Bad experience on a new Intel Mini Solo :(

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited January 2014
OK so I run a 1.25GHz Mac Mini G4 at home with 1GB Ram and I use a 1.5GHz powerbook to take to work with 512MB Ram. My office just got the basic Intel Mini with 512MB Ram.



First impressions are not good at all - everything is pretty slow. The trouble is that there are a few people who use cheap Windows PCs in the office that are a few years old and we are now having a very hard time convincing them that Macs are the way to go when a brand new 1.5GHz machine with 512MB Ram runs like molasses.



I at least expected it to be faster than my G4 Mini.



The few Rosetta apps are awful. Microsoft Word takes ages to launch and I had hoped the native NeoOffice would be better but it's actually worse.



Front Row takes ages to initialize if it does and it's not very stable. Dashboard is slow. Safari pages sometimes take between 5-10 seconds to load but nobody else in the office has this problem. I tried all sorts of things from pinging the router and websites and the router ping is ok but website pings seem to take sometimes twice as long as my powerbook.



And I know what you are going to say, get more Ram. However, the fact is that the setup already costs over £400. It's just not acceptable that it runs like that when PCs that are years old get the job done much quicker. 512MB Ram should be enough for a general office computer. I just need a Word compatible word processor and a fast browser (and no, Firefox is slow too). Yes it's partly Microsoft's fault for not updating Office to universal versions but there are no alternatives. I even tried Pages and it's also pretty slow.



Overall, I'm not very happy with it and from using it, it's sort of put me off buying an Intel Mini for home use. I would of course buy the DC version with 1GB Ram but that's not the point. The point is Apple don't have a cheap, usable office machine in the Intel Mini, which if I recall that's exactly the kind of market it's aiming at. They're going to need to do better than this if they want to get more switchers.



One thing I'm wondering is if Rosetta behaves like Classic. Would the system go significantly faster if absolutely no ppc apps are runnning? There are some critical apps like Word that need to be run at times but would it help if Word was quit when doing other things? It gets left open to avoid the launch time.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 21
    jeffdmjeffdm Posts: 12,946member
    I do agree on general principle, but with a couple caveats.



    Emulation through Rosetta takes a lot of memory. I've heard people recommend that they double the RAM vs what a program says it needed for native operation. So if you were happy with a PPC with 512MB of memory, you'll want 1GB if you want to run non-native apps. OS X also likes to have a lot of memory in general, I think 1GB is necessary for a lot of multitasking.



    I don't know if the mini was targeted as an inexpensive office computer. Apple really aren't targeting businesses very well except for the creative departments.
  • Reply 2 of 21
    lundylundy Posts: 4,466member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Marvin


    OK so I run a 1.25GHz Mac Mini G4 at home with 1GB Ram and I use a 1.5GHz powerbook to take to work with 512MB Ram. My office just got the basic Intel Mini with 512MB Ram.



    First impressions are not good at all - everything is pretty slow. The trouble is that there are a few people who use cheap Windows PCs in the office that are a few years old and we are now having a very hard time convincing them that Macs are the way to go when a brand new 1.5GHz machine with 512MB Ram runs like molasses.



    I at least expected it to be faster than my G4 Mini.



    The few Rosetta apps are awful. Microsoft Word takes ages to launch and I had hoped the native NeoOffice would be better but it's actually worse.



    Front Row takes ages to initialize if it does and it's not very stable. Dashboard is slow. Safari pages sometimes take between 5-10 seconds to load but nobody else in the office has this problem. I tried all sorts of things from pinging the router and websites and the router ping is ok but website pings seem to take sometimes twice as long as my powerbook.



    And I know what you are going to say, get more Ram. However, the fact is that the setup already costs over £400. It's just not acceptable that it runs like that when PCs that are years old get the job done much quicker. 512MB Ram should be enough for a general office computer. I just need a Word compatible word processor and a fast browser (and no, Firefox is slow too). Yes it's partly Microsoft's fault for not updating Office to universal versions but there are no alternatives. I even tried Pages and it's also pretty slow.



