Washington Apple Pi

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High-End Macintosh Benchmarking

© 2000 Washington Apple Pi Labs

Washington Apple Pi Journal, November/December 2000, pp. 34-35, reprint information

Long-time fans of Washington Apple Pi Labs (both of them) will recall that we are fond of using the game Gerbils! as a benchmark. The game, included with Mac OS 7.6, was originally designed as a "proof of concept" by Pangea Software, (http://www.pangeasoft.net/pangeahistory.html) showing how QuickDraw 3D could be used in games, and in fact has no system of scoring, winning, or losing. So maybe it really isn't a game. And maybe it really isn't a benchmark.

But we like using it, anyway. It has several advantages over traditional benchmarks:

  • like the game, you can't win or lose, since it runs only on Macintosh computers -- no Wintel or UNIX machines need apply;
  • it is a heck of a lot more fun than any other benchmark we've used;
  • it is aggressively graphical, allowing even non-Washington Apple Pi gurus to understand what is going on. Or at least be equally amused;
  • the 3D texture mapping in QuickDraw 3D really is impressive, and you can customize the gerbils, track, and track surface instead of doing something more productive;
  • it annoys the heck out of anyone not directly involved in the benchmarking.

Clearly, it has at least four more pluses than any other benchmarking suite available.

So, when a new opportunity came to use our favorite benchmark, we didn't hesitate. A graphic artist was taking delivery of a Power Macintosh G4/450 dual-processor machine, and wanted a full gigabyte (one billion bytes) of memory added, plus a large flat-screen Sony Trinitron monitor. Would we like to do the honors?

Mere seconds later, the memory was added, and the thousand-pound monitor attached. (A large Sony Trinitron is only slightly smaller and lighter than a Boeing 747 jetliner.) The power button on the G4 was pressed (the new Apple keyboard doesn't have a power button), the lights dimmed, and -- nothing happened after Mac OS loaded. Very boring.

So we immediately transferred a copy of Gerbils! to the machine, and promptly made 15 copies. Then we launched all 16 copies at once, and spent several minutes arranging the windows so we could see them all, plus gave each a uniquely textured racetrack. Then we took a screen shot (CMD-Shift-3) or two.

sixteen Gerbils!

The color image makes a very distracting background picture (hint, hint). Click on image for a full-size view.

As far as screen shots go, this one is awesome, 1920 pixels by 1440 pixels (26.6 inches by 20 inches), or 2,764,800 pixels. We could never catch gerbils on all 16 screens at once. (OK, maybe we could have, but that would have been "work," and "work" clearly was not a key consideration at the time.) We did manage, however, to immediately attract a crowd...

You see, Gerbils! has one rather unusual characteristic: if a gerbil bumps into another gerbil on the track, one falls off. And the one falling off says "Oh-oh!" in a cute, child-like voice. With just one game active, you hear "Oh-oh!" fairly often; with sixteen copies active, and the sound cranked up, you get death treats from those who claim to be "doing something useful."

We then checked on available memory. With virtual memory turned off, and all sixteen Gerbils! running at full blast, we still had 814.4 megabytes of RAM free. Plus, since Gerbils! isn't multi-processor aware, there was also an entire unused G4/450 processor, doing nothing useful.

About This Computer

Note that virtual memory is turned off and yet there are still 814.4 megabytes of RAM free. With the advent of Mac OS X and "desktop UNIX," this won't seem that impressive in a year or two, but we found it amusing, anyway.

With great reluctance, we handed the machine over to the graphic artist.