The world is obsessed with speed and nowhere is that more prevalent than in the computer industry. Anyone who can find a way to make our computers work faster gains our appreciation - and our dollars.
Connectix Software has a reputation of doing more with less. One of the longest lines at Boston's Macworld Expo this year was filled with people waiting for their newest miracle: Speed Doubler. Speed Doubler claims to double the speed of your Macintosh and - at its best - fulfills that promise. Let's take a closer look.
From Garden Hose to Big Pipe -- Speed Doubler has three components. The first of these is a disk caching extension called Speed Access. One of the bottlenecks in computer performance is that the computer's CPU works far faster than it can read from or write to any disk. For example, if you could do it, you'd love to fill your new in-ground pool using a five-foot diameter water pipe instead of a garden hose. For both 68K and Power Macintosh computers, Speed Doubler simulates a larger water pipe as far as disk operations are concerned by improving disk caching algorithms. Although the Macintosh does have disk caching built into the operating system, the Mac's disk caching, essentially a "blind" cache, operates the same way regardless of work patterns or data types, and it hasn't been significantly improved in several releases.
Speed Access replaces and improves the regular Macintosh disk cache, intelligently caching frequently used data in preference to other, less-used data. Upon installation, Speed Doubler sets the cache depending on the amount of RAM you have. You can control this cache through the Memory control panel. When using Speed Access, allocate as much RAM as you can to the cache while leaving enough RAM to open all your needed applications. If you don't want to, you don't have to use any more cache memory than you normally do.
Multitasking in the Finder -- The second component of Speed Doubler, an extension called Speed Copy, enables you to continue using your Mac while copying files. Speed Copy allows you to continue working in the Finder while copies are going on. You can also start multiple copies and have them proceed simultaneously. However, copying multiple sets of files at the same time significantly slows down your machine. Other utilities, such as CopyDoubler and Aladdin Desktop Tools, provide similar performance enhancements in slightly different ways, but Speed Doubler gives you this capability in yet another consumer mix.
Along with enabling you to do other things while copying files or emptying the trash, Speed Doubler's Finder enhancements also offer extra information and capabilities. You'll know how long the computer will take to copy those files now, and if you don't like the idea of corporate spies getting their hands on your secrets, the new Empty Trash dialog box gives you a security erase option and lets you to select particular files in the Trash that will be deleted (if you have the Trash's Warn before emptying checkbox set).
Faster Than a Speeding Power Mac -- The final component in the Speed Doubler suite is the PowerPC Speed Emulator, and this component is what earns Speed Doubler its name. One of the weak points of a Power Mac is that it must run in the slower emulation mode when working with 68K-based software. Apple took some heat earlier this year for improving the Power Mac 68K emulator for the PowerPC 604-based Macs and not improving emulation in first-generation Power Macs. Well, fret no more. Not only does Speed Emulator improve the speed of your Power Mac when running 68K applications, it's reputed to be 30 percent faster than Apple's improved emulator! I've noticed a dramatic improvement of at least 50-75 percent over the week I've used it. Speed Emulator won't improve the performance of native software - since native software already takes full advantage of the PowerPC chip - but remember that significant portions of the Mac OS are still non-native and Speed Doubler improves performance in those areas. Of course, Speed Emulator only works with Power Macs and is of no use on 68K-based machines, but Speed Doubler works on any Power Mac, not just Apple's latest crop.
What's it Gonna Cost Me? That's the first question I put to Connectix's at Macworld. The simple answer is $99, about $60 street price, or even less for owners of other Connectix products. But what about RAM? Ever since realizing 8 MB of memory was not enough to effectively run a Power Mac, I've been very conservative with my RAM. Speed Access - the disk caching area of the program - takes as much memory for disk caching as you specify in the Memory control panel. On Power Macs, Speed Emulator is advertised to use about 800K of RAM; however, I've observed my System size increasing by perhaps 1.5 MB. The system size increase will be greater for computers with a greater amount of available memory (because they need to purge material less frequently), which effectively means Speed Emulator is more efficient on machines that routinely have significant amounts of free memory.
Any software that modifies low-level functions of your computer teeters on edge of disaster in regard to software compatibility. I've used Speed Doubler for over a week on three separate machines, including a Power Mac 6100/60, and can report only one potential software conflict with a very specialized application. Every major application and game I've run has had no problems, and has benefited from increased performance. [I've also had trouble-free performance on a Power Mac 7100 and PowerBook 520. -Tonya]
And the Verdict is... Speed Doubler offers three basic improvements. Speed Access, its disk caching element, hasn't impressed me because I haven't seen much improvement that I can attribute to it. On the other hand, this is such an under-the-hood addition that it can be difficult to tell what portions of other speed-ups it may have been responsible for. Connectix did better with regard to their Finder improvements; the ability to copy files and continue to work with the Finder is a worthwhile addition, although not a new one. The biggest way Connectix could have improved this area was to find a way to multitask the formatting of a disk. Finally, on Power Macs, the Speed Emulator is a big win for those of us who still working significantly with 68K-based applications. I found it a noticeable improvement with no problematic conflicts.
If you like speed, have a Power Macintosh, and use 68K applications, get Speed Doubler. But if you have a 68K-based Macintosh, the package may only be worth it to you if find yourself doing a good bit of waiting for files to copy.
[Connectix has just released a patch to Speed Doubler allowing users to update their machines and master disks to Speed Doubler 1.0.1. Among the fixes included are better reliability on machines with PowerPC upgrade cards and the ability to run Microsoft Word 4.0 with Speed Emulator. -Geoff]
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