Performance Comparison: Apple Mac OS X vs. Windows XP

How the two operating systems stack up

Since Apple switched from using IBM's PowerPC hardware to Intel processors, it's now possible to make a fair performance comparison between Windows XP and Mac OS X. While the operating systems are evenly matched in some regards, Windows XP out-performs its competition by most metrics.

Information in this article applies to Windows XP Professional Edition and Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard.

The measurements presented in this article were obtained using an original Intel-based Mac Mini running both operating systems.

A Note About Universal Applications and Files Systems

Applications that are built into Mac OS X are called universal applications. Older software must rely on Rosetta, an application that runs inside of the OS X operating system and dynamically translates code to run under the Intel hardware. Consequently, there is a performance loss when running non-universal applications on the Mac Mini. All Windows XP programs are compatible with the Intel processor, so app performance is more consistent on Microsoft's OS.

Another difference that can impact the performance of the hard drive is the file systems that each operating system uses. Windows XP uses NTFS while Mac OS X uses HPFS+. Each of these file systems handles data in different ways. So, even with similar applications, the data access could cause fluctuations in the performance.

File Copy Test

This test involves using the functions of the operating system to copy a folder containing roughly 8,000 files (9.5GB) from a remote drive to the local drive.


  • Mac OS X: 16m, 3s
  • Windows XP: 12m, 21s
Lifewire / Mark Kyrnin

The results of this test show that the Windows NTFS file system appears to be faster at the basic function of writing data to the hard drive. This is likely due to the fact that the NTFS file system does not have as many features as the HPFS+ system. Thus, disk-intensive tasks can be slower on the Mac OS X file system compared to the Windows file system.

File Archiving Test

How fast each OS can compact data into an archive provides a good measure of the file system as well as the performance of the processor. This test was done using the RAR 3.51 archiving program to compress 3.5GB of data into a single archive file. The RAR application is not a universal application and runs under the Rosetta emulation.


  • Mac OS X: 63m, 57s
  • Windows XP: 48m, 13s
Lifewire / Mark Kyrnin

Based on the results, the process under the Windows operating system is roughly 25% faster than the same task under Mac OS X.

Audio Conversion Test

To get a better idea of how applications perform with the processor and file system, iTunes was used to convert a 22-minute long WAV file that was previously imported from a CD to the AAC file format.


  • Mac OS X: 1m, 29s
  • Windows XP: 1m, 26s
Lifewire / Mark Kyrnin

Unlike previous tests of the file system, this test shows that both the Windows XP and Mac OS X programs are on even footing. This is likely because Apple wrote the code for the application and compiled it to use the Intel hardware regardless of the operating system.

Graphic Editing Test

For this test, we used the GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) version 2.2.10 that is available for both operating systems. This is not a universal application for Mac and runs with Rosetta. We used a popular script called Warp-Sharp along with Old Photo script from the GIMP program to clean up a 5-megapixel digital photo and timed how quickly the scripts took effect.


  • Mac OS X: 47s (Warp-Sharp Script) and 36s (Old Photo Script)
  • Windows XP: 32s (Warp-Sharp Script) and 28s (Old Photo Script)
Lifewire / Mark Kyrnin

In this test, we see a 22% and 30% faster performance from the application running in Windows XP over Mac OS X. Since the application does not use the hard disk at all during this process, the performance gap is likely attributed to the fact that the code has to be translated via Rosetta.

Digital Video Editing Test

For this test, we chose two similar applications that can convert an AVI file from a digital camcorder to an autoplay DVD. For Windows, we selected the Nero 7 application, and the iDVD 6 program was used for Mac OS X. iDVD is a universal application written by Apple and does not use the Rosetta emulation.


  • Mac OS X: 23m, 32s
  • Windows XP: 15m, 30s
Lifewire / Mark Kyrnin

In this case, the conversion of the video from the AVI file to the DVD is 34% faster under Nero 7 on Windows XP than iDVD 6 on Mac OS X. That said, fewer steps are required to burn DVDs using iDVD, so it's more convenient for consumers.

Final Verdict

The speed performance gap between Windows XP and Mac OS X can be as high as 34% for apps that aren't built into Intel-based Macs. Newer Macs are more efficient, so the gap between the operating systems has shrunk, but Windows XP still beats older versions of Mac OS X.

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