First Tests: PC World Installs Windows XP on a 20-Inch iMac With Boot Camp

It works. Impressively well. With games, even. You can see our detailed test results below, but that's our first impression of Windows XP running under Apple's Boot Camp on our 20-inch iMac. And that's more than you could say a couple of days ago about the promising-but-hacked-together WinXPonMac effort.

WorldBench 5 Results

Update (4/7/06): The overall WorldBench 5 score for the iMac was 96, slightly at the low end of what we've seen for systems with the same processor, according to Senior Performance Analyst Elliott Kirschling.

To put this in perspective, an HP Compaq nx9420 that we recently tested, which had a slightly faster processor (2.16-GHZ Core Duo versus the iMac's 2-GHz Core Duo), garnered a Worldbench 5 score of 101, Kirschling said. And an Acer TravelMate 8200 that had more RAM (2GB versus the iMac's 1GB) scored a 100.

XP Installation

When we ran the Boot Camp installer on a 20-inch iMac and found the process amazingly smooth. It took about an hour. (You can download Boot Camp here.)

Graphics drivers--the major remaining performance hurdle under WinXPonMac--were solid and responsive under limited testing on our iMac. (See our gaming tests results at the end of this story.)

Booting With Boot Camp

Boot Camp Assistant helps you resize partitions to make room for Windows.
Boot Camp Assistant helps you resize partitions to make room for Windows.
Boot Camp requires the latest version of Mac OS X (version 10.4.6) and a firmware update (a very loud, un-Mac-like system beep is normal at the start of this process). Once you've properly updated your system, you can download, install, and run Boot Camp Assistant, which burns a CD of Windows drivers for you and walks you through the process of repartitioning your Mac and installing Windows XP.

"This ugly, blue installation routine feels oddly familiar..."
"This ugly, blue installation routine feels oddly familiar..."
I chose to give XP a 100GB partition and inserted my XP Service Pack 2 CD to begin the installation process. XP's familiar, pixelated installation process went normally, and the Boot Camp manual provided intelligent directions about how to tell XP which partition to use and how to format that partition. (If you choose FAT instead of NTFS, you'll be able to write files to the XP volume while you're running Mac OS.)

The Windows XP install process proceeds as expected.
The Windows XP install process proceeds as expected.
On our iMac test machine, Boot Camp was endearingly smart about automating the series of required reboots to get you set up in XP. Once XP was set up to my satisfaction, I held down the Option key while rebooting and used the bootloader to hop back into OS X.

The Startup Disk preferences page lets you choose which OS to start by default.
The Startup Disk preferences page lets you choose which OS to start by default.
Once there, I used the Startup Disk preferences page that Boot Camp installs to ensure that XP was set as the default OS. Boot Camp installs a corresponding Control Panel app in Windows so you can change this setting in either OS.

No Hitches So Far

So far, working in Windows on the Intel-based iMac has come off without a hitch: If not for the slicker-looking hardware, I'd think I was working on a standard Windows PC with a wide-screen monitor. And that's exactly what you'd want from a usable dual-boot system.

XP on a Mac is refreshing, but Microsoft's idea of an "exciting new look" feels a little last century.
XP on a Mac is refreshing, but Microsoft's idea of an "exciting new look" feels a little last century.

Firefox downloaded and installed flawlessly, and iTunes streamed songs easily from other PCs on the network. Both wired and wireless networking seemed fine. Little things, like the eject key on the Mac's keyboard, worked without a hiccup. Even automatic driver updates downloaded and installed easily.

All in all, Boot Camp looks like an impressive effort from Apple. Over the next few days, we'll continue to put our 20-inch iMac/Windows box through its paces and analyze how this new dual-boot option could affect the PC world.

Performance?

Back in Windows, I got right down to business and installed a few games to put the graphics and sound support to the test. The quick and dirty verdict on performance? Most impressive. Doom 3 and Far Cry both ran smoothly with high-end graphics options turned on.

In both cases, I had to tweak visual settings manually, since the games automatically set themselves to very low settings. Far Cry, for example, autodetected very low settings, but it ran without a hitch when I bumped the resolution up to 1280 by 720, with all visual quality options set to "High."

Our 20-inch iMac came with a 2.0-GHz Core Duo processor, 1GB of RAM, and an ATI Radeon X1600 graphics card with 128MB of GDDR3 memory. That's roughly equivalent to a high-end laptop machine, and anecdotally the performance I obtained was about what I'd have expected from that type of PC.

Graphics Tests Results

Update (4/6/06): The first graphics test results are in for the 20-inch iMac, and Windows XP under Boot Camp continues to impress. In our Doom 3 and Far Cry benchmarks, the iMac ran neck and neck with a pair of notebook systems equipped with Intel Core Duo processors and similar graphics hardware.

Here's a snapshot of the results in our tests without antialiasing. Check back tomorrow for the WorldBench 5 scores we promised you. In the meantime, head on over to Macworld for its take on Boot Camp-enabled gaming.

Tested system Doom 3
1024 by 768 (no AA), fps
Doom 3
1600 by 1200 (no AA), fps
Far Cry
1024 by 768 (no AA), fps
Far Cry
1600 by 1200 (no AA), fps
Boot Camp iMac
20-inch iMac (2-GHz Core Duo, 1GB RAM, Radeon X1600 graphics with 128MB) 48 41 93 65
Comparable Notebook PCs
HP Compaq nx9420 (2.16-GHz Core Duo, 1GB RAM, ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 graphics with 256MB) 44 37 92 62
Acer TravelMate 8200 (2-GHz Core Duo, 2GB RAM, ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 graphics with 256MB) 56 47 101 77
Similarly Performing Desktop PCs
WinBook PowerSpec Extreme 9200 (2.2-GHz Athlon 64 X2 4200+, 2GB RAM, nVidia GeForce 6600 graphics with 256MB) 54 46 75 51
CyberPower Media Center Ultra Edition (3-GHz Pentium D 830, 1GB RAM, nVidia GeForce 6600 graphics with 256MB) 53 46 72 51

For more, be sure to read Computerworld's story "Q&A: What You Should Know About Macs Running Windows."

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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