Mac OS X 10.6.3 vs. Windows 7 vs. Ubuntu 10.04 Benchmarks
Written by Michael Larabel in Operating Systems on 9 May 2010. Page 1 of 1. 72 Comments

Last week we delivered the first of our Windows 7 vs. Ubuntu 10.04 benchmarks to much anticipation, but now we have the results for Apple's Mac OS X 10.6.3 operating system to tack in too. In the first part of that Windows 7 vs. Ubuntu Linux performance examination, we looked closely at the OpenGL gaming performance across six different systems and a whole slew of tests. More articles are on the way looking at the performance and later in the week we already delivered some initial disk benchmarks. However, now it is time to see how Microsoft Windows 7 Professional x64, Ubuntu 10.04 LTS, and Apple Mac OS X 10.6.3 compete with one another.

In our Windows 7 vs. Ubuntu 10.04 testing we used six test systems and could have just as easily turned that into a dozen or two dozen systems, but unfortunately with Mac OS X testing we don't have that luxury. For this testing with Mac OS X in the mix we just had two systems -- both were Mac Mini computers but of different generations. The older Mac Mini had Intel graphics while the newer one ran with the NVIDIA GeForce graphics. AMD was going to be submitting a Mac with ATI graphics for this comparison, but it had not arrived.

The NVIDIA Mac Mini specifications are listed below.

Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo CPU P7350 @ 2.00GHz (Total Cores: 2), Motherboard: Apple Mac-F22C86C8, Chipset: nVidia MCP79, Memory: 1 x 1 GB DDR3-1067MHz, Disk: 120GB FUJITSU MHZ2120B, Graphics: nVidia C79 [GeForce 9400] 512MB (450MHz), Audio: Realtek ALC889A, Monitor: DELL S2409W

The Intel Mac Mini specifications are listed below.

Processor: Intel Core 2 CPU T5600 @ 1.83GHz (Total Cores: 2), Motherboard: Apple Mac-F4208EAA, Chipset: Intel Mobile 945GM/PM/GMS + ICH7-M, Memory: 2 x 512 MB DDR2-667MHz, Disk: 80GB Hitachi HTS54258, Graphics: Intel Mobile 945GM/GMS 943/940GML Express (Intel GMA 950) IGP 256MB, Audio: SigmaTel STAC9221 A1, Monitor: DELL S2409W

Unfortunately in the case of the Intel Mac Mini we were only able to compare the performance of Mac OS X to Ubuntu Linux, as there were EFI issues with the older Mac Mini and being able to load Windows 7 x64 (the infamous "Select CD-ROM Boot Type" problem). On the Mac OS X side each system had a clean install of Mac OS X 10.6.3 with the 10.3.0 kernel, X.Org Server 1.4.2-apple53, OpenGL 1.4 (Intel) / 2.1 (NVIDIA), and a Journaled HFS+ file-system. Like our testing from last week and in nearly every other Phoronix article, all OS settings were left at their defaults and testing was done in a clean environment. When it comes to proprietary drivers for Windows and Ubuntu, we were using the same packages as last week's testing. Like all of our testing, to make these results reproducible and to facilitate a fully automated testing process, all of the benchmarks were run via the Phoronix Test Suite.

The games that we benchmarked across the three operating systems where there is native compatibility and comparable support is OpenArena, Urban Terror, Nexuiz, Warsow, and X-Plane. With each of the games we ran them full-screen at 800 x 600, 1024 x 768, 1280 x 1024, 1400 x 1050, 1680 x 1050, and 1920 x 1080.

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Starting with OpenArena, when looking over the initial results we were a bit stunned. Last week's Windows 7 vs. Ubuntu 10.04 LTS benchmarks showed the two operating systems performing closely in most situations (with the large exception being when Intel graphics are deployed, in which case Windows is the hands-down winner thanks to better Intel graphics drivers), but immediately on the Mac Mini with NVIDIA graphics there was a huge disparity.

In fact, at every resolution, OpenArena on Windows easily beat-out Mac OS X on Apple's own hardware! When running at 800 x 600 where OpenArena would be very dependent simply upon the processor's speed, Windows 7 was a striking 43% faster than Mac OS X 10.6.3. Meanwhile, Windows 7 was faster than Ubuntu 10.04 by just 4%. Even when OpenArena was pushed up to 1920 x 1080 with the NVIDIA graphics, Windows 7 was faster still over Mac OS X 10.6.3 by 23%. Oddly, at resolutions of 1280 x 1024 and greater, Mac OS X 10.6.3 ended up being faster than Ubuntu 10.04 LTS with the NVIDIA graphics. At 1920 x 1080, Windows 7 was 54% faster than Ubuntu 10.04 LTS and Mac OS X 10.6.3 was 25% faster than Ubuntu Linux.

Mac OS X coming out faster than Ubuntu 10.04 is not too surprising as when we tested Mac OS X 10.6.2 vs. Ubuntu 10.04 earlier this year the positioning was the same. However, once Mac OS X 10.6.3 ended up shipping with its "graphics improvements", we did notice some regressions for the Snow Leopard update.

On the older Mac Mini with Intel GMA 950 graphics, Mac OS X 10.6.3 was the clear winner over Ubuntu 10.04. There was no comparison and another OS once again slaughtered the Intel Linux graphics driver stack. We would really have enjoyed seeing how the Intel graphics compare between Windows 7 and Mac OS X 10.6.3, but alas, Windows 7 x64 had not worked on the older Apple Mac Mini. The Intel graphics were 44% faster under Mac OS X at 800 x 600 with OpenArena and 49% faster at 1920 x 1080. See last week's Windows vs. Linux article for more information and thoughts on the Intel Linux graphics driver.

