The Low End Mac Mailbag

Penryn Advantages, Leopard on a G4 Cube, Scanner Advice, Upgrading Sawtooth, and More

Dan Knight - 2008.03.05 - Tip Jar

Penryn: Cache Not the Only Difference

From Ed Hurtley:

In your commentary [When Is 2.1 GHz Slower than 2.0 GHz? When It's the New MacBook] about the new processors in the MacBook and low-end MacBook Pro having less L2 cache than their predecessors, there is one other difference. The new "Penryn" processors also have more vector processing instructions, the "SSE4" instruction set. A few benchmarks have shown that these new instructions, when programs take advantage of them, can produce a 33% improvement in some activities (like media encoding: a.k.a. iMovie rendering to H.264,) at the same CPU speed.

AnandTech did a comparison of two nearly identical notebooks where the only difference was an older Merom processor and a newer Penryn processor. Same speed (2.6 GHz) but Penryn having the 6 MB L2 cache vs. Merom's 4 MB; and Penryn having the new SSE4 instruction set. Not only did Penryn make a noticeable boost in battery life, but they saw 30-40% performance improvements in applications that made use of SSE4. I'm really hoping Apple makes use of SSE4 in their H.264 encoder, as I would love to have a 30-40% performance improvement over what clock speed alone should provide. (That would make a hopefully-coming-this-Summer Penryn-based MacBook Air noticeably faster than my 2.0 GHz MacBook Pro, and would make for an acceptable upgrade.)

Basically, once applications start making use of SSE4, the "slower" 2.1 GHz/3 MB processor will be noticeably faster than the 2.0 GHz/4 MB processor. And, as you said, if 5% faster is unnoticeable, then the 2% slower in other tasks should be likewise unnoticeable. (While the 30% improvement in some tasks will definitely noticeable.)

Ed Hurtley

Ed,

It's tough to make comparisons, as every benchmark is weighted toward certain factors. Some get bogged down with slow hard drives, but Geekbench only looks at the CPU and memory. I haven't yet seen a head-to-head speed comparison of the 15" 2.4 GHz MacBook Pro, 2007 vs. 2008 models. Macworld has the numbers for both, but they didn't include the 2007 numbers in their review of the 2008 MBP.

Speedmark 5 Results

  • 2007: 199 overall, 1:17 Photoshop CS, 0:55 Cinema 4D, 2:08 Compressor 3, 0:50 iMovie HD, 1:06 iTunes 7.5, 69.9 fps Unreal Tournament, 5:01 Zip, and 3:02 HandBrake
  • 2008: 204 overall, 1:05 Photoshop CS, 0:53 Cinema 4D, 1:51 Compressor 3, 0:49 iMovie HD, 1:03 iTunes 7.5, 73.4 fps Unreal Tournament, 4:46 Zip, and 2:57 HandBrake
  • 2.5 GHz: 222 overall, 1:02 Photoshop CS, 0:51 Cinema 4D, 1:42 Compressor 3, 0:46 iMovie HD, 1:01 iTunes 7.5, 89.4 fps Unreal Tournament, 4:30 Zip, and 2:35 HandBrake

The new 2.4 GHz MacBook Pro with its 3 MB L2 cache outperforms last year's model in every test, yet the overall score is only 2.5% higher. The only two benchmarks where Penryn really runs past Merom are Photoshop (18.5% faster) and Compressor (15%), so we can guess that these programs make use of SSE4.

Based on Macworld's Speedmark results, the 2.5 GHz Penryn with its 6 GB cache is approximately 10% faster across the board. 4% of that can be attributed to clock speed; the other 6% should be attributable to the larger L2 cache.

Macworld hasn't yet published benchmark results for the Penryn MacBooks, but extrapolating from the above results, I'd expect last year's 2.2 GHz MacBook and this year's 2.1 GHz MacBook to have similar overall scores, with the 2008 MacBook only clearly winning the Photoshop and Compressor tests.

Some tasks will benefit greatly from the improved SSE4 engine in Penryn, while for other tasks the October 2007 models may generally outperform the new 2.1 GHz MacBook.

Dan

Why No LED Screen on the MacBook?

