Report on Intel-Powered Macs, Rosetta

Ars Technica has posted a review of the new 17-inch Intel Core Duo-powered iMac.

There has been discussion about older Mac OS X applications that are not Universal Binaries, running on the new Intel-powered Macs, especially genealogy applications. I don’t think we have too much to worry about, going by this review.

Of particular interest to us, is page four:

As Hannibal pointed out, Rosetta has a few advantages that earlier translation and emulation technologies lacked. First and foremost is an extra processor core. That allows the translation to run on one core while the application thread executes on the other core, meaning that the translated code will have a short distance to travel. In addition, it’s integrated into the operating system, so there’s no need to emulate drivers. Graphics and UI elements do redraw quickly.

Overall, I’m very impressed with Rosetta. Aside from Unreal Tournament 2K4, I’ve not run into a single application that was unusable on the iMac. Some were definitely slower on the Core Duo iMac than on the iMac G5. Launching typically took a bit longer, and I would usually get the dreaded spinning beachball for a couple of seconds once the application launched. Afterwards, it was smooth going.

Some tasks like Photoshop filters were definitely slower going on the Core Duo iMac than on the iMac G5. But using applications such as Microsoft Office felt so smooth that I really didn’t get the feeling that there was some sort of translation at work.

Something like Photoshop filters are going to be fairly hardware intensive, because they need the CPU power, while things like Microsoft Office, or in our case, genealogy applications, once they are launched, are going to be as fast as we are, because they will be waiting on input from us. If you are using an older Mac genealogy application, that was not written to run under Mac OS X, you will be out of luck – the Classic/MacOS 9 environment no longer functions under Intel versions of Mac OS X. Somebody may write an emulator or something else to change that in the future, but for now, it’s a no-go.

There are really only two reasons not to upgrade to an Intel Mac at this point if it’s that time for you (well three if you count the fact that there are only a few models to choose from) – one being that you need “Pro” applications like Photoshop, Final Cut, Aperture, etc., since they run very slowly, or not at all for now (that will change, especially for the Apple “Pro” apps since most are going to be transitioning to Universal Binary format soon). If all you use is iPhoto/iMovie/Garage Band for your multimedia editing, you’d be just fine as iLife ’06 is a Universal Binary package. The other reason not to upgrade, is if you still run some kind of Windows environment – Virtual PC, Guest PC, etc.

Virtual PC for sure does not run at this time, as it is hardware-bound and very processor intensive, even putting aside Univeral Binary issues. Microsoft has indicated they are going to work on this now that Intel machines are shipping. In this MacNN article, Microsoft indicates that they will be working on VPC at some point, but that it’s hazy as to when – I’d expect by the end of 2006 or early 2007 as the entire Mac line transitions to Intel. That said, once VPC, Guest PC, etc., (maybe some kind of VMWare for OS X) are transitioned to Intels, the speeds in comparison to those environments on a PowerPC Mac should be incredibly fast.