How a Mac Mini can beat a quad-core Vista behemoth (or how Apple can't write good software for Windows)

How a Mac Mini can beat a quad-core Vista behemoth (or how Apple can't write good software for Windows)

Summary: Here's a tale of how a humble Mac Mini system outperformed my cutting-edge quad-core system. It's also a story of how Apple can't write good software for the Windows platform.

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Here's a tale of how a humble Mac Mini system outperformed my cutting-edge quad-core system. It's also a story of how Apple can't write good software for the Windows platform.

QuickTime hates WindowsThe other day I was chatting to George Ou about professional grade digital SLR cameras that offer 1080p video capability. He then mentioned how his system (an Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4 GHz PC system with an NVIDIA 8800GT GPU) couldn't handle 1080p H.264 QuickTime movies.

Thinking that it might be an issue with his system, I downloaded some test clips and tried playing them with Apple QuickTime on my 3.0GHz quad-core QX9650 Vista 64-bit system - This rig is kitted out with Velociraptor drives, 8GB of fast RAM and a Crossfire quad-GPU setup. The results - Awful. The clip was jerky and juddery, and while not technically unwatchable, I really didn't want to spend too long looking at it.

Note: If you want some sample 1080p H.264 QuickTime movies to try out at home then check out this page and scroll to the bottom for the clips we are using.

Now let's get some perspective on this. My system is capable of flawless Blu-ray H.264 1080p video playback and so the system is operating normally. However, just to be sure that this wasn't some random issue I also tried the clip on a few other systems that are not as powerful as my rig, but still very capable (all get a top score of 5.9 on the Windows Experience Index scale). Same results. The video seem to stutter every second or so and this continues throughout the clip. I then tried some other clips. Same results. I swapped out the video card in my system for an NVIDIA 280GTX graphics card. Same results. I tried Vista 32-bit and Vista 64-bit. Same results. No matter how much hardware I threw at the problem, the stuttering video persisted.

George suggested that I try the clip out on my 1.66 GHz Mac Mini system that kitted out with 512 MB of RAM. Compared to the quad-core system the Mac Mini is very, very low-end. So how does the Mac Mini running QuickTime handle these test clips? It plays them back flawlessly.

So, is the Mac Mini's hardware superior to that of the quad-core rig? Of course not. OK then, it it down to the OS? Is the Mac OS superior to Windows? Is there no way to get 1080p H.264 QuickTime movies to play smoothly on Windows? Well, there a simple test we can do. Let's check out whether any of the third-party media players can give smooth, unstuttered playback.

There are a few alternatives to Apple's QuickTime software on the Windows platform. For example, there's QuickTime Alternative and VLC Media player. I have VLC installed on several systems so I tried the clips again. Result? Flawless playback.

So what's the deal? 1080p H.264 QuickTime movies play fine on the Mac Mini through QuickTime, and they play fine on Windows when using third party media players. So the issue is here isn't which OS is best, or which platform is best, it's all down to Apple's QuickTime player for Windows not being up to the job.

Note: I'm going to ignore the fact that QuickTime virtually offers door into people's PCs for any hackers willing to use it.

Once again, it seems that Apple just can't write decent code for the Windows platform. That may be because Apple doesn't have the in-house skill to develop good software, or it may be down to some decision to make Mac OS seem better than the Windows platform. Either way, vendors who adopt Apple's QuickTime MOV format for their hardware (such as Canon with the EOS 5P Mark II) need to be aware of the fact that Windows users are getting a poor product experience thanks to the poor performance of QuickTime. 

Thoughts?

Topics: Processors, Apple, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software, Windows

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175 comments
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  • Adrian - why would Apple write good Windows software?

    Apple has historically had an edge with video editing / graphical design applications. Now, since they've moved to an Intel platform, any hardware advantages have now been eliminated.

    Apple makes money from selling computers, not software (generally). So, why is it in Apple's best interest to sink a lot of time and effort to make the best Windows apps possible? If they did, there would be no reason to switch!

