02 November 2012


Space For Commerce | Brian Dunbar | OS X is a supeior shell for running Linux

How 'bout that: X11 applications running on my Mac all nice and handy.

Theory: OS X is a superior platform for running 'linux' applications.
I just had a similar conversation with Mrs SB7 because I'm looking to replace my aging aged MacBook. I need something that will play nicely with the various Linux machines in my lab(s) at school, which mostly rules out the (affordable) Windows options.

I have enough headaches getting the aforementioned boxes in my lab to run, so I don't want the hassle of maintaining a Linux laptop. Nor am I in a position to get a whole new workflow set up, so I think I need to stick with MacOS X.

Because this leaves me spending an unfortunate amount of money, I want to be sure.

I have two main problems with my current machine. Well, problems that are unrelated to its age, anemic processing power, lost ability to handle i/o interrupts and general wear-and-tear hardware issues. If anyone has experience recent vintage MacBook Pros, I'd like to hear about them.

(1) Disk operations seem *very* slow. Even when it was new and free disk space was plentiful this was a problem. Paging now is brutally, crippling slow. People I know who have Mac laptops either (a) haven't had this problem, or (b) don't know enough about computers to know what I'm talking about. Maybe I'm just crazy/fooling myself. Has anyone experienced this with newer machines?

(2) When I run with a second monitor plugged in, which is 90% of the time, WindowServer absolutely gobbles up CPU. It will spike to around 30% of one processing core for three or four minutes, even when I'm not doing anything more intensive than browsing Wikipedia. I haven't done any rigorous testing of this, but I've only noticed it happening when the second monitor is present.

Does anyone else have experience running a modern Macbook Pro w/ the standard graphics card ("Intel HD Graphics 4000") with a second monitor? Square inches of screen real estate is a big deal for me, so if I can't use a dual monitor set-up without crippling the CPU, this is a no-go.

(2b) Related-but-trivial: has anyone run Civ 5 on a MacBook Pro with the basic graphics set-up? (The Intel HD 4000, that is.) This is not even a tertiary concern, but it would be nice to be able to do.


  1. WRT (1), I've got a 2011 MacBook Pro, and it definitely is a complete pig when it starts swapping memory. (I'm using OS X 10.6.8.) It's pretty damn close to being the machine's only drawback, but if you do a lot of memory intensive work it can get pretty painful.

  2. 2001 MPB. I don't do a lot of memory intensive work, so have never noticed any swap problems.

    At work I run three external monitors, using the laptop display as a fourth that I don't really use. I drive this with the monitor port, and two USB video adapters. I have not had any problems with this.

  3. @SF I've found that if I'm going to start a memory-intensive job I need to re-start first, which tends to interrupt my workflow. But even without swapping, disk access are slow. Just allocating space for a blank file is a PITA.

    @bdunbar Very good to know. That sounds fantastic. I see that some of the models now come with nvidia cards and others just have the intel graphics chip. Was that true in 2011, and if so, does yours have a dedicated graphics card or the integrated intel chip?

  4. You could run Windows.

    These days it pretty much just works.

  5. I'm sure it works, but I've got my whole tool kit set up just how I like it in this environment, and I don't feel like learning a new workflow. Plus I really like how modern Macs are just linux boxes with good UI and a good selection of applications. I can write up a script on my Mac, test it out, ssh into one of my servers at school and run it on a full dataset and everything continues to work. I made heavy use of cygwin the last time I ran a windows box, but it wasn't the same as being in a native *nix environment.

    (Oh, plus I'm nervous about Windows 8. It does sound like it works, but I don't like the idea of using an OS that's doing double duty for desktops and mobile devices. It makes me uneasy. For instance I want to use my keyboard for as much as possible, and spending time in an OS that was designed to be fully functional on devices that don't even have keyboards doesn't seem like it will work out well. That just doesn't seem like an OS that's designed for me.)

  6. FWIW, I find Windows to be much more accommodating of hands-off-the-mouse operations than the other GUIs. It's the number one reason I stick with it. I hope Win8 doesn't kill that, although so far I've been able to make Win7 and even Vista work pretty close to XP (an OS I'm trying to take with me to the grave).

    But yes, I completely get your toolkit investment.

  7. I wish I could keep running XP. To this date the only machine I haven't wanted to chuck out the window was my old XP box.