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Performance Shootout: Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard vs. Windows 7 64-bit

Mac OS X Snow Leopard vs. Windows 7 64-bit: Desktop OS ShootoutMac OS X Snow Leopard vs. Windows 7 64-bit: Desktop OS Shootout

The two most popular desktop operating systems (in terms of new sales) are Windows 7 and Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, however, little is known about their relative efficiency and performance. Our goal here is to set up an epic shoot out between these two operating systems (ideologies?), to crown a new champion in the operating system wars.

The goal of this simple test is to determine which operating system performs best when it comes to everyday applications. For the purposes of this test, we chose Adobe Photoshop CS5 Extended (64-bit) as the test bed application. For many applications, such as Microsoft Word, performance is not generally an issue. However, more CPU-intensive applications like Photoshop can easily slow down when given very large photos, or every complex jobs. Photoshop also takes advantage of multi-threading. Thus, we believe it is a great candidate for putting each operating system through its paces. The test was run on a latest-generation Core i5 2.4 Ghz MacBook Pro running both operating systems in a dual-boot configuration (see full specs below).

The liquefy tool was used three times to apply complex meshes to a large 4K photograph. We then timed the results of 3 runs from a fresh boot for both software environments. Identical software, identical hardware, different OSes. Here are the results:

Performance on Mesh 1: Mac OS X 10.6 vs. Windows 7 (shorter is better, time is in seconds)Performance on Mesh 1: Mac OS X 10.6 vs. Windows 7 (shorter is better, time is in seconds)

Performance on Mesh 2 (Shorter is Better)Performance on Mesh 2 (Shorter is Better)

Performance on Mesh 3 (Shorter is Better)Performance on Mesh 3 (Shorter is Better)

For each of the three meshes, there is about a 10-20% difference in performance, with Windows 7 64-bit gaining the upper hand, showing the consistently shortest times. The more complex meshes see a larger difference than the simplest mesh (Mesh 3). The liquefy tool is a floating point and memory intensive task. There are several possibilities that might explain the difference: (1) differences in implementation between the Mac and Windows versions explain the difference, (2) differences in the Mac and Windows kernels explain the difference, (3) background processes (e.g. the Mac Dashboard) used additional resources on the Mac, slowing down Photoshop, or (4) power management features designed to conserve battery life on the Mac limit performance (both operating systems were configured to maximize performance).

Whichever the case may be, there does appear to be a clear champion: Windows 7 64-bit. This also agrees with video game performance, which admittedly does depend on the GPU drivers, between operating systems but video games do still involve substantial CPU calculations as well.

Now, in fairness, Adobe and Apple have had a bit of a tiff (understatement) lately and so it is of course possible that less attention has been paid to the Mac version of Photoshop. This seems unlikely, though, since Adobe has significant numbers of Mac users of its products and continues to heavily support the platform.

The winner: Windows 7 64-bit

MacBook Pro 2.4 Ghz
Intel Core i5 520M 2.4 Ghz
NVIDIA GeForce GT 330M with 256MB
256 GB SSD

by Margaret Walker on Wed, 12/01/2010 - 09:48


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