Ming the Mechanic:
The unbearable slowness of computing

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 The unbearable slowness of computing2006-04-12 01:20
picture by Flemming Funch

My new iMac is in the mail from the Apple store. So now I can allow myself to complain about my old one in the meantime.

The last couple of years my computer has been a 12 inch aluminum powerbook. Which is a handy little machine, very convenient for taking on the road. And if you plug in a big screen and a keyboard, in principle a perfectly fine thing to have on one's desktop.

But the last year it has just gotten increasingly unbearably slow. Whenever anybody asks me about that happening to their computer, I always deny that it is even possible. Computers don't just get slow from getting older. On Windows maybe. It might be full of spyware, or you haven't defragged your disk or something. But a Mac? There should just be no good reason for it.

Well, various reasons compound. Everything very gradually requires more and more resources, and suddenly the computer that was super-fast a couple of years ago seems like it isn't moving at all.

Like, Firefox has tabs, and I somehow can't seem to live without 30 or so different pages open in different tabs. A number of which will nowadays do some kind of Ajax and Javascript thing all the time, or there's some Flash or whatever. All of which uses memory and processing power.

And I have an editor with another 20 or 30 open documents, and ICQ and iChat and Skype, and the calendar, and TextEdit, and a few terminal windows. I think that is all quite modest. I don't even dare try to have iTunes running, let alone iPhoto, or Word, or various other things I'd have reason to use.

Of course it is running Apache and MySQL and various other things under the hood, but none of those seem to be much trouble. Mainly it is Firefox and ICQ that uses up the resources, and an annoying HP printer driver. Oh, and OSX nicely allows several people to be logged in at the same time, and we're a bit low on computers right now, so a few more things running in another desktop.

And this Powerbook only has room for 640MB or memory, which it has of course. But which nowadays is pitifully little.

When it has a lot to do, like just having Firefox open, the fan starts running, which somehow slows things down even more.

There's nothing worse, when you have a lot to do, than your computer being, like, 10 times slower than you are. You type something and it appears 5 seconds later. You click on a window and a spinning beachball hangs there for 10 seconds before anything happens.

It is like when you're used to always-on broadband internet, and suddenly you're on a dial-up modem. You suddenly become keenly aware that you maybe should have arranged things so that there wasn't such a bottleneck, but you can't do it before you're back on your normal connection, and when you are, you forget all about it. Likewise, when everything is slow, you can quickly get the idea that you maybe should have arranged things so that the computer had much less to do, but since it is slow as molasses, you give up doing anything with it other than the most basic and needed stuff.

23 years ago my IBM PC 8.77MHz, 128k, with dual 360k floppies was lightning fast. I never ran out of memory. I have 500 times as much memory here. Why, oh why must I suffer?

Well, I mainly wanted just to complain. But also remind myself, before I get spoiled again by a fast new computer, that there's plenty of opportunity for making many things more efficient.

Like, why do I have so many browser windows open? Well, there's gmail, there's a dynamic home page, there's a feed aggregator, there's several admin pages for sites I need to pay attention to every day, there's a page with graphs and monitoring information for my servers, there's a couple of blogs, a couple of member areas. That's 10 already. For the rest, if there's site with information I need to do something with, why don't I just put it into a bookmark list or into delicio.us or furl? Well, I do, but those are all more cumbersome to save to and find something in than just having it open. Windows need to pop up, stuff need to be saved, the page needs to reload, etc. Still too many steps, and I can't arrange things the way they make sense for me. So, just a reminder to myself that it is a good idea to come up with better and faster ways of organizing stuff, even if one can buy a faster computer every couple of years.

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12 Apr 2006 @ 14:36 by silviamar : powerbook
I also have an aluminum powerbook (15'', G4, only 512 MB RAM) bought in summer 2004, and I'm really happy with its performance, I can have many programs open at the same time and it runs very well. I use for instance Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Word & Powerpoint, besides Firefox (I also love tabs), Mail, itunes and others. I always take it with me when I have to give a lecture.
Do you keep it on at nights? I've been told that mac computers do manteinance tasks at night, needed to keep it in good shape. Well, if you run servers in it, I imagine that you keep it on. I suppose also that you repair permissions always before and after a upgrade via software update.
The new imacs are really wonderful. I'm planning also to buy one after I move.  

