Wednesday, January 28, 2015

i-Mac 27" Retina 5K vs MacPro - A Performance Analysis

I recently bought a new i-Mac 27" with the Retina 5K screen to replace my 6+ year old MacPro which although still going very well I thought it was time for an upgrade. The new i-Mac 27" 5K model appealed to me as a photographer as the screen resolution would be very valuable when editing and post-processing large RAW images.

I was interested to benchmark the performance of the new i-Mac against my MacPro and was very pleasantly surprised by the results.

Machine Specifications

The specifications of the two machines were as follows:

MacPro (Early 2008)

CPU : 2 x 2.8 GHz Quad Core Intel Xeon
Memory : 18 GB 800 MHz DDR2
Graphics Card : NVIDIA GeForce GT 640 2048 MB
Storage : 1 x 4TB system disk, 2 x 3 TB RAID disk for photo archive and 1 x 4TB disk for system backup
Monitor : 30" Apple CinemaDisplay

The MacPro had been upgraded over the years with higher capacity storage disks added, memory upgraded to 24 GB and the graphics card upgraded from the original graphics card.

i-Mac 27" Retina 5K (Late 2014)

CPU : 3.5 GHz Intel Core i5
Memory : 32 GB 1600 MHz DDR3
Graphics Card : AMD Radeon R9 M290X 2048 MB
Storage : 1 x 3TB Fusion Drive, 2 x 4 TB Thunderbolt Western Digital RAID disk for photo archive, 1 x 6TB disk for system backup
Monitor : 27" Retina 5K (5120 x 2880)

The 27" i-Mac was ordered via the Apple online store and upgraded from the base model with maximum memory of 32 GB and a higher capacity 3 TB Fusion drive instead of the standard 1 TB Fusion drive. I did not upgrade the CPU to the i7 as I felt that there would not be a significant performance improvement for the photo editing and processing that I routinely use the machine for.

Benchmark Tests

I tested out 4 different benchmark tests using identical procedures to measure the difference in performance between the two machines. These tests represented standard processes I carry out when editing and post-processing my photos. The tests used different post-processing apps and were as follows:

1. Aperture - Export of 100 full resolution jpg images
2. PhotoMatix Pro - HDR processing of a 7 bracketed sequence of images
3. AutoPano Pro - Processing and blending of a 15 image panoramic sequence
4. FotoMagico - Rendering of a 4.35 minute long 720p movie from a slideshow

The same software versions and the same test images were used on both machines and times measured for each process.

Benchmark Results

The results clearly demonstrated the improved performance of the new 27" i-Mac ..... over 50% faster for most processes compared to the speed on the MacPro. Even given that the MacPro has 2 quad core CPU's it was no match for the newer CPU and probably the extra memory on the i-Mac 27".

Screen Resolution

The new 27" Retina 5K screen on the i-Mac was simply stunning and for my photography editing and post-processing this will be a major benefit. Also for showing off images and slideshows at high resolution this will also be a major improvement. When you use a high mega pixel DSLR it is nice to be able to take advantage of this resolution rather than having the final image on the screen downgraded to the lower resolution of the screen.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Butchart Gardens - Brentwood Bay, British Columbia

The Butchart Gardens is a group of floral display gardens in Brentwood Bay, British Columbia, Canada, located near Victoria on Vancouver Island. The gardens receive close to a million visitors each year. The gardens have been designated a National Historic Site of Canada due to their international renown.

Robert Pim Butchart (1856–1943) began manufacturing Portland cement in 1888 near his birthplace of Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada. He and his wife Jennie Butchart (1866–1950) came to the west coast of Canada because of rich limestone deposits necessary for cement production.

In 1904, they established their home near his quarry on Tod Inlet at the base of the Saanich Peninsula on Vancouver Island.

As Mr. Butchart exhausted limestone deposits, his enterprising wife Jennie, made plans to create something of beauty in the gigantic exhausted pit. From farmland nearby, she had tonnes of top soil brought in by horse and cart and used it to line the floor of the abandoned quarry. Little by little, the quarry blossomed into the spectacular Sunken Garden.