    Overall, I'm not very happy with it and from using it, it's sort of put me off buying an Intel Mini for home use. I would of course buy the DC version with 1GB Ram but that's not the point. The point is Apple don't have a cheap, usable office machine in the Intel Mini, which if I recall that's exactly the kind of market it's aiming at. They're going to need to do better than this if they want to get more switchers.



    One thing I'm wondering is if Rosetta behaves like Classic. Would the system go significantly faster if absolutely no ppc apps are runnning? There are some critical apps like Word that need to be run at times but would it help if Word was quit when doing other things? It gets left open to avoid the launch time.



    The fact that pinging seems to be slow caught my attention.



    Pinging should not depend on the processor.



    If pinging is "slow", something else is going on. That would go along with the loading pages in Safari.



    Have you tried a speed test or a line quality test of any sort? Is there some sort of whacko Windows proxy server or something at the office?



    Check out Activity Monitor just to make sure nothing in the networking arena is hogging the CPU.
  • Reply 3 of 21
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 14,172moderator
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by JeffDM


    I've heard people recommend that they double the RAM vs what a program says it needed for native operation.



    Yeah, I usually go for about 1GB myself but i think it's unreasonable to need that for basic applications. Some people seem to do ok with the 512MB:



    http://www.macdailynews.com/index.ph...am_vs_1gb_ram/



    but maybe the dual cores make up for something there.



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by JeffDM


    I don't know if the mini was targeted as an inexpensive office computer. Apple really aren't targeting businesses very well except for the creative departments.



    True but I meant more the expected performance to satisfy both office user and home user, which I consider to be about the same rather than the demographic itself. Word processing and web browsing are about the most basic things you can do on a computer.



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by lundy


    If pinging is "slow", something else is going on. That would go along with the loading pages in Safari.



    Have you tried a speed test or a line quality test of any sort? Is there some sort of whacko Windows proxy server or something at the office?



    Check out Activity Monitor just to make sure nothing in the networking arena is hogging the CPU.



    No proxies at all. The Mini connects to the same router as all the other machines. I had suspected the airport reception because some people had problems with the Intel mini's Airport being badly connected inside. But the symptoms were erratic ping values rather than consistent long ones.



    After using the machine for a while, it seemed that some pages loaded ok but it was pretty temperamental. Sometimes a page would load ok and then a refresh would take between 5 and 10 seconds. It was really inconsistent even though the reception was at max.



    I did the page load test thing in the Safari debug menu and it showed an 8 second + load time for some sites. I actually tested some of those sites at home on my G4 just now and it seems that some of them may have been to do with the sites themselves. There just seemed to be a lot more on the Intel Mini.



    Even the Google image would load in slowly and that never happens on my powerbook at the office.



    I looked at the apps running and nothing was using too much CPU. MSN Messenger was running under Rosetta but I don't know if that would cause any problems.



    My biggest problem is that Word is a pretty standard text editing app and I was under the impression that Rosetta would run PPC apps at a speed that was close to the PPC speed and it very clearly doesn't. It felt like I was using an old G3.



    I haven't used Word in a while so maybe I have a different perception of how bad the Mac version really is but it opens pretty quickly on old Windows machines. Are there any good alternative text programs? I tried Abiword (kerning and performance suck), Neooffice (slower than office) and Pages (not bad performance - still slow though - but more like Indesign than a word processor). I just need an Intel-native, lightweight text editor that is a proper word processor (ie not textedit).



    How do other people feel with Office on the Intel Minis? What do you use as an alternative? I'm considering using Parallels with Windows Office but I'll have to figure out how to make a Windows image.



    On the graphics end, integrated GPUs are as bad as they are hyped. Dashboard and expose stutter when hardly anything is open and as I said before, Front Row does a similar thing.



    We're getting an Intel imac in next week with 2GB Ram and 256MB dedicated video so I'll see how it fares in Rosetta and what not. It'll be used with some of the Adobe software like Photoshop - it was a tough decision even buying it but we'll see.



