix, so I went into the troubleshooting with great hope I’d shortly have it solved and be a hero once again.

MacFixIt suggested I force OS X to update prebinding using terminal commands. So, I launched into the “sudo” world and typed “sudo update_prebinding -debug -root / -force”, hit the Return key, supplied her admin password, and hit Return again, and watched lines of code scroll quickly past as her iMac jumped though its prebinding hoops. Once it was done, I double-clicked on a Word file on her desktop. Word launched, but the file didn’t launch with it. I rebooted her iMac and tried it again and got the same result. Obviously, that hadn’t worked.

Microsoft, on the other hand, suggested if you had such a problem you use the Remove Office utility (in your Microsoft Office 2008 folder) to uninstall Office 2008. They wanted you to then reinstall Office 2008, download the SP1 (12.1.0) patch, update the installation, and then start it. So, I did all that, too. Immediately after, I double-clicked a Word file and it properly launched, so I closed Word and tried it again. It didn’t work!!! I had no idea what had changed in the five seconds since I had last launched the application, but obviously something had. So, I used Remove Office to uninstall Office again.

Using Spotlight, I hunted down every Microsoft Office related file I could find, especially preference files (.plist) and dragged them all to the Trash. I then re-installed Office 2008 from scratch. Once that was done, I confirmed that file launching using a double-click worked by using files in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint formats. I then installed the Microsoft Office 12.0.1 patch and confirmed that the double-click launch was still working. Out of time, I quit after calling up Microsoft Auto-Update and selecting “Manual” for the updating controller. The last thing I wanted was for that software to download the SP1 package while I wasn’t there and have my wife blindly install it (admittedly, that is something she almost never does).

Obviously, I didn’t fix the problem but have, for now, and using a workaround. I’ve asked my wife not to download and install the SP1 patch. I’m going to wait for Microsoft to issue a follow-up or wait for someone else to come up with a definitive answer to what’s causing the problem and relay a definitive fix. I’m not willing to spend all my time trying to fix the problem like I used to when I ran only Windows. I’ve got better things to do, real things to do, like working with the photos I shot at my wife’s nephew’s wedding last weekend. I realized last night I really screwed up by not shooting in RAW, but that’s a story for a whole ‘nother blog.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The iMac is Back!

My wild hair won out, and my new 24-inch iMac showed up on my doorstep yesterday afternoon. I had already rearranged my office to accommodate it, so I had only to unbox the thing, photographing it as I did, and set it up on my desk. I cranked it up and quickly hit the Migration Assistant, which I used to transfer all data from my Mac Pro sitting next to it. While the Assistant did do a cursory search of the Mac Pro’s hard drive to build an estimate of over 415 GB of data and applications to be transferred (58GB of that were applications), it didn’t let me select individual applications or folders to bypass; so, I resigned myself to letting it copy everything from the Mac Pro, including many gigabytes of material I knew I’d remove. In hindsight, I probably could have manually copied over much of the data and manually loaded what few applications I was going to transport over a lot faster; it took almost eight hours for the assistant to do it all by itself. (I was going nuts during the last hour staring at too many “4 minutes to go” prompts.)

Once it finished, I uninstalled all my Adobe CS3 applications except for Go Live 9, removed my Apple “pro applications” (Final Cut Studio, Live Type, Compressor, Motion, DVD Studio Pro, Soundtrack Pro, and Aperture), removed all the media associated with those applications, reinstalled Fusion and moved the Windows XP virtual machine from my Mac Pro to my iMac (The Mac Pro still can run XP using Boot Camp.), reinstalled Zinio to get it working again, removed a copy of Xplane 8, installed a copy of Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 for Mac, and ran Software Update. That was not all I wanted to do to configure the iMac for its new duties, but it ws all I could do last night. I had to get some sleep before going back to work.

This machine is the most elegant and beautiful computer I’ve ever seen. The 24 inch screen, even though only one inch larger and sporting the same native resolution as the Mac Pro’s Apple Cinema Display sitting across from it, seems to dwarf everything in the room. It definitely commands the center of attention when you walk into my office, beckoning you like some mystical portal into worlds of the unknown.

The machine is not totally silent, but is almost so. I can hear a small fan whirring some of the time, but it’s really down in the mud and must be listened for in an otherwise silent room. Even though I have a room light hanging from the ceiling and just slightly behind my head, reflections off the glossy screen are minimal. I had worried that the light’s reflection might be an annoying distraction. It’s not.
On the surface, the machine seems on par with my Mac Pro, which is honestly a little slower with its 2.66 GHz CPU’s. Nicely enough, the iMac came with 2 GB of RAM, but I’m going to kick it up to its 4GB maximum tonight. The unfortunate part of that is that I have to replace ALL the iMac’s native RAM, and I don’t currently have another Mac where that memory could be used to expand it. I’m buying my RAM from OWC (Other World Computing) and they have a “trade-in” program but I’d only get $20 for the whole 2GB. I’d rather keep it and hope I’ll find some use for it in the future.

I like being able to control iTunes with an Apple Remote again, though it’s a bit of a pain not to have a magnet or some other container on the unit to clip it to. That’s a cheap fix, Apple. You can provide a little plastic stand or an aluminum colored clip hat snaps onto the iMac’s side or top and lets you snap the remote into it. There needs to be something other than just having it lie around.

I haven’t tested out the machine’s interface with my scanner, but I plan to do that this evening after I perform the memory swap and confirm that’s okay.