12 Apr 2006 @ 23:31 by ming : powerbook
I keep it on all the time. Upgrades seem to do what they need to do. But there are a few problems that somehow persist despite upgrades. Like, if I leave my desktop alone for an hour or two, it will spontanously decide to reboot. It doesn't succeed, as there's always something or the other that's asking for confirmation, but I'll see a bunch of those windows when I come back. That shouldn't happen, so obviously something is messsed up somewhere.

I suppose that as soon as I have things safely moved to the new computer, I'll reformat this one and do a fresh install of Tiger. Which hopefully clears up some things.  

13 Apr 2006 @ 04:32 by Taranga @ : older is faster
I bought a s/h toughbook for work [just basic office stuff] that came with 98 and it flies - no uneccessary crap, and you can drop it from 90cm to concrete and it will survive! (I work in the field on EVs)

The best wp i ever had was on the Atari ST no hard drive - the whole program was in machine code and loaded into a few 100k from a 360k floppy. Obviously there were no fancy fonts but it did all the rest of the wp things, and there was also a spell checker on a floppy that recognised typos that started with the wrong letter, a much missed feature if like me your mind works faster than your fingers! I can even remember dreaming of uprading the ST to 1meg memory - those were the days!  

14 Apr 2006 @ 12:58 by silviamar : Tiger
I did also a clean installation of Tiger in mine some weeks ago and it's working even better now :-) My powerbook has even survived a cup of coffee right over it hehe.  

17 Apr 2006 @ 01:23 by Natalie @ : new iMac
Exactly what happened to me on my 6-year old G4 PowerMac (not laptop), the slowing down etc. So I've just bought the new iMac Intel.....if you want to hear the full saga of troubles with it, you'll have to go to my blog! I wonder if it's the Intel you've ordered? If so, and if you use Adobe software, be prepared to tear out some hair.  

17 Apr 2006 @ 08:36 by Ge Zi @ : OS tiger - panther
so I thought, why not ask - - - we have a mac g3 here the B&W kind - I know it's pretty old and it works fine - I installed OSX 10.3 panther on it a while back and now it's actuall nice (albeit slow) machine.
Then a nice new phone entered the family, with bluetooth - so I got a little bluetooth dongle - cheaper than a cable! - with the idea to sync all the different apps from the mac with the phone - found out that I need iSync 2 for that which is included in OSX Tiger+
So - everything works fine - except this little thing. Should I really buy Tiger and a DVD player for that??? Then a mini starts to look like a bargin.
Or is there anybody out there with a set of OSX 10.4 CDs - not DVD that I could borrow - uhh - I mean offer to safe-keep as an off-site storage?  

18 Apr 2006 @ 15:54 by ming : Tiger - Panther
Well, I only have the DVDs that came with my new iMac. I also had trouble with Syncing in Panther. I never got it to work right. Whereas in Tiger it actually works for me for the first time.

Yes, I got the 17" Intel iMac. Which is very, very nice. But not entirely as fast as I had hoped. I ordered it with just the 512MB that is the default, because I figured it would be cheaper to order the extra memory elsewhere. But I haven't done so yet, so it does sort of run out, and get slow. If I keep just a few things open, it is very fast. And if I try to avoid applications that aren't Universal Binary, which is a little hard. When I run one of the older programs it runs about the same as it did on my G4 powerbook, or even a little slower. So, that's a bit of a pain with Word or Fireworks or ICQ or Skype.  

Other stories in
2012-05-03 00:04: An evolving path
2012-01-02 13:52: 2011 Accomplishments and 2012 Aims
2011-11-17 02:20: Your inner piece
2011-02-01 00:05: Slow Mo Flow
2011-01-22 18:40: Recognition
2010-08-23 00:36: Where's Ming?
2010-07-20 14:24: Getting other people to do stuff
2010-06-22 00:27: Inventory
2010-06-19 23:10: Conversations
2009-10-28 12:31: Then a miracle occurs

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