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How does screen resolution affect performance?

post #1 of 18
Thread Starter 
I'm assuming that a display running at 1900x1200 pixels places more strain on a Macs graphics card that a screen running at say 1680x1050 pixels.

But just how much does resolution affect the performance of a modern Mac? It's not uncommon to see 128MB or 256MB in modern Macs, and I woulldn't have thought that running these Macs at 1900x1200 would sweat them much?

I work mainly in Illustrator and InDesign, and having driven my 30" Cinema Display from just about every Mac that'll support it - from G5 Duals & Quads, a Mac Pro, PowerBooks and now a coulple of MacBook Pros - I'm starting to come to the conclusion that it places a massive load on the Mac, and I can't help but think that a 23" CD would be far more responsive. Is this true, is there any data to support this, or is it just subjective?

Our MacBook consistently beats both of our MacBook Pros in the Xbench benchmark, and I wonder if this is down to the MacBooks lower 1280x800 resolution?

Cheers...
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post #2 of 18
it won't make any difference. Displays look best at their native resolution anyways. So always run the highest resolution your screen can offer, it won't affect performance. Also, applications like illustrator and indesign don't even use the graphics card so they shouldn't be affected. Having said that, it will make a difference for anything like games or video. high res video will strain the cpu as will games set to higher resolution, but as far as I can tell, that isn't what your talking about.
post #3 of 18
Resolution does affect performance because the computer has to render and push more pixels through to the screen. If you play a game and increase the resolution, you can see that it affects the speed.

I don't think that's why the MB is showing better performance than the MBP because the X1600 OpenGL performance should wipe out the GMA for drawing. Look at the exact numbers to see where the MBP is falling short. It may be a 4200 drive compared to a 5400 drive or something.

As for the 30" vs 23", I would say that the 23" could certainly be more responsive. You're comparing 2560x1600 (4,096,000 pixels) vs 1920x1200 (2,304,000 pixels). The former is nearly double the total number of pixels the machine has to render. It seems a bit odd but going from a 30" to a 23" would be like cutting it in half.

Whether you'd notice a speed difference is a different matter. It won't for example affect a filter in Photoshop that is rendering because the screen won't be redrawing at the time. It may however affect the speed of a filter preview because it has to render more pixels. You can easily check by lowering the resolution to see if you notice a difference in performance. Chances are if you've bought a GPU powerful enough to drive a 30" display then you might not notice any difference at all. You only really notice it when your GPU chokes and it throws the load onto the rest of the system.

I don't know why you'd need a 30" display. I can understand if it's for presentation but I find even a 20" screen is about as high as I would go given how far away I would be viewing it. I could stretch to 23" for the extra screen space.
post #4 of 18
Thread Starter 
Yeah, that's what I thought - that the 30" requires more pixels to be pushed, and therefore it takes the CPU longer to process those pixels and the GPU longer to assemble those pixels on screen. As for the Adobe apps not taking advantage of the graphics card, I'm not sure I agree with that at the very least, I thought the OS now appointed the graphics cards workload?

You notice the lag if you are working on large format layouts populated with graphics. Scrolling between the pages isn't exactly smooth, and you have to ask yourself that if a Mac Pro with PCIe graphics and 2GB of RAM can't handle it, then what can?

I think the apps themselves have a lot to answer for as well, I used to be able to scroll through pages upon pages of populated layouts back in the days of the Sawtooth Graphite G4s and Quark. I suspect that as each generation of app gets even more bloated than the last it takes a more powerful computer to keep up. The result is that even with the most powerful computers, you don't actually get any more work done. Maybe if you're churning through a lot of number crunching a Mac Pro is faster, but for day to day design work the MDD G4s with Illustrator 10 and Jaguar easily outpace the G5s with Illustrator CS2 and Tiger.

As for why do I need a 30"? It's not got so much to do with the size of the layouts that I'm working with, but rather the number of palettes in the Adobe apps these days! Illustrator has enough palettes to fill a 23" display before you even start working on the project. I wish for once that the programmers would concentrate on optimising what they already have rather than layering on more functionality that nobody uses... gripe over.

I guess two 23" displays is the way to go.. or does anybody know if Spaces will allow you to place all of an applications palettes in a different space? That way you could have a second space full of palettes and you could flip back and forth between... I don't know how a system with a 30" display would handle that, because you'd theoretically then have four 30" screens to process and push?
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post #5 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by Messiah View Post

As for the Adobe apps not taking advantage of the graphics card, I'm not sure I agree with that at the very least, I thought the OS now appointed the graphics cards workload?

