The Aftermath of the First Article

We received a flood of mails and posts from our readers requesting that we test the Apple machines with Linux too and questioned why we hadn't done that in the first article. We have to point out that the objective of the first article was to compare the platforms, and therefore, it is only natural to use Mac OS X on the Apple machine. Very few Apple machines run Linux, but in this article, we test this combination to shed more light on our findings.

Secondly, we spent most of our time trying out different MySQL setups to find out whether or not the poor MySQL numbers were a result of bad tuning. We tested and tried with, for example, the "skip-locking", "key_buffer" and "thread_cache" parameters, but none of them could help the Apple platform to perform significantly better. The out-of-the-box MySQL setup on Tiger is not very different from a typical SUSE Linux out-of-the-box installation, except that skip-locking is not enabled on the Apple platform. The reason seems to be that quite a few Xserves are used in clusters. Enabling "Skip-locking" gives a 1-3% performance boost to the Xserve and PowerMacs. We can say with 99% certainty that the MySQL configuration was not the cause of the poor MySQL performance.

The vast majority of the reactions of the Apple user community were very positive, despite our low server benchmark numbers. Many Apple users told us that they were glad that we had pointed out that Mac Os X still needs a bit of performance tunings. Anand reported the same thing as what many Apple users pointed out, which is that the responsiveness of the OS is not spectacular:
"The overall responsiveness of the system was decent, but go back to using a top-of-the-line PC in Windows for a few minutes, and you definitely feel a bit sluggish on the G5"
We still receive suggestions because of the first article, and one question that was asked a lot was: "why not test with different compilers?" The reason was that gcc was the default compiler on both Mac OS X and Linux. Testing with compilers would widen the scope of this kind of article too much, and we wanted to use the same compiler on all CPUs. That being said, we retested with the gcc 4.0 compiler because the 3.3 version performed pretty poorly on the Power FX platform.

I would like to thank the readers for the valuable feedback. In this second part, we'll correct the inaccuracies in the first.

Scope and Focus

Again, we are focusing on workstation and server applications, especially the open source ones (MySQL, Apache) as Apple is touting heavily the importance of their move to an "open source foundation".

The 64 bit Apple Machines were running OS X Server 10.4.1 (Tiger) and Yellow Dog 4.0 Linux version 2.6.10-1.ydl.1g5-smp. The reason we chose Yellow dog is that Terrasoft, the company behind this Linux version, optimises only for the G5. So, Yellow dog is by far the most PowerPC optimized Linux distribution out there.

Our x86 machines are still running a 64 bit server version of a popular Open Source Operating Unix system: SUSE Linux SLES 9 Service Pack 1 (kernel 2.6.5).

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  • Gandalf90125 - Friday, September 2, 2005 - link

    From the article:

    "...so it seems that IBM, although slightly late, could have provided everything that Apple needs."

    I'd say not everything Apple needs as I suspect the switch to Intel was driven more by marketing than any technical aspect of the IBM vs. the Intel chips.
    Reply
  • Illissius - Friday, September 2, 2005 - link

    A few notes:

    - you mention trying a --fast-math option, which I've never heard of... presumably this was a typo for -ffast-math?

    - when I tried using -mcpu (which you say you used for YDL) on GCC 3.4, it told me the option had been deprecated, and -mtune has to be used instead (dunno whether it told me this latter part itself or I read it somewhere else, but it's true). I'm not sure whether GCC4 has the same behaviour (I'd think so), whether it still has the intended effect despite the warning, or whether it matters at all.

    - was there a reason for using -march on one, and -mcpu/-mtune on the other? (the difference is that -mcpu/-mtune optimize the code for that processor as much as possible while still keeping the code compatible with everything else in the architecture, while -march does the same without care for compatibility -- on x86 at least, not sure whether it's the same on PPC)

    - you mention using the same compiler because, err, you wanted to use the same compiler... if this was done in the hopes of it generating code of similar speed for each architecture, though, then your own results show there isn't much point -- seems GCC, 3.3 at least, is much better at generating x86 code than PPC (which isn't surprising, given much more work probably went into it due to the larger userbase). Not saying it was a bad idea to use GCC on both platforms (it's a good one, if for no other reason than most code, on the Linux side at least and OSX itself (not sure about the apps) are compiled with it), just that if the above was the reason, it wasn't a very good one ;).

    - Continuing the above, I was a bit surprised at the, *ahem*, noticeable difference in speed between not even two different compilers, but two versions of the same. (I was expecting something like 1-5, maybe 10% difference, not 100). Maybe this could warrant yet another followup article, this time on compilers? :)
    Reply
  • Pannenkoek - Friday, September 2, 2005 - link

    The reason is that GCC 4.0 incorporated infrastrucure for vector optimization (tree-ssa), which can give, especially in synthetic benchmarks, huge increase in FP performance. GCC can now finally optimize for SSE, Altivec, etc., a reason why in the past optimizing specifically for newer Pentiums did not yield much improvement.

