Don’t Give Me More Speed, Give Me Efficiency

by Chris Howard Oct 10, 2007

The raw processing power of modern Macs would fry even an original iMac, but all that speed doesn’t necessarily mean you get the job done faster. If there are inefficiencies in the system, you can end up wasting a lot of time staring at beach balls.

The worst offenders are web browsers. Browsers are the bane of our lives. You can’t live with ‘em, and you can’t live without them.

In an online world, email clients and browsers are always on. My email client, though, doesn’t butcher my system like browsers do.

With apologies to Simon and Garfunkel, “Hello browser my old fiend, you’ve come to torment me again, with the sounds of silence.”
That silence is the sound of me waiting for the browser to give me back my system.

Please, can someone develop a browser that is not a resource hog? Even when you’ve got dozens of pages open?

I don’t care anymore if it loads pages two seconds slower, because these fast browsers are sucking time right out of my life. With my browser open and several pages loaded, waking my Mac from sleep can take several minutes. Switching applications when my browser is feeling roguish can take even longer.

So what do I care if a page takes even 10 seconds longer to load if I know the browser isn’t going to give my system the proverbial kick to the groin? Why put effort into developing browsers to load pages faster when we’re connecting at higher and higher speeds? Put the effort into making browsers more efficient.

I run Safari 3 and, yes, it loads pages faster, but it still torments me with beach balls. I’ve tried Firefox and experienced exactly the same grief—along with more crashes. Safari 2 was also just as problematic. Opera had those and other issues that discouraged me from using it. Others, such as Camino and Shiira, are built on the same engines as Firefox and Safari, so I’m totally pessimistic about them being any better.

And to think the world is moving to browser based applications. Scary!

Another bane of my Mac life is Spotlight. I just think about other disks and it starts re-indexing. And if an application accesses a large number of files at one time, the mds process (which is all to do with metadata and indexing) goes berserk.

And as for the Intel CPU, my experience with it has been less than enjoyable. The kids’ G4 eMac and the school’s iMac G4s and PowerMac G5s (single processor, 1GB RAM) run more efficiently than my iMac Core 2 Duo. Yes they are slower, but I do a lot less thumb twiddling on them. Consider that at school, as I’m studying graphic design, I usually have Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and Safari all running at the same time. Whereas I avoid that situation as much as possible on my iMac at home. A caveat: at school we run Adobe CS1, at home I’m running CS3. However, this shouldn’t make a difference considering the ages of the machines and applications are matched.

More memory should make a difference, but it shouldn’t have to; it’s not like my iMac is years old trying to run leading edge applications.

So, you can rave about your quadruple-eight-core-multi-dimensional-ten-gigahertz CPUs that’ll compute the billionth digit of pi before you’ve even thought to ask the question, but if the rest of the system is nutting it, the CPU is wasted. Give me back my PPC CPU.

On Intel Macs, somewhere between operating system, applications, memory, hard disk, and CPU, there’s a major bottleneck. Tiger was the first iteration of OS X for Intel processors and possibly the problems lie within.

Let’s hope a significant efficiency improvement is one of Leopard’s major secrets, because at the moment, the Intel is the most inefficient Mac I’ve used.


  • I woulda thought 9GB free should be ample, Benji. Is this a problem with OS X?

    Chris Howard had this to say on Oct 14, 2007 Posts: 1209
  • I might add, at this very point in time, having not rebooted for only eight days, my virtual memory size is a whopping 20.47GB. That’s gotta slow things down! Free disk space is down to 7.95GB.

    Heavy VM usage is mds with 3.47GB , Safari 1.54GB and kernel_task 854M.

    I’ll reboot and see what happens to those figures.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Oct 15, 2007 Posts: 1209
  • Okay, on fresh reboot before I run any apps (that aren’t auto started), VM size is 7.96GB and HDD space is 15.6GB

    I noticed too that Dashboard widgets each take up about 210MB. I think I’ll turn it off.

    Ill be interested to see VM usage on the kids’ eMac.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Oct 15, 2007 Posts: 1209
  • It’s not so much a problem with OS X as an inherent problem with Hard Drives. As you fill them up, they slow down because of increased fragmentation and because I think writable-block seeking takes longer.

    You would really benefit from a drive upgrade. Since it’s an iMac, it might be easiest to offload things like music or photos to an external drive.

    What type of intel iMac is this anyway that only has 60 GB of disk space?

    Benji had this to say on Oct 15, 2007 Posts: 927
  • I have an Intel Core duo that also seems to be slow - sometimes with as my spinning beachballs as my old iMac G3 it replaced - when I’ve looked at Activity Monitor, I’ve sometimes found Microsoft Database Daemon to be the culprit - I guess it’s running in rosetta - but what really irritates me is that it relates to entourage which I’ve never used but which is installed as part of MS Office - I’m now waiting for my Leopard disks to arrive to do a clean install to see if getting rid of the Mocrosoft Cruft will speed things up

    iGav had this to say on Oct 23, 2007 Posts: 2
  • Benji, I partitioned m hard disk.

    I have disabled Dashboard as the widgets I was running were using 3GB of VM! Also shutdown some other apps. Have noticed a performance improvement.

    Also checked the PPC eMac and its widgets only used 100MB or so of VM per widget. Whereas the Intel Core 2 Duo is using about 210MB per widget.

    Anyone know if that’s got something to do with dual processors? Or if it’s just crap whatever for the Intel?

    Chris Howard had this to say on Oct 24, 2007 Posts: 1209
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