They named their home "Benvenuto" ("welcome" in Italian), and began to receive visitors to their gardens. In 1926, they replaced their tennis courts with an Italian garden and in 1929 they replaced their kitchen vegetable garden with a large rose garden to the design of Butler Sturtevant of Seattle. Samuel Maclure, who was consultant to the Butchart Gardens, reflected the aesthetic of the English Arts and Crafts Movement.

In 1939, the Butcharts gave the Gardens to their grandson Ian Ross (1918–1997) on his 21st birthday. Ross was involved in the operation and promotion of the gardens until his death 58 years later.

In 1953, miles of underground wiring was laid to provide night illumination, to mark the 50th anniversary of The Gardens. In 1964, the ever-changing Ross Fountain was installed in the lower reservoir to celebrate the 60th anniversary. In 1994, the Canadian Heraldic Authority granted a coat of arms to the Butchart Gardens. In 2004, two 30-foot (9.1 m) totem poles were installed to mark the 100th anniversary, and The Gardens were designated as a national historic site.

Ownership of The Gardens remains within the Butchart family; the owner and managing director since 2001 is the Butcharts' great-granddaughter Robin-Lee Clarke.

In 1982 the Butchart Gardens was used as the inspiration for the gardens at the Canadian pavilion opened at Epcot Centre in Orlando Florida.

In December, 2009 the Children's Pavilion and the Rose Carousel were opened. The menagerie includes thirty animals ranging from bears, to horses, to ostriches, to zebras and mirrors the world from which The Gardens draws its visitors. The designs were hand picked by the owner, in consultation with an artist from North Carolina. The carvings were done by some of the few remaining carvers of carousel art. Each animal is carved from basswood and took many months to complete. There are also two chariots able to accommodate disabled persons.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Napa Wine Train - Napa Valley, California

The Napa Valley Wine Train provides a relaxing three-hour, thirty-six mile round-trip journey from the historic town of Napa, California, through one of the world's most well known wine valleys to the quaint village of St. Helena, and back.

Guests aboard the Wine Train enjoy a freshly prepared lunch or dinner inside a fully restored 1915-1917 Pullman Dining Car or 1952 Vista Dome car as they pass the vineyards and wineries of Napa Valley. They also have the option of pre-purchasing a winery tour.

The Napa Valley Wine Train's tracks were originally built in the 1860s to bring guests to the hot spring resort town of Calistoga. While the track to Calistoga no longer exists, much of the rest of the route of the Napa Valley Wine Train is unchanged. The tracks run through the heart of the world famous wine region. During the three hour journey, guests can see five towns; Napa, Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford, and St. Helena; and numerous wineries through the large picture windows on board.

The Napa Valley Wine Train begins its journey at the McKinstry Street Station in Napa. The Train then travels north to St. Helena, where the locomotive disconnects from the north facing side of the Train and reconnects to the south facing side of the Train in preparation for the return journey. Currently, the Napa Valley Wine Train stops at different locations depending on the day of the week. Guests are only allowed to disembark at these locations if they have pre-purchased one of the Winery Tours.

The day we went on the Napa Wine Train trip from Napa to St. Helena and back was special for two reasons .... it was my wife's Birthday and it was also by chance the 25 year anniversary of the Napa Wine Train. So there were speeches, passengers dressed up in period costume, a 93 year old ex-engineer who came along and a gift of commemorative wine glasses for all passengers. The atmosphere was therefore very good to start with and after a few glasses of wine onboard was even better!

Luke, 93 years young, was an ex-engineer on the train so he showed up to celebrate the 25 year anniversary. He reminded me of TV series character Casey Jones. There was also a group of 3 ladies dressed in Victorian style dress and speaking to them I found out that they used to do fashion shows on the train. These characters really added to the nostalgic atmosphere on the train.