Time. We all get a limited amount of it, and nobody knows for sure how much they’ll get. We sometimes ascribe human qualities to time: “time marches on” and “time stands still”. For some of us (actually, I suppose, for all of us) “time is running out”. Others seem to always have “too much time on their hands”. We’re exhorted to “seize the moment”. Time can be “ripe”, it can “fly”, it can heal all wounds. Time passes and time is money. You can spend time, make time, and kill time.
This week it’s about time to spend some time talking about time in relation to using a personal computer. Got a minute? Good.
Isn’t it ironic that a machine that’s supposed to make our lives easier and save our precious time can often confuse and confound us and command so much of our time? When dealing with computers, most people experience the full length and breadth of the temporal plane. In other words, we marvel at a complex operation that the computer accomplishes in a couple of millionths of a second, then moments later we’re waiting around for the blasted thing to finish doing something else.
Time is often used as a metric to compare computers, like we used to use horsepower to compare cars now, of course, it’s obviously more about “miles per gallon”. Anyway, when looking for a new computer most people still look primarily at the number of gigahertz the clock speed of the processor(s). The more informed also look at the amount of RAM, maybe the size of the hard drive, and the software installed. Oh, and don’t forget price, which seems to be more on everyone’s minds lately.
Recently, Popular Mechanics published an article entitled “Mac vs. PC: The Ultimate Lab Test for New Desktops & Laptops”. Any test of this kind has two parts: subjective and objective. For the subjective portion, Popular Mechanics assembled a panel of testers “with a range of experience that ran the gamut from expert users to (the author’s) wife’s stepfather, who, by his own account, had never actually turned on a computer”.
The testers were asked to set up the computers right out of the box and perform everyday tasks such as web surfing, photo management, and playing movies and music. All the computers used the newest versions of their respective operating systems (Mac OS X “Leopard” and Windows Vista), and were as similarly configured as possible.
The results of the subjective testing were close. The Macs won by a slim margin. Coming from Popular Mechanics, the majority of the test results focused on the objective side, measuring the time it took the computers to perform common tasks. These included start-up and shutdown, installing programs, and launching programs. The grand finale was a “stress test”, where they timed the launch of Adobe Photoshop (a major resource hog) with eight other applications already open and running. Here’s the results. I’m going to round the times up/down a little, as what’s a tenth of a second among friends?
Desktops. Two stylish all-in-one models. Apple iMac ($1499) versus the Gateway One ($1800). Hmmm. So Macs aren’t always more expensive? Due to the available configurations, the iMac had a slightly faster processor but the Gateway had more RAM.
The iMac booted up in 29 seconds. The Gateway took 73 seconds. The iMac took all of 4 seconds to shutdown, the Gateway took 44. See? You lose a minute and a half total of your life every time you use the Gateway (compared to a Mac), and that’s just in starting up and shutting down.
The iMac was also faster launching the web browser, Microsoft Word, and Adobe Photoshop, but only by a couple of seconds each. It also won the “stress test” by about 20 seconds.
Laptops. Apple’s MacBook versus the Asus M51SR. Both $1299. The MacBook bested the Asus in startup/shutdown times by the same total minute and a half as the desktops, was faster in the individual application startup times by a couple of seconds as well, and won the “stress test” by the same 20 second margin.
Another test was added for the laptops: battery life while watching a DVD movie, with the DVD drive spinning and the screen at full brightness. They used “Saving Private Ryan”, which runs 2 hours and 49 minutes. The MacBook’s battery made it through the movie, and lasted a total of 3 hours and 34 minutes.
The Asus’ battery didn’t fare so well. It lasted 1 hour and 30 minutes in the DVD test. That’s not enough time for Tom Hanks to find Private Ryan, much less save him.
Both battery life results were well below the manufacturer’s claimed expectancies. This is normal, as the advertised numbers are always based on controlled environments with extensive use of battery-saving techniques, like reduced screen brightness, hard-drive spin-down, etc.
For the uber-geeks out there, Popular Mechanics used two industry-standard, cross-platform software benchmarking tools before they handed the computers off to the folks with the stop watches. Across the board, the Macs bench-tested significantly better than the PCs.
An interesting side note. They also installed Windows Vista on the Macs using Apple’s Boot Camp software. They found that both the iMac and the MacBook ran Vista faster than their PC counterparts. Isn’t this fun?
They also noted that for the price of the Gateway One, you could buy an iMac, select a bigger hard drive option to match the Gateway’s, purchase a copy of Vista, and still save $100.
Obviously, the real test of computer time takes place over time, outside of a laboratory. Results are generally more anecdotal than scientific. Here’s a couple of time-related questions to ask yourself if you’re pondering a new computer.
“How much time did I lose today rebooting my computer after it froze?”
“How much time did I lose today waiting for the virus scan to finish?”
My conclusion? Life’s too short to use Windows.
|© 2008 Peter F. Zimowski|