    Althougn compiler benchmarks would be interesting, I doubt it is a task for Anandtech. Normal desktop users do not have to worry about whether or not their applications are optimized optimally, and any differences between, say GCC and ICC, are small or negligible for ordinary desktop programs. (Multimedia programs often have inline assembly for performance critical parts anyway).

    GCC is free, supports about any platform and improves continually while it's already a first class compiler.
    Reply
  • javaxman - Friday, September 2, 2005 - link

    While I generally love this article, I have to wonder...
    why not write a simple benchmark for pthread(), if you think that's the bottleneck? Surely it'd be a simple thing to write a page of code which creates a bunch of threads in a loop, then issues a thread count and/or timestamp. It seems like a blindingly obvious test to run. Please run it.

    I have to say that I *do* think pthread() is the likely bottleneck, possibly due to BSD4.9-derivative code, but why not test that if we think that's the problem? I understand wanting to see real-world MySQL performance, but if you're trying to find a system-level bottleneck, that's not the right type of testing to do...

    Now that I metion it, Darwinx86 vs. BSD 4.9 ( on the same system ) vs. BSD 5.x ( on the same system ) vs. Linux ( on the same system ) would really be a more interesting test at this point... I'm really not caring about PPC these days unless it's an IBM blade system, to be honest... testing an Apple PPC almost seems silly, they'll be gone before too long... Apple's decision to move away from PPC has more to do with *future* chip development than *current* offerings, anyway... Intel and AMD are just putting more R&D into their x86 chips, IBM's not matching it, and Apple knows it...

    but even if you are going to look at PPC systems, if you're trying to find a system-level bottleneck, write and run system-level tests... a pthread() test is what is needed here.
    Reply
  • rhavenn - Friday, September 2, 2005 - link

    If I remember correctly, OS X is forked off of the FreeBSD 4.9 codebase. The 4.x series of BSD always had a crappy threading system and didn't handled threaded apps well at all. I doubt Apple really touched those internals all that much.

    FreeBSD 5.x has a much better time of it. I'm wondering if the switch back to a Intel platform will make it easier for Apple to integrate the BSD 5.x codebase into their OS? or even if they plan on using the BSD 6.x codebase for a future release? The threading models have vastly improved.

    Just a thought :)
    Reply
  • JohanAnandtech - Friday, September 2, 2005 - link

    http://www.apple.com/education/hed/compsci/tiger.h...">http://www.apple.com/education/hed/compsci/tiger.h... :

    "FreeBSD 5.0
    The upgraded kernel in Tiger, based on mach and FreeBSD, provides optimized resource locking for better scalability across multiple processors, support for 64-bit memory pointers through the System library and standards-based access control lists"

    Where did you see FreeBSD 4.9?
    Reply
  • mbe - Friday, September 2, 2005 - link

    Readers also pointed out that LMBench uses "fork", which is the way to create a process and not threads in all Unix variants, including Mac OS X and Linux. I fully agree, but does this mean that the benchmark tells us nothing about the way that the OS handles threading? The relation between a low number in this particular Lmbench benchmark and a slow creating of threads may or may not be the answer, but it does give us some indication of a performance issue. Allow me to explain...

    This misses the point, your claim in the last article was that MacOS X used userspace threads. Mentioning that LMbench uses processes still rules out userspace threads having any part to play. This is since processes can't in any meaningful way (short of violating some pretty basic principles) be implemented around userspace threads. The point is that a process is a virtual memory space attached to a main system thread, not a userspace thread which are not normally even considered threads on this level.

    This is necessary since the virtual memory attached to the thread has to be managed when doing context switches, and by its very definition userspace code cannot directly touch the memory mappings.
    Reply
  • JohanAnandtech - Friday, September 2, 2005 - link

    Yes, it could be. The interesting questions are:
    - Is the only culprit for the 8 time lower performance. Microkernels are reported to be 66 to 5% slower depending on who benchmarked it. But not 8 times slower.
    - What makes it still interesting for the apple devs to use it?

    I hope Apple will be a bit more keen to defend their product, because their might be interesting technical reasons to keep the Mach kernel.
    Reply
  • sdf - Friday, September 2, 2005 - link

    Is Mac OS X really a microkernel? I understood it to be designed to function as a microkernel, but compiled and shipped as a macrokernel for performance reasons. Reply
  • JohanAnandtech - Sunday, September 4, 2005 - link

    I am sorry if I wasn't clear. As I state in the article clearly: Mac OS X is ** NOT ** a microkernel, but based on a microkernel as the Mach kernel is burried inside the FreeBSD monolithic kernel.

    Most of the tasks are done by a FreeBSD alike kernel, but threading is done by the Mach kernel.
    Reply

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