    Unless Parallels blows me away, for a low end machine, I would actually now recommend people to stick with a cheap G4 until all the apps are Intel native and possibly until Leopard comes out.
  • Reply 4 of 21
    lundylundy Posts: 4,466member
    I'm not happy with Office Mac even on my dual G5. Even though it's PPC native, it's still a Carbon hack and until I upgraded Excel to the 2004 version, just moving the insertion point in a text string took 1 second for it to move from one character to the next.



    It's not really a word processor, but you did say "text editor" - try TextWrangler http://barebones.com/products/textwrangler/index.shtml . At least it's fast. It's Intel native.
  • Reply 5 of 21
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 14,172moderator
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by lundy


    I'm not happy with Office Mac even on my dual G5. Even though it's PPC native, it's still a Carbon hack and until I upgraded Excel to the 2004 version, just moving the insertion point in a text string took 1 second for it to move from one character to the next.



    Ah, so maybe it's just the difference between Mac and Windows version that is showing the slowdown. They have vastly different performance on each platform.



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by lundy


    It's not really a word processor, but you did say "text editor" - try TextWrangler http://barebones.com/products/textwrangler/index.shtml . At least it's fast. It's Intel native.



    Yeah I use that for basic text but it would need to be more fully fledged than that. Something like what Appleworks used to be.



    Actually I've just noticed Nisus writer is universal and supports Word so I might give that a go:



    http://www.nisus.com/



    Ragtime still seems to run under Rosetta:



    http://www.ragtime-online.com/



    That one's quite good for ppc because you get a free solo version for home use.
  • Reply 6 of 21
    if you want to go all mac for your office/work via minis then if i was you id wait for the low end mini to go core duo early next year and by march/april it will likely have 1GB of ram as well.



    that is my take on what will happen, then again tomorrow (wwdc) could knock that idea out of the water.
  • Reply 7 of 21
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 14,172moderator
    Ok, I just tried out a Macbook with 1.25GB Ram and I don't know if it's the Core Duo vs the Solo or the extra Ram but this thing is pretty fast compared to the Mini I used.



    I would be pretty happy with it. I tried all sorts of things including Parallels. Office is incredibly fast under that. I was typing jibberish really quickly and it kept up unlike the Mac version in Rosetta. The apps launch pretty much instantly.



    Graphical transitions are smooth and no real jitter to speak of.



    I'm wondering if it's something to do with the desktops with integrated graphics working better with matched memory. Apparently the laptops don't need this but for example, the Mini would run better with 2x512MB than 1x1GB?



    Suffice to say, if I got a Mini with Core Duo and 2x512MB then I'm sure now that it would run everything adequately. I might still hang off to see if they reduce the price a bit though - I don't think they are reaching a good enough price point compared to the imac.
  • Reply 8 of 21
    jeffdmjeffdm Posts: 12,946member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Marvin


    Ok, I just tried out a Macbook with 1.25GB Ram and I don't know if it's the Core Duo vs the Solo or the extra Ram but this thing is pretty fast compared to the Mini I used.



    I would be pretty happy with it. I tried all sorts of things including Parallels. Office is incredibly fast under that. I was typing jibberish really quickly and it kept up unlike the Mac version in Rosetta. The apps launch pretty much instantly.



    Graphical transitions are smooth and no real jitter to speak of.



    I'm wondering if it's something to do with the desktops with integrated graphics working better with matched memory. Apparently the laptops don't need this but for example, the Mini would run better with 2x512MB than 1x1GB?



    Suffice to say, if I got a Mini with Core Duo and 2x512MB then I'm sure now that it would run everything adequately. I might still hang off to see if they reduce the price a bit though - I don't think they are reaching a good enough price point compared to the imac.