In quartz extreme, OS X uses the GPU to draw the interface but that wouldn't slow down the execution of a filter for example if you're not doing anything else at the same time. If you run a filter and then start dragging windows around or editing another image then it would slow it down but there are other elements besides the drawing that affect that too such as memory allocation.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Messiah View Post

I think the apps themselves have a lot to answer for as well, I used to be able to scroll through pages upon pages of populated layouts back in the days of the Sawtooth Graphite G4s and Quark. I suspect that as each generation of app gets even more bloated than the last it takes a more powerful computer to keep up. The result is that even with the most powerful computers, you don't actually get any more work done. Maybe if you're churning through a lot of number crunching a Mac Pro is faster, but for day to day design work the MDD G4s with Illustrator 10 and Jaguar easily outpace the G5s with Illustrator CS2 and Tiger.

I wish for once that the programmers would concentrate on optimising what they already have rather than layering on more functionality that nobody uses

I've noticed that too and it really frustrates me. I see it in high end apps a lot. For example, I've compared some big commercial software packages to small ones that do less and the commercial packages are often unusble whereas the smaller ones get the job done. I'm not against product development but when a piece of software gets to the stage where it's unusable on certain machines then it's not the hardware but the software that needs fixing. You can see this in Photoshop CS3 compared to CS2. They've done some major work to this software and it flies along now.

I actually think the Apple switch to Intel was a great thing in this respect because I even benchmarked that the Windows version of CS3 was nearly half the speed of the Mac version on certain tasks.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Messiah View Post

I guess two 23" displays is the way to go.. or does anybody know if Spaces will allow you to place all of an applications palettes in a different space? That way you could have a second space full of palettes and you could flip back and forth between... I don't know how a system with a 30" display would handle that, because you'd theoretically then have four 30" screens to process and push?

The offscreen desktops in spaces aren't drawn at the same time but I would suggest two displays over multiple desktops. You get more pixels for the price and they are more productive because you can separate the windows more logically. Plus your eyes prefer wide screens as opposed to tall ones, which is why movies are going widescreen.

http://research.microsoft.com/displa...le.aspx?id=433

This should be more responsive than one big screen especially if you get two graphics cards, one for each display. It is a preference though and dual displays come with some quirks. For example there is no dock on the second display or menu, it's basically a big blank space. This takes a bit of getting used to. Plus full screen apps like games only use one of them.

However once you get used to the quirks, most people find them easier to work with and harder to go back to a single screen.

I don't think I'll ever use Spaces because it's really for switching between multiple workflows. For example if you are doing a website, you may have Dreamweaver open and set up on one space for publishing the site and another space setup for doing the content like Photoshop for image editing.

I wouldn't think it'll be fast enough to keep palettes in. I think that the apps should perhaps use Apple's Dashboard idea for that. In fact I wonder if applications can take advantage of Dashboard to do that. Maybe they can make a widget that contains all your palettes.
post #6 of 18
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Marvin View Post

I actually think the Apple switch to Intel was a great thing in this respect because I even benchmarked that the Windows version of CS3 was nearly half the speed of the Mac version on certain tasks.

http://research.microsoft.com/displa...le.aspx?id=433

Wow. Stick around will you? I might have a few more questions to ask you!
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post #7 of 18
Thread Starter 
So when I'm scrolling through an InDesign document and the scrolling stutters, is that caused by the CPU or the GPU? Or more likely, both?

There's also a 30 sec. lag when switching between the launched CS2 applications, but I think that is probably down to a lack of RAM I'm currently running with 2GB which is the max.

I'm thinking of investing in a new base unit, and I'm tempted to go with another PM G5 Quad, as the CS2 is native, rock solid and a hell of a lot faster.

But there again, a Mac Pro is cheaper and more future proofed, and when CS3 comes along there's a chance it'll run as fast as CS2 on the Quad. Either way, I think I'll also have to take the plunge and get an X1900XT card as well.

I'm not particularly fussed about upgrading to CS3, and Leopard and it's resolution independent UI just scares me... I know from experience that there will be a bedding in period where things just won't work like Rosetta at the moment. Having had a look at CS3, it looks like Adobe have pulled their old tricks and gone for a proprietary interface, and if so, how will Leopard's UI deal with that?

There are a whole lot of unknowns at the moment, and I need to act quickly before the last of the PM Quads disappear for good.
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post #8 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by Messiah View Post

So when I'm scrolling through an InDesign document and the scrolling stutters, is that caused by the CPU or the GPU? Or more likely, both?

