Apple vs Adobe: Are Apple’s MacOS/X Graphics Drivers to Blame

Keep an Open Eye  has been following the Apple versus Adobe debate with a bit of a jaundiced eye Рwondering how Flash video and all its broad range of applications can run so fast on Windows yet apparently so slow on Macs [and Linux too]. Adobe claims that the latest Flash player 10.1 has not been tuned quite yet and the Mac OS graphics accelerator APIs have not been available to Adobe developers on a timely basis. And Apple and Steve Jobs bemoans the fact that Flash is too slow, too insecure too, too buggy and without explicitly saying so Рa piece of software crap.

However, a recent report in Engadget caught my eye. It points to a comparison of MacOS/X vs Windows 7 vs Ubuntu 10.04 done at Phoronix measuring the graphics performance of the 3 popular OS on what can be nearly the same Apples and Apples basic computing hardware – its always a Mac Mini platform. In fact Phoronix has taken pains to do so by getting Windows 7 and Ubuntu to run on the Mac Mini. The results [see one of several charts above]are most interesting and applicable to the Apple vs Adobe debate.

In 4 different graphic tests using 6 popular resolutions [from 800 x 600 screen to HDR 1920 x 1080] Windows 7 running on the NVidia graphics hardware beat both MacOS/X and Ubuntu consistently – even when the graphics accelerators were changed. Now consider this – Windows 7 was never beaten and the margin of victory was 30 to 300% better than Apple. Even more intriguing Ubuntu Linux, though never besting Windows 7 , also consistently outperformed Apple MacOS/X.

So this raises a legitimate question – was Steve Jobs dissing Adobe Flash performance to distract attention from Apple’s own very poor graphics performance? With graphics performance on Macs on average 30-60% slower than Windows, wouldn’t Flash video just run slower? Phoronix is promising more benchmarks with other graphics software after its May 2010 posted results. Here is one party that will be keeping an open eye for such a posting.

See the July update report here: Apple improves but Linux Leaves


  1. Steve on June 28, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    It’s Mac OS X, not Mac OS/X

  2. simon on June 28, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    hi reddit

  3. alex on June 28, 2010 at 5:10 pm


    If I run flash natively under firefox on my macbook it’s a resource hog.

    If I run it in firefox in vmware, ie virtualize it, it runs significantly faster.

    Same macbook. Same osx drivers.

    • alex on June 28, 2010 at 5:15 pm

      to clarify, virtualizing firefox in windows 7, in osx 10.6

    • admin on June 29, 2010 at 12:04 am

      This is a most interesting observation – I have a virtual machine on Win7 and Flash runs comparable times for same swf regardless of virtual versus native Win7. The virtual Win7 has less memory 2.5GB versus 4GB for native. This just adds to the mystery. I am looking forward to more benchmark data from Phoronix and maybe PCWorld or eWeek to clarify the speed issue. Clearly the last word has not been said on this performance issue

  4. John on June 28, 2010 at 8:22 pm

    This doesn’t make any sense. Flash only recently used the graphics card to accelerate performance. Flash was slow on Linux & Mac for even simple things that didn’t involve heavy graphics. Try loading a normal flash ad on linux, you’ll see the cpu usage shoot up to 100% even if the ad is not doing anything interesting.

    • admin on June 29, 2010 at 12:33 am

      My Linux are a server and a virtual machine so I am loath to benchmark Flash or any software in this situation but I can tell you that big 640 x 480 Flash video and animations – they go and display without hiccups. Talking with fiends – I get mixed metaphors on Flash in Linux and Mac. In the case of Linux users can run in 1GB or less with good response time for compiles, database ops, but I ma not sure what Flash does in those cirumstances – my machines have 3GB or more.

  5. Steffen Schaumburg on June 28, 2010 at 9:32 pm

    Apple does not write Nvidia’s graphics drivers. Neither does Ubuntu or any other part of the Linux community (I’m brushing the nouveau driver under the carpet here), not even Microsoft. Nvidia makes those drivers. So what does the graph really show? That you shouldn’t give Nvidia your money. Nothing to do with Apple.
    And I do absolutely despise Apple, mostly because they apply Utah’s moral standards globally in the iphone app market, because they seem to think that they license/rent rather than sell hardware, because their stuff is obscenely overpriced, because they copied most of their OS (certainly the difficult bits, e.g. Apple has never even implemented proper ie. pre-emptive multitasking themselves) yet go around claiming to be innovative, and because they illegally impose outrageous restrictions such as the recent limitation of programming languages. So Apple is evil – but it’s not their fault that Nvidia are too lazy/incompetent to write decent drivers for non-Windows.
    Also, just for the record – Adobe Flash _IS_ a piece of software crap. To call the list of critical holes in Flash shocking would be the understatement of the decade, they can’t be bothered to fix holes even after 3rd parties have done Adobe’s job and found the bugs, after about a decade of amd64 they’re still too incompetent to provide an amd64-compatible version of Flash, etc. But, in this particular instance, it simply shows a lack of research that you blame Apple.
    That of course does in no way justify the criminal and unethical ban of Flash on iPhone OS. But blaming Apple for Nvidia’s poor drivers is dumb, sorry.

    • admin on June 29, 2010 at 12:58 am

      I am familiar with subcontracting drivers to 3rd parties [or the vendor] in the case of peripherals, etc. I have heard of joint development projects at ATI and Matrox here where the OS vendor has direct particpation in driver development. But the prime contractor is Apple and they get final approval. It would have been relatively easy for Apple to do benchmarks as part of the approval process similar to what Phoronix did. Apparently Apple chose not to do so. But I am still not convinced that we have heard the last word on this. The benchmarks are not yet Flash on Windows 7 vs Flash on Ubuntu vs Flash on MacOS/X. But as in the case of multitasking and full clipboard enablement in iPhone 4, I fully expect to hear from Steve Jobs in the Fall or next year announcing that Apple has achieved new “undreamed of levels of graphics performance” matching or maybe slight beating Windows.

      The real tragedy here is that because of prohibiitions from Apple and Microsoft etc, performance benchmarks like the ones done by Phoronix are few and far between. And if you think that is bad try to get any unbiased bug/reliability reports/data from any of the software vendors or even 3rd parties-Mission Impossible. Fortunately battery and security data is somewhat more attainable.

  6. Steffen Schaumburg on June 28, 2010 at 9:38 pm

    PS: And the same of course also applies to Intel’s drivers.
    PPS: If people are dumb enough to actually pay Apple I find it hard to feel any kind of empathy or compassion for them. Who’d buy a car where you’re forbidden under the threat of criminal sanction to open the engine, or where you are required to do all oil changes at a certain garage chain? Exactly, no-one. The same logic applies to Apple (replace “open the engine” with “examine the source code”, “oil change” with “app installation” and “garage chain” with “app source”). Also note that Microsoft appears to be also intending to impose illegal Apple-style restrictions on WinMobile7.

  7. Jezzy on June 29, 2010 at 12:48 am

    spot the dufus that didn’t click through to the actual performance comparison at phoronix. Though yes it’s pretty much testing 3d performance only.

  8. admin on September 20, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    Nope- still images are fine