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BARE FEATS - real world Mac speed tests


"Stock" 15 inch PowerBook 1.5GHz
versus "Configure-To-Order" --
64MB or 128MB VRAM?
4200RPM or 5400RPM Drive?

Originally posted May 13th, 2004, by rob-ART morgan, mad scientist
Updated May 14th, 2004, with Quartz Extreme Benchmark Results
Updated May 17th, 2004, with battery life test results
Updated July 9th, 2004, with price increase on 128MB VRAM

QUESTION #1: "Does the optional 128MB of Video Memory (VRAM) make the PowerBook run faster?"

Hypothesis: It will only affect graphics speed in situations where the video memory capacity is pushed to the limit. To illustrate this, we hooked both PowerBooks to an external 22" Cinema display and ran our tests at 1600x1024 resolution with all video effects set to "highest" quality.

CONCLUSION #1: It DOES make a difference if you run 3D apps at extreme settings. But Quartz 2D and Quartz Extreme operations are not enhanced with extra video memory.

In the three 3D games run above, the PowerBook with 128MB of video memory gained 6% on Quake3 Demo Four and 14% on UT2003 Flyby over the 64MB model. Halo would not run in 1600x1024 mode on the 64MB version. But when we ran both machines in 1280x1024 mode, the 128MB version was 28% faster. However, Unreal Tournament 2004 only ran 1% faster.

WHAT ABOUT QUARTZ 2D? When we ran Xbench's Quartz 2D test, the results were the same for both machines. When we ran our Photoshop 400% zoom scrolling test, the results were virtually identical.

WHAT ABOUT QUARTZ EXTREME? Some of my programmer friends theorized that the extra video memory should speed up Quartz Extreme functions. I disagreed. I argued that graphics processor speed is the key, not graphics memory size, since Apple's documentation states you only need 16MB of video memory for Quartz Extreme functions.

I saw an interesting graph on Apple's Quartz Extreme Page from a benchmark called "Window Move." I was able to get a copy of a similar application that creates hundreds of buffered, semi-transparent windows in various sizes, shapes, and locations. Check out the results:

As you can see above, the times were the same even when both the PowerBook built-in display and the external Cinema display were active.

If you are planning to special order your PowerBook direct from Apple (or Small Dog), you might as well get the 128MB video memory upgrade -- Why? -- because at $50, it's a bargain. (NOTE: As of July, 2004, the upgrade has been upped to $100.)

QUESTION #2: Should I special order my PowerBook with the 5400rpm drive?

HYPOTHESIS: It won't make a big difference.

In our initial tests, we used a 5400rpm Fujitsu and 7200rpm Hitachi drive in a external FireWire 800 case. We felt at the time that it was valid, but since then we've been able to get test results from the actual internal Toshiba MK8026GAX 5400rpm drive Apple sells online, as well as the Hitachi 7K60 7200rpm drive that we wish Apple would offer. Our hypothesis is WRONG, as you can see from the graphs below.

CONCLUSION #2: The PowerBook gets a kick in the pants from the 5400rpm drive that makes the $50 option well worth it.

In our real world tests above, the 5400rpm drive rebooted 17% faster. The cumulative launch time for Adobe's GoLive CS, Adobe's Photoshop CS, Apple's Final Cut Pro HD, and MacSoft's Unreal Tournament 2004 was 52% faster with the 5400rpm drive.

Will the optional 5400rpm drive on the new PowerBook use more battery power than the standard 4200rpm drive? According to the specs published by Toshiba, the 5400rpm "GAX" uses 9% more watts for reading/writing and 15% more watts for startup compared to the 4200rpm "GAS." We ran a battery life test suggested by a reader. We looped the playback of a 30 minute QuickTime movie. At 6GB, the movie was too big for the PowerBooks' 1GB memory, so it forced regular access of the hard drive. We ran the test on our two new Aluminum G4/1.5GHz PowerBooks, one with 80GB 4200rpm drive, one with 80GB 5400rpm drive. They both lasted the same length of time until the "reserve power" message came on: 2.25 hours.

Now I know Apple rates the battery at 4.5 hours. I've never had an Apple laptop that lasted the full rated time. So this is nothing new. In fairness to Apple, when we used the PowerBook in a normal session of Safari, Mail, MS Office, iCal, etc., it lasted 3.5 hours.

The two variations of the Aluminum G4/1.5GHz 15" PowerBook were actually purchased by Bare Feats labs for long term testing. The standard version was purchased at the local Apple Retail Store.

Apple Store

Though Apple sometimes offers 50% off on memory upgrades, we found it cheaper to buy from third parties. We like TransIntl and Other World Computing (OWC) because they sell good quality memory at good prices. We recommend at least 1GB of memory in your PowerBook for minimal virtual memory "thrashing."

The internal Hitachi 7K60 numbers came from a remote scientist who works for MacTrainers. He bought his 1.5GHz PowerBook and 7K60 drive from MacTown.

If you ordered your PowerBook with the 4200rpm drive, you can upgrade to the same 5400rpm drive Apple offers as a configure-to-order option -- but it will cost more than $50. How about $240 from Other World Computing? If you have your heart set on putting a Hitachi 7200rpm 7K60 inside your PowerBook, they are going for $230 at

Some of our favorite PowerBook accessories include:

Notebook size external bus powered FireWire 800 enclosure (with 7200rpm Hitachi 7K60 drive) from vendors like FWDepot, TransIntl, and Wiebetech.

JRHill & Company PowerBook G4 black leather Sleeve and Keyboard Protector (from cows who died of old age, of course)

Two Tumi Bags -- 9602 Small Expandable Computer Brief (which goes everywhere my PowerBook goes) and the 26002 Wheel-A-Way Brief (a must when traveling to MacWorld Expo)

Road Tools' Podium CoolPad (helps air circulate under the PowerBook, keeping it cool)

For noise suppression, nothing beats ear covering headphones like the Bose Quiet Comfort 2. For ear "fobs," we use the Bose In-Ear Headphones when listening to our iPod -- Help support Bare Feats by ordering your Bose headphones from Sharper Image.

(Read Bettay's articles on some of the above accessories.)

Has BARE FEATS helped you? Then how about donating to my PowerBook fund?

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1995-2004 Rob Art Morgan
"BARE facts on Macintosh speed FEATS"
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