Tuesday, 9 August 2005

Powerbook Day 4

(Originally posted 20050809)

It is closing in to my 96th hour with the powerbook and it has been a fun experience so far. The first 48 hours was when I had to do the bulk of my learning - getting used to the "Mac way", installing applications and waiting for stuff to download. After that, it has been mostly smooth sailing.

The only issues I've encountered so far is the relative slowness of the ppc chip and OpenOffice.org clunkiness. The OpenOffice.org clunkiness is just because the standard installation uses X11 and is not well integrated with the rest of the desktop at all. Things like one click in email to open a document just do not work. It is a cumbersome multi step process. I'm currently downloading NeoOfficeJ (based on OOo) but the slow download speeds in China really takes a while. Still, not a big deal.

The more serious issue is the performance of the system for number crunching. After I had set up my development environment, I was surprised to find that CPU intensive unit tests in my projects took twice as long as they did on my old laptop. Functional tests (fire up all the servers, do black box testing using simulated browsers) took 4-5 times longer. This makes the powerbook substandard as a development station.

A simple test of this is to run code like this:

a = 1
for i in range(1,1000000):
    a = (a + i)/i

On my laptop and workstation (1.5Ghz AMD Athlon, underpowered by today's standards), this takes 0.8 seconds to run. On the default python program on OS X, this takes 1.3 seconds! Using the version of python obtained from fink, this drops to 1.1 seconds, but still far slower than the Athlon systems. This is all using python 2.3.5.

Have not looked into detail for the reasons behind this, but I suspect that it is in part because OS X is tuned to be a desktop, not a server. Responsiveness of the GUI is paramount.

At any rate, this is disappointing, but not a deal breaker for me. While it means I have to run the intensive functional tests on a separate, development machine, I can still use the powerbook for most of my daily work. I always have a workstation somewhere within ssh distance of me anyway, and sadly enough, most of my daily work does not involve CPU intensive activity anymore. Things such as responsive email, web browsing and document editing are more important.

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