From Timothy Sipples:

Steve Jobs said that all Macs are going to have LED-backlit displays as soon as economically and technically feasible. Yet the February 26th MacBook refresh did not make the LED displays standard across the range.

The older CCFL technology contains mercury, and such LCD panels require special hazardous materials disposal. They also lose brightness over time, consume more electricity, and weigh more. Sony, to pick a competitor Steve often mentions, is much farther ahead, introducing LED displays across their range. Even Dell offers LED display options on many models, such as its XPS M1330 MacBook competitor. (And you know it's bad when Dell is "greener" than Apple.)

So why doesn't Apple take a page out of Dell's book and immediately offer a $150 LED display option on build-to-order MacBooks? Or make it standard on the BlackBooks? Apple already offers display choices for the MacBook Pros (glossy or matte on the 15 inch, and various choices on the 17 inch). Apple could charge a fair profit on the newer display for the MacBook and make more profit in 2008. Apple is already ordering lots of 13.3 LED screens for MacBook Airs.

There's precedent for Apple to introduce a mid-cycle BTO feature. On November 1, Apple introduced the 2.6 GHz processor option for the MacBook Pros.

Timothy Sipples

Timothy,

We know the screen exists - and so does Apple, as they're using it in the MacBook Air. But that's a considerably more expensive computer, and using LED backlighting helps keep it thin.

I'm sure it's a matter of economics: None of the build-to-order options for the MacBook require taking the book apart. Hard drive and RAM upgrades are done through a door in the battery bay. I'm sure the day will come when the MacBook gets LED backlighting across the board, and I like your suggestion that Apple make it the standard display for the black MacBook to help offset the "black tax".

Dan

Leopard on a G4 Cube?

From Melany Carmikele:

Dear Dan,

I have a G4 Cube sitting around the house as an extra computer it's been heavily upgraded and I wanted to know if I would be able to but Leopard on it I know it has to hacked to a degree to work on my Cube. So here are the specs.

  • 1.0 GHz PPC G4 CPU
  • 1.5 GB RAM
  • ATI Rage Pro 16 MB VRAM
  • 80 GB HD 7200 RPM
  • DVD-ROM drive

So do you think it would run sluggish ?

Melany

Melany,

I'm still living with Tiger, but based on field reports I've received, I think you'll find that Leopard will run decently on your Cube. However, you might want to look into a modern video card with Core Image support. Any AGP Radeon or GeForce card with at least 16 MB of video memory will do the job, and newer cards are better. Be sure to check which ones won't overheat in the Cube.

According to The Mac Elite, the GeForce 6200 series (which has to be flashed for use in a Mac) "is the most modern video card available for it." ($75 and up on eBay.)

Dan

Final Cut Works with Integrated Intel Graphics

From Matt Kaiser in response to Power Mac G5 Best Choice for Video Work?:

In spite of Apple stating that Final Cut Studio isn't supported on Intel-graphics based Macs, I have heard plenty of reports saying that they will run some of FCS's apps, just not Motion or Color, which really need the heavy-duty lifting power of a good GPU. The most important thing to know is that Intel machines won't run non-UB versions of Final Cut at all, so if your reader doesn't already have at least Final Cut Studio 1 with FCP 5.1, they will need to upgrade when getting a new machine. But the latest version of Final Cut, DVD Studio, Compressor, and Sound Track should be able to run on a Mac mini.

That being said (or typed, I suppose), I would highly recommend moving to an iMac over a mini for video use. I ditched my Power Mac G4 (1.3 GHz, 1 GB RAM, ATI 9600) for an Intel iMac, and I couldn't be happier. All my concerns about not having a "Pro" machine were quickly blown away by the gains in speed and productivity.

Frankly, I view the G5 as a "Band-Aid solution" processor. It was never able to reach the speeds promised by Apple, they continually had heat issues, and their performance isn't fast enough to warrant the expenses incurred when migrating from a G4 to a G5. And even though my iMac can't accept PCI cards or extra hard drives, I would rather have it than a Power Mac G5, simply because I can actually upgrade the processor on an Intel iMac (with some know-how), but there is no way to change out the processor on any G5.

Low End Mac is a fantastic site. I read it almost every day. Keep up the great work.