The last thing I need to do to finish the machine’s configuration is an external hard disk big enough to handle Time Machine’s backing up of 500GB’s of data (well, it’s really only about 340GB right now). Once I do that, I’ll not only breathe easier but can remove all my personal data off the Mac Pro, which will free up space on it to be used for creative purposes.

As for you, my dear reader, I’ll be running some performance benchmarks you might find interesting as soon as I can. I intend to publish results using Cinebench and Imaginator and build comparisons not only with those published using a 3.06 GHz iMac with the Nvidia 8800GS GPU but with my Mac Pro and my current MacBook Pro. I also plan on buying the new ATI Radeon HD3850 video card this month and putting it in my Mac Pro, so I’ll have comparison results with it as well. It will probably be next week, though, before the first of this happens; so, stay tuned.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Adobe's Hidden 20 Times Activation Limit - Somebody Needs to Sue!

Whether you’re in a business or a ”prosumer” like me, you put out literally thousands of dollars to run and update Adobe software. A few years ago, “in order to fight piracy”, Adobe incorporated an activation scheme that played computer supercop by ensuring you only had two “activated” instances of the software, therefore enforcing license restrictions. Frankly, I’ve had no problem with that until now. Last night, I discovered that Adobe CS3 software has a limit of 20 activations/deactivations, and then it will refuse to run. Period.

In other words, Adobe is not only using activation to “enforce its anti-piracy” efforts but to ensure that the software has a limited lifetime.
This is totally unacceptable. Where is it stated in the EULA that the number of activations has a limit and that, if you hit it, the thousands of dollars you have invested in software gets flushed down the drain? Time to see if I have any legal beagle readers. If you’re one of those and a class action suit is up your alley, count me in.

Frankly, activation is proving, as it often has, to only hurt the people who are trying to live within the rules. As more of the user community becomes aware of how these types of DRM schemes are being abused by the companies instituting them, the whole thing will backfire. You can bet that if I hit the “20” time activation limit and Adobe refuses to turn my software back on, it will be the last time Adobe ever sees a dollar from me. And I will make sure that everyone I know who is even thinking about using Adobe software is discouraged from thinking about it.

So, why am I even worried about hitting the 20 activation limit? Well, since I bought CS3 and didn’t know about the limit, I’ve activated and deactivated the software several times as I’ve tried out various Macs or upgraded machines. The new iMac that will be arriving is a case in point. With its arrival, I’m changing priorities on which Mac is used for what, and that is causing me to move software around, which means activating and deactivating the software.

Are the folks in Adobe living in a cave? Do they not realize that there are lots of reasons why someone might move software packages around while still living within the terms of the EULA? Why isn’t this very important operating limit stated? Could it be that if most businesses knew it existed, they might do more than think twice about buying their software?

Somebody needs to sue.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Return of the iMac

I’ve said many times in this blog that I really loved iMacs. I’ve been using just my Mac Pro and my MacBook Pro to do all my work and while they were practical and simplified my software and data management chores, I still missed working with an iMac. The iMac is like the sexy woman next door; sooner or later, she’s gonna’ get to ya’. (Your mileage will vary; what you decide to do about that, if anything, is up to you.)

The ball started rolling over me when I bought my wife a new 20 inch aluminum iMac a few weeks back. I had been saving money to replace her two-year old 20 inch Intel Core Duo when Microcenter put the newer Core 2 Duo’s on sale. I took the plunge, and she loved the new machine. Getting her one also allowed me to play with a new iMac to see for myself the flaws and benefits of them. I could see what folks were talking about but the flaws certainly didn’t seem to impede my wife. I could side-step some of those issues anyway by buying the more expensive 24 inch iMac.
Ever since then, off and on, I’ve been stopping by the Apple Store to play with their 24 inch iMacs.

At first, I tried to make do by using my wife’s old 20 inch iMac. I liked it well enough, but the screen didn’t seem as bright as my Mac Pro’s 23 inch Apple Cinema Display and my eyes got a bit tired after four hours of using it. So, I packaged it up and shipped it off to one of my sons, settling in to continue using my Mac Pro as my one and only desktop. But, then, both my wife and a friend of mine (who owns a 24 inch iMac, by the way) suggested I look at going to dual monitor ops and turning my Mac Pro into more of a true creative workstation. I did that last night and immediately fell in love with it. While the optimum set-up would use two 23 inch Apple Cinema Displays, I’m having a great time running one 23 inch main display and one 20 inch side display. I do not want to give that up!

I’ve also been wanting to take the Mac Pro back to its original purpose, i.e., photo and video editing, and do so with a vengeance this year, as well as start back into my fiction writing again. More of its time will be taken up with encoding and rendering duties, so I wanted another machine for my everyday correspondence and my fiction writing. Yes, I could do that at a lot less cost by simply buying another 23 inch display and throwing the job back to my MacBook Pro hooked to the 20 inch display, a mouse, a keyboard, and running the MBP off an external hard disk. But I wanted something more elegant than that. In other words, I was in love with the look and ergonomics of the aluminum iMac, and I wanted one.

To make it worse, Apple released a 3.06 GHz that had crawled past the mythical 3 GHz barrier. Like Chuck Yeager crawling into the X-1 to chase the demon in the sky, it was something I HAD to pursue. It’s been too long since I’ve written any benchmarking articles about the Mac. With this machine, I COULD…

Lastly, my wife’s guilt had gotten to her; and in her state of being undeserving of a new iMac, she has been encouraging me to get one, too. Better than hers, of course. A 24 incher. And 3 GHz.

So, I did.

It’ll be here next week.