Engineer: Want to switch but need more performance info!

Discussion in 'Switch Stories' started by akoenig, Feb 6, 2003.

  1. akoenig macrumors newbie

    Feb 6, 2003
    I am currently a content windows user but am looking to upgrade my laptop and am looking seriously at Apple, specifically the powerbook.

    Apple is known for making quality hardware and software products, but as an engineering student I need not only a nice stable machine but a performance powerhouse. I frequently use my current laptop for numerically intensive, memory intensive math modeling using, above all else, MATLAB. I have read reviews comparing fast G4 processors with fast P4 processors running games and photoshop, however never running math intensive applications such as MATLAB, maple, mathmatica, etc. Does anyone have any experience using MATLAB on a fast G4 powerbook (1Ghz) in comparison with say a fast P4 (2.0 GHz) or Athlon (XP 2000+) laptop?

    If I were to switch I would probably go for the powerbook 15" with 1Ghz G4 since it is (please correct me if I'm wrong) faster than the 12" and the 17" is much too large to be easily portable. It comes with a large hard drive, excellent graphics adapter, available superdrive, firewire, and the list goes on, however some of the hardware seems outdated, such as a lack of usb 2.0 support, and most troubling for a performance seeker is the continued use of outdated PC133 memory. How badly does this slow memory affect the perfomance?

    In general I am looking for some solid benchmark comparisons between apples and pentiums in numeric/memory intensive operations and any other good arguments besides stability (I can make a windows machine stable enough) and beauty to make me switch.

    To be sure I would like to switch but, again as a engineer, I have to justify the cost of not only the machine itself but also all of the new software I need to get (ms office, matlab, acrobat, etc...). Please help me out!
  2. aethier macrumors 6502a


    Feb 1, 2003
    Montréal, Canada
    well.... im not really able to tell you about mathematica and all but... maybe able to help you

  3. altair macrumors regular

    Nov 22, 2002
    Seattle, WA
    usb 2.0

    I don't actually know most of your questions, but on the front of USB 2.0:
    Why do you need USB 2.0 to connect a mouse or keyboard? If you need high speed data transfers you use firewire. USB 2.0 isn't needed on these machines when you already have firewire.

    I have a 1ghz 15.2 Tibook with Superdrive, I have a gig of RAM in mine, and highly doubt that it affects my performance at all. However, there have been rumors of the new 15.x inch Powerbook model having DDR, this new powerbook should be out semi soon.

    Hope this helps

  4. hesdeadjim macrumors regular

    Jul 17, 2002
    Austin, TX
    Matlab performance

    I was wondering what type of engineering you are studying. As an engineering student myself, it's just interesting to see what type of engineers are out there.

    On to your question at hand, I have no performance issue with Mathematica, and Wolfram has done a good job in keeping it very well in line with their PC version. Hands down, it is the best Math program on the Mac, and performs equally with the newest PC's. Matlab just got reintroduced to the Mac world, but coming from their Unix environment, it should be fine. I have heard that some specialized aspects of Matlab aren't on the Mac version yet, but I would say that it should work for everything you need.

    On a side note, since you are an engineer, you need to evaluate what software you are running besides just Matlab and Office. (Also, make sure for an investment in office; you will need it for compatibility as well as Excel). There are a lot of fields like Electrical engineering that have PC only software. Now, if you are a Civil or something and have to take Circuits, don't worry too much. If you must run PC software, just get Virtual PC or use one of the computers in you engineering computer lab.

    I wouldn't really worry about the memory issue, I haven't heard of any benefits of DDR in other machines. Someone already answered your USB 2.0 question, but if for some reason you absolutely needed it, just get a USB 2.0 card. You shouldn't really though, because firewire would take care of that area. Get the 15 in; it is plenty fast and it is more portable than others make it seem. Other than that, the Powerbook really are quite current with hardware with an excellent video card for notebooks, firewire, gigabit Ethernet, internal Airport, and everything else.

    Finally, get a lot of RAM if you are running things like Matlab. I would say 512 is the minimum (and the powerbook comes with that). Finally on the software issue, if you know any professors who use Macs or know a department that uses them, they might be able to get you significant discount on software. I got Mathematica for free and Office for $25. Some schools allow their Professors to give licenses to their students, so that might be an option. Plus, Mac OS X has the ability to print out to PDF's within the operating system, i.e. you can print out a PDF from any application. This doesn't render Acrobat useless, but if you are just making PDF's, you don't need to worry about it.

    Finally, sorry for the long post, I hope I answered all your questions.
  5. akoenig thread starter macrumors newbie

    Feb 6, 2003
    re: Matlab Performance

    Thanks for the very informative posts! To answer your question I'm a Grad Student in Electrical Engineering.

    As part of my research I commonly find myself running matlab simulations that take on the order of anywhere from minutes to days to run on my desktop (Athlon 2100+ 1GB DDR2700) and easily 3x as long on my laptop. The other mathematical and simulation software I use (only made for windows) I don't have a license for, so I have to use campus machines anyway.