It's more likely the CPU. It's quite easy to see if this is the case by checking out the activity monitor. If you drag the activity monitor from /Applications/Utilities into your dock and go to view > dock icon > cpu history, it will show you in real-time what your CPU usage is like for each processor. If you have the dock showing while you scroll in Indesign and these bars fill with green then it's your CPU that is doing all the work. I'm pretty certain it is with the Adobe software because people were wondering if they were going to use Core Image etc to speed things up.

You should get into the habit of checking the Activity Monitor regularly. Someone where I work was wondering why his Adobe software was going slow one day and I told him to check his monitor and he discovered the Finder had hung up (sometimes it does that when making thumbnails or doing Quicktime previews). It also has a tab for checking Ram usage and it shows a nice pie chart. Basically, if the pie chart is mostly reds and yellows then you could benefit from more Ram and if it's more green and blue, you're Ram is ok.

There are various reasons not to use hardware acceleration for this kind of thing and the big one is that if you run out of video memory then the images have to keep getting transferred to and from the GPU and this makes any performance gains redundant. There's also anti-aliasing and color accuracy to take into consideration.

The slow scrolling could also be a mixture of things like not enough Ram, too high resolution or quality settings. If you run out of Ram then just like with the GPU, the system has to page a memory swap space and this is on your hard drive. Hard drives are much slower than Ram so this paging affects performance quite a bit and in fact this affects other applications when you switch, which is what you described.

You can get round this with more Ram or a faster hard drive setup like a RAID setup.

As people describe here:

http://groups.google.co.uk/group/ado...ce4d1c18e3c129
http://groups.google.co.uk/group/ado...a4f2d83133dc47

you can speed things up by using a lower resolution, turning off high quality display and someone mentioned turning off anti-aliasing.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Messiah View Post

There's also a 30 sec. lag when switching between the launched CS2 applications, but I think that is probably down to a lack of RAM – I'm currently running with 2GB which is the max.

That seems quite a big delay. One thing that can affect application switching besides heavy use of the swap space is messed up caches. If you use a program called cocktail, you can clean out your system caches quite easily. Once you reboot, OS X will rebuild them.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Messiah View Post

I'm thinking of investing in a new base unit, and I'm tempted to go with another PM G5 Quad, as the CS2 is native, rock solid and a hell of a lot faster.

But there again, a Mac Pro is cheaper and more future proofed, and when CS3 comes along there's a chance it'll run as fast as CS2 on the Quad. Either way, I think I'll also have to take the plunge and get an X1900XT card as well.

CS3 on the Mac Pro should be faster than CS2 on the quad but it seems it won't be available for a few months yet. Plus you will have to deal with issues like it probably won't be able to work with PPC plugins since they use the long dead CFM binary format that died with Codewarrior for Mac. Adobe should have made a Mach-O compatible sdk for CS2.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Messiah View Post

Having had a look at CS3, it looks like Adobe have pulled their old tricks and gone for a proprietary interface, and if so, how will Leopard's UI deal with that?

Having a resolution independent UI doesn't prevent apps having the old style interface, it will work just as before. All that resolution independence means is that apps that do take advantage of it will look nicer on large screens when their interface elements are enlarged.
post #9 of 18
Thread Starter 
Thanks again for taking the time to explain all of this to me!

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post #10 of 18
I don't want to piss on your fireworks but if your graphics card can support the 30", then hooking it up won't put any extra load on your cpu. Until you can show me screenshots of activity monitor proving me wrong I will not believe this. In any case, as I said, Illustrator and Indesign do not offload anything onto the graphics card anyway. The only time screen resolution has effect on performance is in gaming, or full screen visual effects like itunes visualiser, but thats a completely different story.

By the way. I would take anything from xbench with a pinch of salt. It tends to be a fairly unreliable benchmark, with results that apparently vary for no reason.

BTW try running the macbook pro at the same resolution as the macbook, and see if your xbench results change. I'd be interested to hear what happens.
post #11 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by Archstudent View Post

I don't want to piss on your fireworks but if your graphics card can support the 30", then hooking it up won't put any extra load on your cpu. Until you can show me screenshots of activity monitor proving me wrong I will not believe this. In any case, as I said, Illustrator and Indesign do not offload anything onto the graphics card anyway.

As you said, illustrator and indesign doesn't offload to the GPU, which is why a high res display affects your CPU. Because a large resolution display shows more stuff at a time then there are more elements on screen to render and all this rendering is done by the CPU. It's not rocket science (or firework science).

Quote:
Originally Posted by Archstudent View Post

The only time screen resolution has effect on performance is in gaming, or full screen visual effects like itunes visualiser, but thats a completely different story.

It's the same and is a very good example actually. Itunes renders the effects on the CPU, which is why when you turn on visualization your CPU usage goes up.

