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Benchmarks: Windows XP on the MacBook Pro

Adobe After Effects, Photoshop and Illustrator performance tests By Dave Nagel
I suppose it's appropriate that the first time I use Windows XP it be on a Mac. Weird, but appropriate. But a man has to do what a man has to do, and my task is to see how well creative software runs on the Apple MacBook Pro in the Windows environment. The results were surprising. I expected it to be fast, seeing how native Mac software is so fast on this notebook, but I never expected it to be this fast--surpassing, in some cases, desktop systems running on G5, Xeon and Opteron chips.

The significance of this speed is two-fold. As we've seen from some previous benchmarks, non-native applications running in Mac OS X can, at times, be cripplingly slow--After Effects, LightWave, Maya, etc. And so, for those adopting the Intel-based Mac platform before these applications run natively in Mac OS X on Intel hardware, there's a need for an interim solution. While working in Windows may not be the ideal solution (to put it mildly), it is a solution.

The second significance is for those who already work on multiple platforms and are considering using the MacBook as the one-stop solution to their needs. It used to be that if you worked on multiple platforms (Mac and Windows), you had to buy two separate machines. Now, with Intel-based Mac systems and Apple's Boot Camp technology, you can accomplish it all on one piece of hardware--and without a sacrifice in performance, unlike the days of VirtualPC and other stop-gap solutions.

So what kind of performance can you expect to see when you're running Windows on the high-end MacBook? In a word: impressive. We've seen in previous benchmark tests that the MacBook, when running software written natively for it, can outperform or at least keep pace with mid-range and low-end G5 desktop systems. Well, Windows XP runs natively on this hardware as well, as do the applications that run under it. And the result is that not only does cross-platform software running under Windows on the MacBook hold up against G5 desktop systems, but it also hold up against multi-processor Xeon and Opteron systems as well.

That's pretty scary for a laptop.

For this benchmark analysis, we'll take a look at the performance of the Adobe Creative Suite--After Effects, Photoshop and Illustrator--running under Windows on the MacBook. In the next (and final) installment in this series, we'll take a look at 3D software (Maya, LightWave and Cinema 4D) running under Windows. We'll discuss the process of using Boot Camp in a separate article, along with an overall review of the MacBook Pro.

For these benchmarks, we're running Windows XP SP2 on a MacBook Pro equipped with a 2.16 GHz Intel CoreDuo chip, 2 GB RAM and a petit 10 GB partition allotted to Windows via Apple's Boot Camp preview release software. The Windows systems (except for the MacBook) were tested using After Effects 6.5 (the only version available for those systems at the time), while the rest were tested using After Effects 7. In separate tests, results between AE 6.5 and AE 7 have proved to be similar, if not identical, so the comparisons are valid.

If you're interest in reading our previous benchmark analyses testing software running under Mac OS X on the MacBook, please follow these links.

? MacBook Pro Benchmarks: Final Cut Studio 5.1
? MacBook Pro Benchmarks 2: Adobe Apps in Rosetta
? MacBook Pro Benchmarks 3: 3D Performance

Adobe After Effects
The first shock for me in this latest round of benchmarks came from Adobe After Effects 7. The fastest Mac that has ever existed was the G5 Quad. It took four 2.5 GHz G5 processors to allow the Mac to compete in any significant way against the workstation counterparts on the Windows side--dual Xeon systems, quad Opteron systems, etc. But the MacBook, running on a mobile dual-core chip, manages to compete easily against a dual 3.6 GHz Xeon system and hold its own against a quad Opteron system. It doesn't beat the Opteron in After Effects tests, but it does tie it in two cases and lags not far behind in others. That's quite an accomplishment for a notebook computer priced actually a few thousand dollars less than the high-end Xeon and Opteron systems.

Here are the results of the tests.

These are the same tests, using the same project files, that we ran on the MacBook under Mac OS X. Of course, in Mac OS X, these tests had to be filtered through Rosetta, since AE for the Mac does not yet run natively on Intel hardware (and presumably won't for some time).

Test 1 was a simple cel-style animation that involves a PICT file and tracing paths. In Rosetta, the MacBook lagged slightly behind every other system. In Windows, it tied or beat the fastest systems involved in these tests, except for the quad Opteron 280.

Test 2 was a composite using a variety of effects. It's present only for continuity with previous benchmarks. It can't be run in After Effects 7 (only 6.5 or lower), so it was left out of the MacBook results.

Test 3 involved the animation of layers from Photoshop and Illustrator documents with 3D effects and random sequencing of numbers across the screen. Under Rosetta, the MacBook lagged woefully behind all other systems. But running natively under Windows, it beat the dual 3.6 GHz Xeon and fell in just a few seconds behind the G5 Quad and quad Opteron 275 systems.

Test 4 is a 2D composite originating in Adobe Illustrator and rendered out at 720 x 486. In test 4, didn't beat or tie any of the other systems tested, except the Rosetta configuration. Still, it was only about 20 percent behind the quad Opteron 275.

