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Speed of Apple Intel dev systems impress developers

The speed of Mac OS X running on Intel hardware is impressing some developers who've been privy to one of Apple's first Intel-based developer transition systems.

The systems started shipping to Mac OS X developers three weeks ago, each equipped with a 3.6 GHz Intel Pentium 4 processor with 2 MB L2 Cache, 800MHz front-side bus, 1GB of 533MHz DDR2 Dual Channel SDRAM, and an Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 900.

Developers are renting the $999 hardware from Apple for a period of 18 months in order to get a head start in porting their applications to run on the Intel version of Mac OS X.

"It's fast," said one developer source of Mac OS X running on Intel's Pentium processors. "Faster than [Mac OS X] on my Dual 2GHz Power Mac G5." In addition to booting Windows XP at blazing speeds, the included version of Mac OS X for Intel takes "as little as 10 seconds" to boot to the Desktop from when the Apple logo first displays on screen.

Included with the Mac OS X for Intel distribution is an Applications folder stocked with a mixture of PowerPC and Intel-native applications. Applications that are compiled only for PowerPC processors are of filetype "Application (PowerPC)" whereas Intel-native binaries are labeled of standard type "Application".

Developers sources say the early version of Rosetta, a dynamic binary translator that is designed to run unaltered PowerPC applications on Intel Macs, is also impressive. "Rosetta is completely 100 percent seamless and nothing like the Classic environment used to run older Mac OS 8 and 9 applications under Mac OS X," one source told AppleInsider.

"With the exception of the "PowerPC" denotation and the presence of "Open in Rosetta" checkbox in the application info boxes, you can't tell which applications are universal and which are PowerPC-only unless you examine package contents," the source explained.

Since the developer version of Mac OS X for Intel offers users the option of running any application under Rosetta, developers have been able to perform rudimentary speed comparisons between native Intel Mac applications and those that must first filter through the Rosetta binary translator.

"Taking a universal binary and timing its startup in Intel native speed versus its startup when opened via Rosetta results in a slowdown, but not as much as one would think," said another source. "The apps run at about 65 to 70 percent of their normal speed."

However, some PowerPC-native applications realize little to no speed reductions while running under Rosetta. A source told AppleInsider the current PowerPC version of the popular Firefox web browser loads just as fast under Mac OS X Intel as it does on a high-end dual processor Power Mac G5.

If reports are accurate, Mac users have a lot to look forward to in regards to web browsing under Mac OS X for Intel. According to sources, web browsing in general is much faster under Mac OS X for Intel than it is under the shipping version of Mac OS X for PowerPC. Web pages snap to the screen, the same way they do in Internet Explorer running on a new Pentium system, they say.

The first Mac systems to sport Intel processors are expected to hit the market around the middle of next year according to statements made by Apple, though recent mumblings indicate that the company may be striving to beat those estimates by several months.