    My specific concern with the UBS 2.0 is that if I get an external device (read: hard drive) it would have to be both usb 1.1 and 2.0 compatible for speed and backwards compatibility on legacy machines (commonly used on campus) that do not have usb 2.0 or firewire, but as you suggested an upgrade card should take care of that issue.

    I usually just see the dual G4 desktops compared with desktop P4 processors. If anyone has any good benchmark numbers comparing a powerbook (ie. single processor G4 ~1GHz) to wintel laptops (ie. mobile P4 ~2.0GHz) I would be interested. I know direct comparison is difficult as they don't typically run the same versions of software, I'm just curious how close they really are.

    Thanks again to all who have replied!!
  6. hesdeadjim macrumors regular

    Jul 17, 2002
    Austin, TX
    Re: re: Matlab Performance

    I've read a lot of articles that state that the current Mac laptops are somewhat slower than the newest PC laptops, but outperform PC's when the mobile P4 scales down during periods of low battery. I take the slight performance problem since I truely enjoy Mac OS X and all the software the have available for it. Not to mention that Macs just work.

    Sorry, I was under the impression you were an undergrad, so I assumed that the Matlab simulations would be rather simple. You might want to call the company to make sure the Mac version can do everything that you need ti to do. Nevertheless, I still stay steadfast that Mathematica is the best Math system for the Mac and it might be able to handle the simulations. Once again, just do some research to make sure. Also, I was under the impression that most USB drives are functional with USB 1.0, just not at the speed of USB 2.0.

    Finally, you will probably love the Unix core of OS X, so enjoy if you decide to buy. Also, the best thing you can do is to try out the computer for yourself. If there is a local Apple Store, drop buy and just play around. Ask one of the sales ppl if you have any trouble. Ask them questions as well, they are friendly and helpful. If that is not an option, look for an independent Apple resaler or a CompUSA nearby.

    Finally, I'm an undergrad studying Bio-Medical Engineering.
  7. bertinman macrumors 6502

    Jul 24, 2002
    Davis, CA

    I use matlab alot myself (hours, days and weeks calcs... (the week one usually call C or Fortran code though). The mac version IS slightly slower than the PC one--they are improving fast though. The install 'requires' Oroboros and Xdarwin, but if you do a little hack you can use Apple's own X11--this speeds things up almost 2 fold for me :). There are a few graphical problems that 3rd party toolboxes can run into (Femlab OpenGL erases the top menu for instance).

    Personally, since my code runs for ever anyway, and I can leave it on over night and over the weekend, I prefer the prettier desktop drawing of OSX... I know it's not the issue at hand, but I can sit in front of my mac all day and code, while my windows PC just buggs me after about 2 hours (linux is in between).

    Another side note, now that X11 is more stable and such, you can remote desktop with campus Linux/Unix powerhouses and set them to work for you, or treat them as 'nodes' ;).

    Hope this helps...

    quest about usb 2.0 -- CAN 2.0 harddrives work with 1.1??? I didn't think they did.

    -- bert
    Mech/Aero Engineering
  8. akoenig thread starter macrumors newbie

    Feb 6, 2003
    Re: matlab

    Thanks for the info, your the first matlab user I've heard from.

    As for you question:

    As hesdeadjim mentioned USB 2.0 hard drives are typically also compatible with 1.1, however speed is limited to 12 Mbps with usb 1.1 where usb 2.0 provides 480 Mbps.
  9. LethalWolfe macrumors G3


    Jan 11, 2002
    Los Angeles
    Re: Re: matlab

    Getting technical...On paper USB 2.0 is 480Mbps. In reality it is sub-400Mbps(i.e. slower than Firewire).

  10. yzedf macrumors 65816


    Nov 1, 2002
    Re: Re: Re: matlab

    Same for firewire dude.

    Tech specs vs actual performance is always different, regardless of what you are referring to.


    Also, a hdd enclosure that supports usb 1.1/2.0 and firewire (400)
  11. TEG macrumors 604


    Jan 21, 2002
    Langley, Washington
    He at least I know there are other Engineers out there...

    I've got one of the 15" PBG4s and I love it. I run Matlab faster than any machine on campus, even the rich kids duel Xeon, or any of the UNIX workstations.

    Also talking about external HD's Get one that is both Firewire and USB 2.0, therefore you can have the best of both worlds.

    Also wait a couple of weeks to see if there is and upgrade to the 15"ers. Also, the 17" isn't really that much bigger than the 15" only about 1.5 inches wider and an inch taller. Don't worry about the DDR, PC-133 is cheaper, and DDR doesn't really help any machine, its more of a marketing ploy.

    BTW: I'm studying to be a Computer Engineer (Electrical with Programing)

  12. springscansing macrumors 6502a


    Oct 13, 2002
    New York
    Booyah! A harddrive with usb2 AND firewire would be the way to go. Firewire rocks!

    Firewire 800 rocks even more...

    As for the memory issue, its true: With a G4 chip, DDR doesn't help much.

    *anxiously awaits the new IBM 64-bit chips that will arrive in macs in 6 months*

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