    Both the MacBook and MacMini can run in dual channel mode if you run with matched memory sizes, even the Intel information seems to say that you lose dual channel if you mismatch the sizes. I don't know how a MacBook can have matched memory at 1.25GB of RAM. I haven't seen anyone try to benchmark the actual speed difference though,



    I would say that it's the amount of memory that makes the biggest difference here. When you start seeing delays and stuttering, open Activity Monitor, click "system memory" and see if any of the pie chart is green. If the green part is just a sliver, then I'll say it's likely the memory.
  • Reply 9 of 21
    davegeedavegee Posts: 2,765member
    Also, IIRC with the mini using the GMA950 doesn't that reduce the 'OS usable' memory by 80 MB or so? I have no idea if the reduction in ram would have that big of an effect tho...



    Dave
  • Reply 10 of 21
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 14,172moderator
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by JeffDM


    Both the MacBook and MacMini can run in dual channel mode if you run with matched memory sizes, even the Intel information seems to say that you lose dual channel if you mismatch the sizes. I don't know how a MacBook can have matched memory at 1.25GB of RAM. I haven't seen anyone try to benchmark the actual speed difference though.



    Hmmm, the 3rd party dealer it was bought from said that the Macbooks were soldered differently from the Minis and so it didn't matter so he installed a 1GB + 256MB. I'm guessing he was lying then... surprise, surprise. In fact, I found this from Apple that says the Macbook Pros can get a boost from dual channel too:



    http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=303553



    I imagine you'd just see a bigger difference in the lower end machines because of the integrated graphics sharing the system Ram. I'd quite like to see a benchmark too.



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by JeffDM


    I would say that it's the amount of memory that makes the biggest difference here. When you start seeing delays and stuttering, open Activity Monitor, click "system memory" and see if any of the pie chart is green. If the green part is just a sliver, then I'll say it's likely the memory.



    Well that's the thing. I thought that originally but when I checked the Ram, it seemed to be fine. No excessive pageouts or anything. Even so, there's not really any explanantion other than that. I just wish they'd made the Mini as easy to install Ram as the Macbook.
  • Reply 11 of 21
    jeffdmjeffdm Posts: 12,946member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by DaveGee


    Also, IIRC with the mini using the GMA950 doesn't that reduce the 'OS usable' memory by 80 MB or so? I have no idea if the reduction in ram would have that big of an effect tho...



    Dave



    I imagine that it hurts a little, that 80MB is about enough memory to run one or two typical (native) apps, so that's fewer apps before it starts swapping. I think the fact that it steals some memory bandwidth isn't helping, but running matched pairs should make that point moot. Running PPC apps in emulation is probably what's hurting the most, because that supposedly require about twice as much memory as running the app natively.
  • Reply 12 of 21
    slugheadslughead Posts: 1,169member
    I bet rosetta without multithreading processors suck too.
  • Reply 13 of 21
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by slughead


    I bet rosetta without multithreading processors suck too.



    How would a Solo behave with 2Gb of RAM, would it be somewhere near, say a Duo with 1Gb of RAM...?



    Reason for this question is that I can buy a 2nd hand Solo for a fair price and I was thinking of upgrading it to 2Gb RAM.
  • Reply 14 of 21
    Another theory:



    with the migration assistant he cloned all PPC native apps to his Intel,

    i.e. almost every task, including Safari, must be "Rosetta´d" !



    The MacMini should be fast, no matter the RAM. I´m running

    a MBPro with 512MB and it is unbelievably fast!



    Something is wrong, it has nothing to do with having an Apple.
  • Reply 15 of 21
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 14,172moderator
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by thewongandonly


    How would a Solo behave with 2Gb of RAM, would it be somewhere near, say a Duo with 1Gb of RAM...?



    Reason for this question is that I can buy a 2nd hand Solo for a fair price and I was thinking of upgrading it to 2Gb RAM.



    I wouldn't get a Solo at all. Considering how little extra you pay for the Duo, it's not worth it.



    Solo = £399

    Duo = £529



    for £130, you get 20GB more HD space, a superdrive and an extra processor essentially. More than double the speed (dual 1.66 vs single 1.5) + DVD burning + more space for 30% extra money is pretty good.



