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The SpeedZone: Mac OS 10.1 vs Jaguar ... How Extreme Is Quartz Extreme? A Detailed Performance Comparison Of Two Operating Systems

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Performance article index

Monday, Novenber 15, 2002

by David Engstrom

Is Jaguar any faster than the previous version of OS X?  People have been going back and forth about this around the Net without anyone sitting down to do a dispassionate examination of the new OS's performance potential.

To take some of the mystery out of the question, we decided to put Jaguar through it's paces. We used our standard suite of tests, the one that we run on each new Macintosh we benchmark. Though our test suite is fairly processor focused, it includes tests that will check drive & graphics performance. We added a specific test that would check out Apple's Quartz Extreme performance claims. Both OSes were installed on a Dual G4/1GHz with 1 GB of RAM

The Quartz Extreme feature of Jaguar relieves the processor from most of the on-screen graphics processing. It shunts graphics rendering over to the graphics card, which is much more efficient at that type of work.

Quartz Extreme is the main performance improvement of OS 10.2. To take advantage of it you need to be running Jaguar on a computer that has one of the following graphics cards: NVIDIA GeForce2 MX, GeForce3, GeForce4 MX, or GeForce4 Ti or any AGP-based ATI RADEON GPU. A minimum of 16MB VRAM is required installed in a 2X or better AGP slot.

Scrolling and window redrawing & movement, should be much faster in Jaguar than it is under 10.1. While we found this to be the case for some of the Apple applications we tested (such as the Preview App), other applications, such as Internet Explorer showed little, if any improvement. Our hunch is that applications need to be tweaked to take advantage of Quartz Extreme and that Apple is ahead of the curve on having, at lease some, of their applications up to speed.

In any case we found that Quartz Extreme worked as advertised by Apple, significantly speeding up some on-screen graphics and giving a moderate boost in other instances. So it looks like this feature has potential.

In raw processing power, Jaguar has changed nothing. In our processor intensive tasks, both operating systems turned in basically the same score. However there were some little performance increase surprises. iTunes 3 is significantly faster at converting songs to the MP3 format. Classic boots much faster. And other minor performance improvements popped up here and there.

On the downside, drive performance might be slightly poorer under Jaguar, though it is pretty minimal, and one of our game tests showed lower frame rates.

However another game showed better frame rates ... go figure. Probably some difference in how each game balances processor and graphic card resources.


"'It is our hunch that applications have to be written to take advantage of Quartz Extreme"

No, applications automatically take advantage of it. However, Quartz Extreme is simply a much, much faster compositor. It can draw windows on top of each other a lot faster than before. Creating the windows is pretty much the same process it always was.

"We ran three different types of tests using Giants, and Jaguar came in behind in all of them."

Games are typically not going to be affected by Quartz Extreme, but if they are rewritten to take advantage of the much better OpenGL extensions in 10.2, they get a TON faster.

We haven't had a chance to rewrite Giants for this. The first title we have coming out in which we're hoping advantage of 10.2's OpenGL extensions is Freedom Force (, so if everything goes according to plan it should be quite a bit zippier on newer graphics hardware.

     William Shipley
     Omni Group

What do you have to say?

"Real World" Tests

The tests below are from our suite of real world application tests. These tests feature a diverse selection of applications commonly used by the Mac community. The test suite was designed to render an accurate and well rounded picture of a machine's performance. All of the tests below, except for the game tests, were timed with a stopwatch. The times were then converted to percentages, relative to OS 10.1.3, which is set to 100%. For all scores, higher numbers are better.

Quartz Extreme?

For the test above we opened a document in Apple's 'Preview' application and scrolled from one end to the other. The Preview application can be found in the OS X Applications folder on your hard drive. As you can see above Quartz Extreme is .... well,  pretty extreme [update: improved scrolling performance is actually a result of Quartz 2D ... a companion feature of Jaguar. You can read more about Quartz Extreme & Quartz 2D here].

We are not sure that is all that is going on here. This is version 2 of the Preview application and there might be other aspects of the application that were changed to make it perform better. However, the Quartz Extreme function of Jaguar is suppose to package screen graphics and off -load them for the graphics card to deal with. This leaves the processor free to take care of other tasks. We indeed saw this effect during this test. Processor usage on our dual processor 1 GHz Tower dropped from 50% down to 5%, and the time to complete the scroll dropped from about 86 seconds to a little over 2.

[Note: Apple claims a 2 to 3 times improvement when carrying out functions that can take advantage of Quartz Extreme or Quartz 2D]

A Photoshop scroll takes place while the application is running in the Classic OS 9.2.2 layer

Desktop Tests

One of the speed improvement of Jaguar is the speed at which Classic boots ... a real boon for when some errant program running in Classic brings the whole Classic layer crashing down. Classic boot time was about 18 seconds in the updated OS

Slightly diminished performance, but probably close to the margin of error

Same as above ... close to the margin of error

Don't have an explanation for why we are seeing so much improvement here. Approximate 55% of the processing capability of the machine is being used to carry out the above function

Within the margin of error

Slightly better on screen graphics performance. The load on the processor was the same under both tests leading us to believe that the Quartz Extreme effect was not taking place here. It is our hunch that applications have to be written to take advantage of Quartz Extreme ... it doesn't fall like ripe fruit when you throw an application at it. It has to be picked by programmers. Someone please correct us if this is not the case. However Jaguar is also suppose to give a slight boost to graphics, even without Quartz Extreme

Large Document & Database Type Tests

A Macro (series of complex actions) was run in Microsoft's Word program, which is part of Office X

A Macro (series of complex actions) was run in Microsoft's Excel program, which is part of Office X

Stresses the processing & memory systems of the machine. This test takes place in a large AppleWorks document. This is a raw processing power test.

Number Crunching & Rendering Tests

The Fractal program has been highly tuned to take advantage of the G4 and is precisely the type of work that the G4 was made for. It will also gobble up whatever processing capability is present. This is a good test for assessing the fundamental processing potential of each machine.

A Ripple Effect is applied to an iMovie

Encoding/Decoding Tests

A Sorenson encode compresses a QuickTime movie for streaming on the Web

Preps QuickTime Movie for import into iMovie. We believe that some change was made to the default settings for DV Stream export function of QuickTime 6, and that the diminished performance of the Jaguar machine was not due to the OS. The machine when running 10.1.3 had QuickTime 5.0 installed

The better performance here is probably due to improved encoding performance of iTunes 3 ... nice to see. Under 10.1.3 iTunes 2.1 was used.


A Sorenson encode and fractal render are performed at the same time. The QuickTime encode only soaks up 50% of the processing power of each machine, leaving plenty of capability left over for work to be done on the Fractal. The scores are pretty much within the margin of error.

MP3 Encode, AppleWorks search & replace and folder copy are all carried out at the same time. Better MP3 encoding puts Jaguar over the top


Aside from the graphics card, Giants is also tuned to take advantage of the processor as well. Indeed, when run on a dual processor machine, you will see Giants fly ahead of the same game running on a single processor machine. We ran three different types of tests using Giants, and Jaguar came in behind in all of them. Frame rates here are 46 fps for 10.1.3 and 41 fps for Jaguar.

However is was a completely different story when running EVO2 4x4. Here fps were 24 for 10.1.3 and 30 for Jaguar

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