Test 5 involved moving shapes around in 3D space. In this test, the MacBook beat both the dual 2.0 GHz G5 and the dual 3.6 GHz Xeon. It came in just five seconds behind the Alienware quad-processor Opteron system, 21 seconds behind the G5 Quad and 28 seconds behind the quad-processor Opteron 280 system.

Test 6 involved rendering out a 3D environment created entirely in After Effects from 2D images. Here the MacBook tied both the G5 Quad and the dual Xeon system. It soundly beat the dual 2.0 GHz G5 desktop and came in 11 seconds behind the quad Opteron 275. None of the machines involved in this particular test were any match for the quad Opteron 280.

And finally there's test 7, the famous Nightflight composition that was designed to produce spectacular results in favor of the Mac in the PowerPC days. As you can see from the results, for this particular test, nothing even remotely approaches the performance of the G5 Quad, which rendered this scene in a little more than one-third the time it took the highest-end Opteron system to render. But what's particularly funny about this test is the results seen when comparing the MacBook running OS X and the MacBook running Windows. The OS X version won soundly. Again, After Effects 7 is running in emulation on the MacBook under OS X. Nevertheless, it beat the native Windows version soundly, even when running on the exact same piece of hardware. Astounding? Yes. Makes you wonder just how much coercion went into the design of this composition.

Adobe Photoshop CS2
So you may be impressed to see the MacBook Pro beat the dual Xeon workstation in two tests and tie it in two others, not to mention tieing the quad Opteron 275 system in one test and coming close in some others. But with Photoshop, the results are even more astounding. In these tests, the MacBook beat the dual 3.6 GHz Xeon in every test and even beat--yes, beat--the quad Opteron 275 in two of them. It also beat the dual 2.0 GHz G5 in every test. It didn't beat the G5 Quad in any of them, but it came fairly close in two.

Here are the numbers.

Test 1 involved the creation of a 4,000 x 4,000-pixel document, the application of a few filters and several transformations, including rotating layers and rotating the canvas. This test included 28 individual filters plus 19 image adjustments, transformations and various other functions. That's 47 commands applied in sequence in a single action. Here the MacBook trounced the dual 2.0 GHz G5 and won out marginally over both the dual Xeon and quad Opteron systems.

Test 2 involved the creation of a 2,000 x 1,500-pixel document and more transformations than the first test. Again the MacBook beat everything but the G5 Quad, though it only edged out the quad Opteron by a single second. (That a dual-core notebook could beat a quad-processor Opteron workstation at all is a bit of a miracle though.)

Test 3 included the application of every single filter that ships with Photoshop CS2, with the exception of Displace. It also included a few transformations, text manipulation, selections and fills. The image size for this test was 800 x 600 pixels. There were 123 total commands in this test. Here the MacBook beat out the dual 3.6 GHz Xeon and the dual 2.0 GHz G5, but it faltered against both the G5 Quad and the quad-processor Opteron 275, which won by a wide margin.

Adobe Illustrator CS2
The results for Illustrator were similarly impressive, though at this time we can only compare it with a dual 2.0 GHz G5 and the MacBook Pro running Mac OS X. (This particular suite of tests was introduced only recently.) You'll have to extrapolate the results to get a feel for how the MacBook would have performed against higher-end systems.

For these Illustrator tests, I've tried to simulate the experience of working in complex documents by building up multi-object groups, applying various fills and effects and transforming the objects individually or as groups, including copying, pasting, moving and rotating them.

Here are the results of the three tests.

For the first set of actions, I created a simple rectangle then filled it with a gradient. The object was then duplicated and transformed a number of times; then all the duplicates were copied and pasted and transformed as a whole, over and over. This was easily the best test of the three for the MacBook Pro, showing about a six-fold improvement in performance over the dual 2.0 GHz G5.

The second test involved 3D objects with complex shading. The objects were duplicated, aligned, rotated and further duplicated. Again the MacBook performed admirably, completing the series of tasks in about one-third the time it took the dual G5 desktop system.

And, for the final test, I created and duplicated more simple objects, then aligned and transformed them several times, rasterized them and finally applied some filters (Photoshop filters, not live effects). The MacBook running Windows came in a second behind the G5.

We've seen now that the MacBook Pro is a viable machine, even when comparing it with high-end desktop systems running either Mac OS X or Windows. The tests of Abobe software running under Windows shows the potential that this machine has for the time (whenever it may be) when Adobe gets around to porting its applications to the Mactel platform. This notebook not only holds its own against the titans of creative workstations, but in some cases it even beats them, regardless of which operating system you're running at the time. And it shows that, for those looking for an all-in-one multi-platform system, the MacBook Pro is up to the task like no other machine that's come before it.

In our next and final installment in this benchmark series, we'll look at the performance of 3D applications running under Windows on the MacBook. Until then, if you have any further questions, feel free to drop me a line or visit me in one of the forums listed below.

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Related Keywords:macbook, windows, adobe after effects, photoshop, illustratorr, boot camp, designer, motion graphics


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