    You might struggle to play HD on the Solo. I tried playing two streams on the Duo and it dropped frames. It takes about one processor for each stream.



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by genehack


    Another theory:



    with the migration assistant he cloned all PPC native apps to his Intel,

    i.e. almost every task, including Safari, must be "Rosetta´d" !



    The MacMini should be fast, no matter the RAM. I´m running

    a MBPro with 512MB and it is unbelievably fast!



    Something is wrong, it has nothing to do with having an Apple.



    Hardly any apps are Rosetta. Just two or three including Word and MSN Messenger. I could understand that the MBP with 512MB would be fine because it has two processors and dedicated video memory whereas the Mini Solo doesn't.



    I don't have a problem with the Intel Macs in general and as I said, the Macbook with 1.25GB Ram runs pretty fast. The only differences between it and the Mini Solo are the extra Ram and the extra processor so I'm guessing it's both but the Ram more than the CPU.



    It's true there could be something wrong with it but it doesn't kernel panic or anything so it's not likely to be bad Ram.



    All I'm saying is that I bought the 1.25GHz G4 Mini as a home machine and I was considering the Intel Solo as a viable option if it was fast enough compared to the G4 Mini. If it turns out that it's slower or the same then there's little point. I would happily get the Core Duo with 1GB+ Ram because of my Macbook experience, which I presume would be almost the same as the Mini. At the moment, I still don't think the Mini is priced reasonably compared to the imac or even the Macbook so I'll wait on the price dropping, hopefully if new chips get introduced.
  • Reply 16 of 21
    slugheadslughead Posts: 1,169member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by thewongandonly


    How would a Solo behave with 2Gb of RAM, would it be somewhere near, say a Duo with 1Gb of RAM...?



    Reason for this question is that I can buy a 2nd hand Solo for a fair price and I was thinking of upgrading it to 2Gb RAM.





    RAM will help, but I'm saying that since Intel doesn't have hyperthreading anymore, the only way to get multithreaded processing is with multiple cores.



    Therefore, at some tasks, the core duo could be more than twice as fast, especially at things like virtualization and emulation (Ergo, rosetta)
  • Reply 17 of 21
    Intel doesn't use hyperthreading in the Core processors out now. They haven't abandoned the idea of hyperthreading.
  • Reply 18 of 21
    jeffdmjeffdm Posts: 12,946member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by slughead


    RAM will help, but I'm saying that since Intel doesn't have hyperthreading anymore, the only way to get multithreaded processing is with multiple cores.



    Therefore, at some tasks, the core duo could be more than twice as fast, especially at things like virtualization (Ergo, rosetta)



    Rosetta is more emulation than virtualization. The difference here is subtle, but I'm not certain if Rosetta can take advantage of multiple cores if it is emulating a single threaded program.



    Are you certain that Rosetta benefits, and how do you know that, and by how much?
  • Reply 19 of 21
    lundylundy Posts: 4,466member
    To a certain extent, everything benefits from multiple cores. Unlike Classic Mac OS, OS X will schedule most system processes on a preemptive basis, and load-balance between multiple CPUs. So even if you are only running one single-threaded user app, theoretically OS X is still able to use both cores to run all the system processes, rather than having to schedule everything on one core.



    Look at the "floating CPU monitor" in Activity Monitor on a dual-core machine and you'll see both cores being used even if there are no threaded user apps running.
  • Reply 20 of 21
    jeffdmjeffdm Posts: 12,946member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by lundy


    Look at the "floating CPU monitor" in Activity Monitor on a dual-core machine and you'll see both cores being used even if there are no threaded user apps running.



    Usually, I consider that a scheduling problem because only rarely does the usage exceed much beyond 50% for each core. The kernel scheduler is basically load-balancing the work, but that has a penalty too because there's a little cache thrashing going on. Unless I am running two or more processor-intensive tasks at a time, I generally don't get a major performance difference from disabling the second CPU.
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