- Matt

Matt,

Thanks for writing and sharing your experiences. I've done some work with video on my dual 1 GHz Power Mac G4, and it's mostly a process of waiting for the computer to finish some process or another. It's excruciating, and I'd like to try it on the MacBook Pro my wife uses (with an external hard drive, as there's not much room to spare on the internal 80 GB drive.)

For those who need Classic Mode and lots of processing power, I can't even imagine how fast the 2.5 GHz Power Mac G5 Quad must be, but it's the ultimate PowerPC powerhouse. (With a Geekbench score of 3197, it has similar performance to a 2.4 GHz Core 2 iMac and only falls behind a quad-core 2.0 GHz Mac Pro by 13.4%. Of course, the 8-core 3.2 GHz Mac Pro benches at 8254 - over 2.5x the power of the Power Mac G4 Quad.)

We've gained a lot from the Intel transition. It didn't produce the less expensive Macs everyone had anticipated, it does saddle us with integrated graphics on the low end, and it cost us Classic Mode, but the raw power, the ability to run Windows, and the fact that we can now compare Macs to Windows PCs spec for spec work to our advantage.

Dan

Scanner Advice

From Patrick O'Reilly:

Greetings, I'm sorry to be a bother but I had a question that I thought you might be uniquely qualified to answer. If I recall correctly besides being knowing a fair share about Macs, you also know a fair amount about photography.

Well my problem is this. I have rare use for a scanner, and when I do I simply borrow my father's. His current setup is an old G4 450 (Sawtooth) running Panther, and I think he got his scanner around the same time he got the machine. So it's a little long in the tooth. I've been meaning to try and scan a bunch of old photos, but I have gone through this process before for the odd photo with his scanner, and it's not difficult, but it tends to be rather time consuming.

I don't really follow the world of scanner based technology news, and I wasn't sure if my dad's scanner not only had some possible connivence problems for me, but also if the resolution of today's scanners is appreciably better now too. I wasn't sure if they made a scanner that had something to help automize the process of photo scanning (in addition to a flatbed). I know there are scanner/printer combos, but that is not really a big deal for my dad. I guess a color printer would be nice, but he has a B&W laser printer, which is fine for him.

And lastly, if you do know of such a product, would it work in Panther? It's not a huge issue, as perhaps if I got him a scanner he would finally get around to getting a Mac that is a little more modern.

Thanks for your time, and keep up the good work. I first started reading Low End Mac in 1997 or 98 on my 6100 (with a G3 upgrade), and after a few years away from the Mac (it was 2001, I desperately needed a new machine, didn't really have the money for a new Mac, OS X seemed not ready yet, and I was intrigued by BeOS), I got 1.66 GHz Core Due mini as soon as they were announced. I love my mini, but the lack of a video card and the 2.5" drive are a bit annoying. But what are you going to do?

Patrick

Patrick,

Yes, I know quite a bit about Macs, and long before that, I got into photography. I think it was about 8th grade when my Dad took me to a photo show downtown sponsored by a local camera store. I was intrigued, grabbed every brochure I could lay my hands on, and learned all I could so I would make the right decision when I had the chance to get my own camera.

That was over 35 years ago, and I've been a Mac user for over 20 years now. In all that time, I've only owned one flatbed scanner, and then only because it was being sold at a close-out price of $149 including a full copy of Photoshop 4.0, if I recall correctly. I've never really used that SCSI scanner, although one of my sons did, and I'm anything but an expert on scanners.

That said, the situation is about to change here at Low End Mac headquarters. I have a Brother all-in-one laser printer, copier, and color scanner (MFC-7420) en route. I was tempted by a Canon, but my research indicated that it didn't support scanning on Macs. Anyhow, it has an optical resolution of 600 x 2400 dpi and an automatic document feeder.

I don't know if the document feeder will be suitable for snapshots, but I'll give it a try. I have hundreds (perhaps thousands) of old photos I'd like to scan and burn to CD for my sons. Since I doubt any of these will ever be printed bigger than 8x10, 600 dpi is going to be more than enough resolution to do them justice.

