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BARE FEATS LAB - real world Mac speed tests

3D SHOOTOUT at 2560x1440:
iMac Core i5 versus Core i7
versus 'Big Brother'

Posted Wednesday, November 25th, 2009, by rob-ART morgan, mad scientist

Two questions we seek to answer:
1. Does the iMac Core i7 run 3D graphics intensive apps faster than the Core i5? After all, they both have the same graphics processor (Radeon HD 4850). Our hypothesis is that, though the Core i7 if faster running CPU intensive apps, when running 3D apps at max quality and highest rez, the GPU should be the bottleneck.
2. Is a Mac Pro with a similar GPU (Radeon HD 4870) significantly faster than the quad-core iMacs when doing 3D graphics intensive functions?

MP R4870 = 8-core 'early 2009' Mac Pro 2.93GHz with 12G of RAM and Radeon HD 4870 and 30" Cinema LCD display
iMac i7 = 4-core 'late 2009' iMac 2.8GHz Core i7 with 12G of RAM and Radeon HD 4850
iMac i5 = 4-core 'late 2009' iMac 2.66Ghz Core i5 with 8GB of RAM and Radeon HD 4850

In all cases, the tests were run at 2560x1440 resolution which is the maximum of the 27" iMac Core i5 and i7 screen. When the application didn't support that setting on the Mac Pro's 30" Cinema display, we used 2560x1600.

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars' advanced settings were all maxed out plus we set Multisamples to 4X. Resolution was 2560x1440. We used our recorded demo file which we call "BF." (Graph numbers are "frames per second.")

Call of Duty 4's settings were all maxed out plus we set Anti-aliasing to 4X. We used a demo file called "mac_pipeline." (The iMacs were at 2560x1440. The Mac Pro was at 2560x1600. Graph numbers are "frames per second.")

Our World of Warcraft graph shows the average FPS of our Narache Village "run" at "Ultra" settings, 4X Multisampling. The iMacs were at 2560x1440. The Mac Pro was at 2560x1600.

Our WoW test occurs in FireTree realm. Our warrior stands next to the totem pole at the entrance to Camp Narache (Red Cloud Mesa). He runs East toward the large tree at the top of the hill. Turns around and runs West back to the totem pole. Using Titan Performance addon, we are able to capture min, max, and average frame rate. This test has proven to be a reliable measure of GPU power. I realize that when you are in the heat of conflict surrounded by many active characters, your WoW performance is more of a function of CPU speed and memory than GPU. But that's not what we're testing here.

Using a recorded flight of the X-15 being dropped from a bomber, we used the Terminal app to benchmark X-Plane 9.22 at 2560x1440, high quality textures, 2X AA, and 4X Aniso. (Graph numbers are "frames per second.") We plan to update the graph with X-Plane 9.40 results once we have more experience benchmarking with that version.

Macsoft Halo (Universal Binary Version) was set to max quality with anti-aliasing set to 4X. (All three Macs ran at 2560x1440 resolution. Graph numbers are "frames per second.")

OpenGL Extensions Viewer has a Test tab. We chose Standard Framebuffer, 4X Multisampling, 8X Anisotropy, Fog, Benchmark, and Transparency. (The iMacs were at 2560x1440. The Mac Pro was at 2560x1600. The graph below shows the framerates of the OpenGL 2.0 Extension.)

It's a Toss Up between Quad Core iMacs
The iMac Core i7 (quad-core) with the same Radeon HD 4850 as the Core i5 is not any faster when doing 3D graphics intensive functions at max quality and max resolution (2560x1440). However, the Mac Pro with a Radeon HD 4870 is 45% to 53% faster than both.

My conclusion is that if you are trying to decide which of the two quad-core iMacs to choose for 3D gaming or other 3D graphics intensive tasks, either one will do the job. Also, those of you hard core Mac users who invested in a Mac Pro need not feel threatened by the quad-core iMacs if you have a fast graphics card like the Radeon HD 4870 or the even faster GeForce GTX 285.

We didn't include the older Core 2 Duo iMacs in this article because their 24" LCD screen maxes out at 1920x1200. We'll post a follow-up page with results for 1920x1200 later this week which will include the fastest Core 2 Duo iMac and possibly other permutations of iMac or Mac Pro running at that resolution.

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copyright 2009 Rob Art Morgan
"BARE facts on Macintosh speed FEATS"