Michael Larabel has written a very thorough benchmark comparing Mac OS X “Leopard” with Ubuntu Linux “Intrepid Ibex” 8.10 — both tests are done on the same machine, which is an Intel Mac Mini. For those who are too lazy to read, here’s a summary:
Linux is slightly faster at crunching numbers.
Linux is a lot faster in compiling programs.
Mac OS X is a lot faster in graphics.
Mac OS X is considerably faster in disk operations.
This test result isn’t too surprising since Linux is really a “by developers for developers” operating system and thus probably have more optimization efforts spent on doing the stuff that developers do with their Linux systems. Not to mention that Linux have been more strong on the server side or for crunching numbers in research facilities.
Whereas since Mac have been traditionally been “user-centric” and have a long history with the publishing industry then probably Apple have invested more efforts in optimizing graphics. Of course they also produce their own hardware and thus are able to concentrate optimizing their drivers only on a relatively few variations of graphics adapters. Video editing is also one of the Mac’s niche which explains the better disk performance since video editing involves seeking and chopping very large files. Remember that Steve Jobs used to own Pixar and the company still have a strong relationship with Apple — hence probably the improvements are there to cater Pixar (interactive scene editing and generation with Macs and then batch-submit to a Linux-based, faceless, render farm?).
The differing driving forces between the two also shows why Linux haven’t got much traction in the desktop space, even after almost 20 years since its birth (Linux 0.02 was released in 1991). In contrast Mac OS X is only about eight years old (first release of Mac OS 10.0 “Cheetah” was in 2001). On the other hand, the server edition of Mac OS X haven’t gained much traction either. Its interesting to note that both have strong Unix legacy and the latter is even Unix certified.