The only scanner I know of that's designed for photos is the Fujitsu SnapScan S510M, which retails for US$495 (Fujitsu also has a $50 mail-in rebate through the end of March). It's currently available from Amazon.com for US$405. Users rave over it, saying it has taken the agony out of scanning - and it's even compatible with Mac OS X 10.2.8.

It's not cheap, but if I could justify the cost, it would be my hands-down choice.

But I don't expect to do that much scanning. We do need a copier, which is our justification for this purchase, and I've been very happy with my Brother HL-5250DL, which has served me well for 1-1/2 years. (I prefer laser printers to inkjet, as they're not only faster but much cheaper to use in the long term.)

I'll know a lot more about scanners and scanning software soon. I do know that some programs let you scan a whole flatbed full of photos at once and save them as separate images, but I haven't researched any further than that.

Dan

Upgrading a G4/500 Sawtooth

From Steve Gier:

Hi Dan,

Mega-thanks for LEM. Incredibly helpful for those of us too poor to buy Apple's latest and greatest.

A question for you about upgrading my G4/500 Sawtooth (single processor) running Tiger.

Would it work if I installed a dual 500 processor (pulled from another Sawtooth, from eBay) in my machine? Or are there motherboard limitations on the single 500s?

Any insights or links to resources here are much appreciated.

Steve Gier

Steve,

It depends. There are different Sawtooth motherboards, and only "uni-n: 7" and later are compatible with dual processors. More details on the NewerTech website, including an OS X utility that can tell you which version you have.

Dan

Dan:

Thanks - I found that link after my e-mail to you. My is dual compatible, so installing a dual-500 should work.

Any caveats on installation? Or is it as simple as plugging in the processor and booting?

Also: Any chance that later G4 processors would work in the Sawtooth? - like, say a G4 MDD Dual 867 MHz processor?

Steve

Steve,

It should be as simple as plug-and-play. Should be. And a faster Apple CPU should be plug-and-play as well. Again, it should be. I have no experience here, as the only CPU upgrade I've done on a G4 was a NewerTech one, and it required that I flash the firmware.

Dan

Diablo II, Leopard, and PowerPC Macs

From Mike:

Dan,

I'm wondering if you can help me out here. I have two Power Mac G4s (Sawtooth w/ upgraded CPU and FW800 1.25 GHz), and I recently upgraded both to Leopard. The Sawtooth DP500 runs it fine, and the FW800 system is great with it. However, I have run into one unexpected problem. The video game Diablo II will not install. Actually, I don't know that it won't install, but the OS X native installer does not seem to work. I tried it on both systems, with the same results: The installer launches, plays a couple of seconds of music, then nothing. It does not freeze or anything as far as I can tell, as the menu bar items remain responsive; it just does not continue the installer.

I've checked both Apple's Discussion board (where I found one other instance of the same problem, but no solution) as well as Blizzard's technical forums. I've also put an email into Blizzard technical support, but have not heard back yet.

Basically I'm wondering if you or one of your readers have encountered a similar issue or perhaps know of a workaround.

Based on my research, this does not apparently affect Macintel's with Leopard.

It would be a shame to loose one of the few natively Mac OS compatible games (not simply "ported" from the PC version) out there.

Thanks for any info!

/Mike

Mike,

I did a bit of Googling, and it seems Macintel users are also being plagued with problems. I can't say that I'm surprised, as Diablo II is ancient - it first shipped in June 2000 and was designed to run under the Classic Mac OS, which isn't supported in Leopard. Blizzard released a patch that allows Diablo II to be installed under OS X and run as a Carbon application, and the latest versions of these are several years old and predate Tiger, let alone Leopard, so it's possible the installer simply won't work in Leopard.

Your options:

  • Install Tiger on a separate drive or partition and run Tiger when you want to play Diablo.
  • Install Tiger on your Mac, run the Diablo II installer, and then upgrade to Leopard. This avoids the whole issue of running the installer in Leopard.
  • Install the SheepShaver emulator and run Diablo II in Mac OS 8.1-9.1 in emulation.

Maybe our Mailbag readers will have some other suggestions....

Dan

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Dan Knight has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. Mailbag columns come from email responses to his Mac Musings, Mac Daniel, Online Tech Journal, and other columns on the site.

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