While still based upon the ioquake3 engine, the Urban Terror test has proven to be slightly more demanding than OpenArena, but still the story was much the same in regards to how the three operating systems and two systems had shaken out. On the Mac Mini with NVIDIA graphics, Windows 7 was significantly faster than both Ubuntu 10.04 and Mac OS X 10.6.3. At its peak, Windows 7 was 68% faster than Ubuntu 10.04 LTS and at that point, it was 3.7x faster than Mac OS X 10.6.3.

However, unlike OpenArena, with Urban Terror, Ubuntu 10.04 LTS was generally faster than Mac OS X 10.6.3 -- even with Intel graphics. Unfortunately, however, that may be due to some of the OpenGL changes (regressions) within the newest Mac OS X 10.6.3 update.

With Nexuiz, Microsoft Windows 7 continues to be the fastest operating system with the Mac Mini boasting NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics and the 2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor. However, between Ubuntu 10.04 LTS and Windows 7 Professional there was not a very significant difference, similar to our close numbers from the six systems we benchmarked last week. Windows 7 was usually just a couple percentage points faster than Ubuntu 10.04 with Nexuiz. The performance of the NVIDIA graphics in Nexuiz was meanwhile devastating for Apple. In fact, at some resolutions, the frame-rate on the newer Mac Mini was actually worse for Mac OS X than on the older Mac Mini with Intel graphics. Nexuiz is one of the areas that have regressed for NVIDIA with the Mac OS X 10.6.3 update.

There was also the usual trend of the Intel Mac OS X driver performance trouncing that of the Intel Linux graphics driver stack. Apple's Intel OpenGL driver is much faster than the Linux Mesa stack and Mac OS X leverages LLVM (the Low-Level Virtual Machine) for shader optimization and other routines as talked about in other Phoronix articles. On average, the Mac Mini with Intel GMA 950 graphics was 2.7x faster when running Mac OS X 10.6.3 than Ubuntu 10.04 LTS.

With the popular Warsow game that is open-source, Windows 7 again was the fastest operating system handily beating Ubuntu 10.04 LTS by 19% on average and Mac OS X 10.6.3 by 1.98x. In regards to the performance of NVIDIA graphics with Warsow on Mac OS X 10.6.3, our 10.6.3 regression article showed that Warsow was one of the areas that has regressed significantly with this Snow Leopard point release.

Of course, it is not hard to see that running Warsow at a lower resolution actually led to a lower frame-rate than running at a higher resolution. Mac OS X 10.6.3 with Warsow at low resolutions is likely triggering more of the work to be done on the CPU rather than GPU. With Mac OS X 10.6.2, the performance at 800 x 600 for Warsow is more than double of where it is at with Mac OS X 10.6.3.

In terms of the Intel graphics performance with Warsow, Mac OS X 10.6.3 was the hands-down winner as the Intel Mesa DRI driver stack found in Ubuntu 10.04 LTS simply was not good enough to run this game. Mac OS X though with the GMA 950, however, could not handle providing a playable experience.

Our final test is looking at the X-Plane 9.45 flight simulator performance across Mac OS X, Windows, and Ubuntu Linux. Like all of the other results shared today, Microsoft Windows 7 Professional on the Mac Mini with the NVIDIA graphics once again produced the highest frame-rates. Windows 7 was on average 72% faster than Mac OS X 10.6.3 with its NVIDIA OpenGL driver. The Intel graphics could run X-Plane 9.45 on Mac OS X -- albeit at just a few frames per second -- but the Intel Linux Mesa stack could not.

While it is a pity we were only able to perform this operating system comparison on two Mac Mini setups -- and with the older Core 2 Duo Mac Mini bearing Intel graphics it would not support Windows 7 x64 -- the results were certainly interesting. With every OpenGL gaming test and at every tested resolution, Microsoft Windows 7 x64 was significantly faster than Mac OS X 10.6.3 on Apple's very own hardware. In many cases, Windows 7 produced noticeably higher frame-rates than even Ubuntu 10.04 LTS "Lucid Lynx", which was somewhat surprising considering the competitive performance last week in our Windows vs. Ubuntu Linux performance comparison.

With the Mac Mini bearing Intel graphics, Mac OS X 10.6.3 was generally much faster than Ubuntu 10.04 LTS. However, this is not surprising considering the huge margins witnessed last week when comparing the Intel Clarkdale graphics performance between Linux and Windows. The Intel Linux graphics driver is simply not in a state to perform well with 3D acceleration atop its Mesa driver. Had Windows 7 worked on the older Mac Mini, the Microsoft OS would likely have produced even higher frame-rates than Mac OS X 10.6.3, but we're unable to verify this due to the aforementioned problems.

So while Microsoft Windows 7 Professional took the lead in all of these gaming tests on Apple hardware, aside from when using Intel integrated graphics, Ubuntu 10.04 LTS "Lucid Lynx" was a faster gaming platform than Mac OS X "Snow Leopard", which is good news for once the Steam Linux client arrives.

In our upcoming multi-platform performance comparisons we will be using the Mac Mini setups again as we see how the performance of these three operating systems pan out in areas besides graphics. Should we get our hands on more Apple systems, we will be running some extra tests too. For some of the other non-gaming tests that are more OS neutral, we may include results from FreeBSD and OpenSolaris too -- where the Phoronix Test Suite is also fully supported.

About The Author
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Michael Larabel is the principal author of Phoronix.com and founded the site in 2004 with a focus on enriching the Linux hardware experience. Michael has written more than 10,000 articles covering the state of Linux hardware support, Linux performance, graphics drivers, and other topics. Michael is also the lead developer of the Phoronix Test Suite, Phoromatic, and OpenBenchmarking.org automated benchmarking software. He can be followed via Twitter or contacted via MichaelLarabel.com.

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