Turn off frame rate capping in your options and resize the visualizer in window mode as small as it will go and see what frame rate it is. Mine is 85fps and CPU usage is 85%.

Now drag the screen as big as it will go and see what you get. I get 28fps and 115% CPU usage. But it's the same pictures it's showing, just at a higher clarity.

Now turn on frame rate capping. In full screen the CPU drops to 85% for me.

In small screen, the CPU drops to 35%.

It's the same deal with video:

http://www.seriousmagic.com/products...alityVsCPU.htm

Quote:
Originally Posted by Archstudent View Post

By the way. I would take anything from xbench with a pinch of salt. It tends to be a fairly unreliable benchmark, with results that apparently vary for no reason.

I agree that xbench is unreliable.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Archstudent View Post

BTW try running the macbook pro at the same resolution as the macbook, and see if your xbench results change. I'd be interested to hear what happens.

I wouldn't. Xbench renders to the same sized window no matter what resolution your are at so the performance should be the same. This is to be expected from a benchmarking tool because it's testing the performance of the machine itself and this should be independent of screen resolution. Itunes is a better test.
post #12 of 18
Thread Starter 
I'm not sure if the MacBook Pro supports the 1280x800 resolution (I don't have it in front of me right now).

How does a 1.83GHz MacBook Pro vs. a 1.83GHz MacBook Pro with the same two 1GB sticks sound to you - in theory, the only difference is the graphics card and the hard disk drive? That would be about as close to an 'all other things being equal' test, and as luck would have it, I have both machines at my disposal at the moment...

...I'll post the results tomorrow when I'm back in the studio.
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post #13 of 18
Thread Starter 
I've been keeping an eye on the CPU and Memory Usage monitors in Activity Monitor and it seems as though the CPUs max out, and the memory usage is almost 100% during my daily usage of CS2. I guess that 2GB is not enough (which is a problem as it is all that my MacBook Pro will support), and the CPUs are also fixed. The 2.5" HDD really struggles when it comes to virtual memory.

So it seems as though the MacBook Pro just isn't up to the job which is a bit disappointing considering that it's the most powerful laptop that Apple offers, and touted as a desktop replacement. I'm going to try running the 30" at 1900x1200 for a while and see if that makes any difference - that should tell me whether a 23" display would speed the situation up any.

I've been pricing up a Quad G5 config. vs. a MacPro config, and the memory for the G5 is actually more expensive than the Mac Pros FB-DIMMs. Wow, when did the price of DDR2 memory go up?

At the moment I'm leaning toward a Quad, because I know that CS2 is fast and reliable - whereas if I go for the Mac Pro I either have to go with Rosetta or fork out for CS3 (and there's no guarantee that there'll be any benefits over CS2 on PPC). Mmmm...
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post #14 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by Messiah View Post

I've been keeping an eye on the CPU and Memory Usage monitors in Activity Monitor and it seems as though the CPUs max out, and the memory usage is almost 100% during my daily usage of CS2. I guess that 2GB is not enough (which is a problem as it is all that my MacBook Pro will support), and the CPUs are also fixed. The 2.5" HDD really struggles when it comes to virtual memory.

If you are maxing your Ram, that is the first issue to sort out. No amount of tweaks will make up for running out of Ram because no matter the display quality or resolution, the document has to be held in Ram. I suspect if you are maxing out 2GB that one big problem is CS2 running under Rosetta (this uses around 50% extra, possibly more Ram than native not including memory leaks).

http://lists.apple.com/archives/scit.../msg00226.html

I've always disliked the idea of Rosetta and I would never use a production app in it. I actually stopped using Photoshop under Rosetta and instead ran the Windows version on the Mac under Parallels (I'd recommend Bootcamp instead though). If it was possible, it would be good if you were able to install Windows and use CS2 under it to see if you needed a new machine or you just need a native Indesign (CS3).

Quote:
Originally Posted by Messiah View Post

So it seems as though the MacBook Pro just isn't up to the job which is a bit disappointing considering that it's the most powerful laptop that Apple offers, and touted as a desktop replacement. I'm going to try running the 30" at 1900x1200 for a while and see if that makes any difference - that should tell me whether a 23" display would speed the situation up any.

If you find things run faster at 1900x1200, you don't need to get the 23". You could always run the 30" at 1900x1200. This way you can always up the resolution for the times when you need the extra space. But if it's sluggish without the 30" attached then the resolution change won't be the best thing you can do to speed things up.