    I mean, if someone went into an Apple store complaining about iTunes or Quicktime, would corporate want the "geniuses" to say "oh, just wait. We're going to put out a new release of iTunes for the PC in a couple of weeks" or "a patch is coming for Quicktime on windows soon.".. Or, would it be better to say, "Hey, it works great on this Mac here. Try it.. Wanna buy it?"

    It's not hard to figure that one out.
    FearTheDonut
    • LOL! That's funny.

      "if someone went into an Apple store complaining about iTunes or Quicktime, would corporate want the "geniuses" to say "oh, just wait. We're going to put out a new release of iTunes for the PC in a couple of weeks" or "a patch is coming for Quicktime on windows soon.".. Or, would it be better to say, "Hey, it works great on this Mac here. Try it.. Wanna buy it?""

      It's funny because they do the same thing to many pre-existing Apple Mac and iPod customers.
      Joe_Raby
    • Need to support Windows

      "Apple makes money from selling computers, not software (generally). So, why is it in Apple's best interest to sink a lot of time and effort to make the best Windows apps possible? If they did, there would be no reason to switch!"

      As of late, the majority of there profits come from devices like the iPod. If Apple did not release there software onto Windows do you think the iPod would succeed?

      Apple needs to support the Windows platform, if they keep dropping the ball like this, going to find themselves losing profits very quickly.
      logic_earth
      • Yup

        The Windows customer base IS their customer base for iPods after all. It's been proven already that the number of people that switch from Windows to Mac is by no means due to some "good experience" that they have with the iPod. In fact, with these latest stability and BSOD issues that Apple is introducing in iTunes 8, is it any wonder that people don't consider them to be perpetuating the myths that Windows Vista is unstable through the use of sabotage?
        Joe_Raby
        • Sabotage?

          Listen Joe, Apple is only guilty of playing the same game MS has been playing for years. The best version of Mac Excel and Word were the very first ones available on the Mac in 1985. Since then, MS keeps bloating up the software to the point that they are now like driving a governed, overloaded Truck. Most Mac people are switching to Apple's Pages and Numbers software now instead.

          Internet Explorer on the Mac was another example of MS's lack of commitment to the Mac platform. MS released a Mac version of IE in 1996. It was a fast, very well designed browser. Bill Gates said he was committed to the Mac platform in 1998 when he announced a partnership with Apple. By 2001, IE was discontinued on the Mac platform and Apple was forced to come up with their own browser, Safari.

          This is no different than any other business on the planet. Every company wants to sell their own technology as complete solutions - razors and blades. Vacuum cleaner manufacturers want to sell their own bags, so they design their machines to only run their products.

          This can also be called the not invented here syndrome. And you are probably just noticing this now because of Apple's increasing success in breaking into the Windows marketplace. Mac users have been putting up with this nonsense ever since the birth of the Mac.

          Let's face it, MS is still the biggest kid on the block. Apple just wants to play a little more in the sandbox. Get used to this, you are going to see this happen a lot in the future. Both from MS and Apple.
          aj.redmond
          • Check again

            If I remember correctly, MS did not discontinue IE on the Mac
            until Apple had already released Safari, not the opposite that
            you indicated.
            gadgetlover
          • Yes - but No

            As I recall, MS had already given notice well in advance that
            they would be discontinuing IE for the Mac, so that by then,
            Safari was introduced.
            Deanbar
    • this is exactly what MS used to do with Word for Mac...

      they actually had a different file format and everything so that
      there would be built in compatibility problems... the problems
      are now a thing of the past since the Mac and PC versions use
      the exact same file format.

      and this is why i believe MS purposely made IE standards non-
      compliant... after they got over 90% marketshare.. this website
      doesn't look right in Fireworks... awe forget firefox and use IE..
      now that IE has less than 80% market share sudenly... IE 8 will
      be standards compliant...

      it may be that apple just doesn't have the expertise in-house but
      i may also be that they are simply playing the game...
      doctorSpoc
      • Apple playing the game...