Apart from trying Windows to avoid Rosetta, you can also make sure to only have one document open at a time. Save and close the others to free up Ram. Possibly separate a document into sets of fewer pages and close the ones you aren't working on. If you have a 200-page booklet, do maybe ten pages at a time. I've always been curious about why programs don't have a mode where it only loads one page into Ram at a time and maybe buffers the pages that you see either side of the one you are working on. This is how Hex editors work and you can open files that are tens of gigabytes in size instantly and zip through the pages. That's only text of course but it would be nice if they could do something similar with graphics. Even if they made it so that in order to zip through the document it had to generate a preview - this preview would take a while the first time but would update after certain changes were made.

Other things you can do to speed things up include: Minimize documents you are not working on to save Indesign redrawing them.

Turn off fonts you don't need using a font manager.

Set your scratch disk to a dedicated 7200rpm firewire drive.

You can quit background programs to free up Ram. Widgets can suck up a lot of Ram if you have a lot open. They are mini programs that are running all the time and can use between 5-10MB each. List the processes in your activity monitor by real memory use and you'll see the worst ones.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Messiah View Post

At the moment I'm leaning toward a Quad, because I know that CS2 is fast and reliable - whereas if I go for the Mac Pro I either have to go with Rosetta or fork out for CS3 (and there's no guarantee that there'll be any benefits over CS2 on PPC). Mmmm...

As much as I prefer people to go for the Intel platform, I'd say without question that the G5 is the better option here. I sometimes use a G5 quad at work and it handles pretty much anything I throw at it. It is a very capable machine and the system throughput is very good. I'd still check to see if you need it by optimizing some things first though.
post #15 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by Marvin View Post

As you said, illustrator and indesign doesn't offload to the GPU, which is why a high res display affects your CPU. Because a large resolution display shows more stuff at a time then there are more elements on screen to render and all this rendering is done by the CPU. It's not rocket science (or firework science).



It's the same and is a very good example actually. Itunes renders the effects on the CPU, which is why when you turn on visualization your CPU usage goes up.

thats where I believe you are wrong. The gui is drawn by the gpu (with quartz). itunes visualiser eats the cpu because it is processing motion graphics at a high frame rate. Even if the cpu was drawing the gui, it would have a negligible effect, because a modern macintosh (especially one capable of driving a 30" screen) can draw the gui so easily. If it does, then prove it to me by posting a screenshot of activity monitor showing cpu getting eaten by gui at different resolutions.
post #16 of 18
There's two steps in putting graphics on screen: laying them out, and drawing them.

Drawing performance is directly related to the number of pixels on screen. For most tasks, this is completely negligible. In an situation where drawing is fairly intensive, like a complex Illustrator file, games, or the iTunes visualizer, a smaller resolution will let things run noticeably faster.
post #17 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by Archstudent View Post

thats where I believe you are wrong. The gui is drawn by the gpu (with quartz). itunes visualiser eats the cpu because it is processing motion graphics at a high frame rate. Even if the cpu was drawing the gui, it would have a negligible effect, because a modern macintosh (especially one capable of driving a 30" screen) can draw the gui so easily. If it does, then prove it to me by posting a screenshot of activity monitor showing cpu getting eaten by gui at different resolutions.

With some things, you're right it doesn't matter so much and it is dependent on the program itself and how it renders and caches stuff. Indesign has to render graphics elements (vector shapes) and layers and anti-alias it all. If you have a larger number of pages showing at a time (due to having more desktop space) then it takes more time to render that. But as I said, it's more likely the Ram that's causing the slowdown.

Some people online have posted faster scrolling speeds by lowering the resolution in Indesign. I don't have Indesign but I tried out Pages and it definitely felt faster at 800x600 than 1280x1024 as the scroll button kept up better with the mouse and on average used about 70% CPU on the lower resolution when scrolling as opposed to 90% on the higher one - for some reason it didn't use both CPUs. Maybe Pages isn't multi-threaded.
post #18 of 18
Thread Starter 
Yup! Here's the problem!



That's the Activity Monitor displaying RAM Usage on a 2GB MacBook Pro running CS2. It's pretty much using up all of the memory, and the little 2.5" HDD is struggling to handle all the paging.

Whilst the 30" certainly isn't helping matters, I'm not sure how much swapping it out for a 23" would help when the RAM usage is already so high.

I'm probably looking at 4GB+ for an Intel based machine, which rules out the Mac mini, iMac, MacBook and MacBook Pro families, and leaves just the Mac Pro. Or I could probably get away with 2GB on a G5 Quad and not have to worry about having to upgrade to CS3 when it's released.

I have to say that the G5 Quad is looking like the best machine at the moment (in hindsight, I can't believe I sold the one I had). I'm looking forward to being able to run a RAID-0 stripe set again as well!
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