        I agree. That was my immediate conclusion after finishing the story. Seems we would "ALL" be better served if they could just learn to play nice. Lol
        Oddmoore
      • When you enjoy 90% market share ...

        ... you can afford to "play the game" (until someone accuses you of being anti-competitive) but Apple cannot play that game and win.

        It is safe to say that the VAST MAJORITY of iPod owners sync their devices on a Windows PC. If Apple wants to push video on the iPod they damned well have to make sure their video players run properly on Windows platforms.
        M Wagner
    • Gosh, a LOT of Windows users buy iPods

      Gosh, a LOT of Windows users buy iPods and iPhones. Unfortunately, Apple has always treated Windows users as second class citizens. You might think that's funny and Apple might think this helps sell Macs, but it ultimately harms their business.
      georgeou
      • it's quicktime... and quicktime on a PC... who cares?

        i'm on a Mac and i have only open quicktime only a handfull of
        times in the past year.. and not even to play .mov files, but to play
        .wmv files via Flip4Mac.

        you can play H.264 and MPEG4 files in iTunes (Mac & PC) and in
        Frontrow (Mac)... there just isn't a lot of reason to open Quicktime
        these days.. even on a mac.

        i'm thinking that they must be saying that quicktime on a PC is
        pretty damn low on the totem pole in terms of priority... how many
        people on PCs actually use Quicktime... likely not that many

        how do H.264 and MPEG4 play in iTunes on a PC... i'm guessing
        pretty damn good.. why? iTunes on PC is high priority
        doctorSpoc
        • Its just as bad in iTunes

          Just checked for you (first time I have used iTunes in
          over a year - moved away from it with the release of
          7.0). The reason is simple. iTunes uses the QuickTime
          engine to play videos - the reason the iTunes
          installer install QuickTime.
          Azriphale
      • I agree, apple software stinks

        I guess as a Windows user (XP & Vista) I have never been encouraged to buy a Mac based on their software. Quicktime has always been junky. iTunes? I really don't get what the fuss is about, it's ok. I had to teach my 12yr old how to sync his ipod, not any more user friendly the Realplayer or WMP. Only easier to buy new songs, believe it or not there are a lot of people that don't know how to rip a cd!

        All in all, I took off Quicktime from my system because of all the security issues and the demands for me to install iTunes (a beast that takes over your systems media).

        But I come away thinking why even bother with a mac? Keep in mind I have a low need to fit in or appear like the guy in the mac commercials that lives in his parents basement uploading videos to youtube.
        stano360
      • MS also treats Apple as 2nd class citizen

        Well, George, historically MS has also treated Mac users as
        2nd class citizens. As already posted, all Companies try to
        protect their business by whatever means they can, it's par
        for the course.
        Deanbar
        • Let's not forget that Microsoft SAVED Apple

          Let's not forget that Microsoft SAVED Apple with their late 90s deal and putting out Mac Office.
          georgeou
          • No matter how many times..

            ...You repeat that lie, that's all it is. A company that has $1
            billion in cash reserves, is not going to be saved by some
            other company buying $150 million in non voting stock. The
            office for Mac was used to push IE. Microsoft has since then
            sold the stock (for a god profit). Again how was this
            Microsoft "Saving" Apple? Only delusional mind would
            believe that.
            Rick_K
          • That is No Lie

            If it were not for Microsoft's cash infusion , I think it was around 160 million of cash. Apple would not be here today. At that time Apple was in REALLY bad shape.
            Don't get me wrong. Im no Apple hater. But that's what happened. In return Apple made IE the default web browser for Mas OS for a few years. And MS contihued to make Office for the Mac Platform.
            lthrwolftx
          • wasnt that

            part of a settlement MS had due to patent infringements on Quicktime?
            richvball44
          • No

            nt
            mustangj369