iTunes, 17,000 tracks, and a G5 Quad

Posted by Pierre Igot in: iTunes, Macintosh, Music
January 9th, 2006 • 4:18 pm

Maybe I just have too much music. After all, iTunes does say:

Lots of tracks

16,798 tracks. 49 days and 18 hours of music. Yes, I suppose it’s quite a lot. And I have yet to finish ripping my jazz collection. And I haven’t even done anything with my collection of classical music CDs. And I have thousands of tracks from other sources that I have yet to go through and add to my iTunes library.

Still, those 17,000 tracks only represent about 80 GBytes. (Most of them were ripped with a 160 kbps bit rate.) By today’s standards, 80 GB is not all that much data.

More important, however, having too much music is my problem. The fact that I have such a large collection of music files should not have a negative impact on my ability to manage it with a computerized tool such as iTunes. Today’s computers are certainly powerful enough to be able to handle tens of thousands of files with little difficulty.

And I just got a brand new top-of-line G5 Quad computer. It’s a computer that I would expect to be more than powerful enough for such a task. I was certainly hoping, when I bought it, that it would be significantly faster than my G4 MDD for tasks such as managing my music library in iTunes.

Much to my disappointment, however, it turns out that, for several of the most basic tasks in iTunes, the G5 Quad is not significantly faster than the G4 MDD was. More specifically, I am very disappointed in iTunes’s performance when it comes to editing track information.

The problems start as soon as I try to bring up the modal track information dialog box after selecting a track in my library. As far as I know, this is the only way to access most of the information tags and options attached to the track. This dialog box should come up instantly. It doesn’t. It always takes at least a second or two, and I even sometimes get the spinning pizza of death for a fraction of a second. On a G5 Quad! Just for bringing up a dialog box!

The problems continue once the dialog box is open. For example, it always takes 3 to 4 seconds to switch from the “Summary” tab to the “Info” tab. Even if I have just switched from the “Info” to the “Summary” tab. This is scandalously slow. Presumably, once the dialog box has been brought up, all the information for the track in question has been loaded from disk by iTunes. So why does it take so long to switch from one tab to the next?

Switching to the other tabs is somewhat faster, but still not instantaneous, as it should be on a G5 Quad.

And then there are the delays when using the “Next” and “Previous” buttons from within that dialog box to go from one track to the next (or previous).

The very existence of these buttons is an affront to UI common sense. These buttons are clearly meant as a shortcut to avoid having to close the dialog box, select the next/previous track, and then bring up the dialog box again. But isn’t this a problem precisely because the track information is only accessible through such a modal dialog box? Why can’t iTunes have an “Inspector” window like iCal, Pages, and scores of other Mac OS X software titles? Why can’t we have a window drawer on the side of the main iTunes window that would display track information for the current selection at all times?

I suspect that the reason is performance. Imagine that: Even on a G5 Quad, clicking on the “Next” or “Previous” button in the track information dialog box always takes 3 to 4 seconds to take effect. If that’s the best that Apple can do, then obviously putting that same track information in an Inspector window or window drawer is not an option, because this 3-to-4-second delay would occur for each and every track selection in the main iTunes window, and that would really be totally unacceptable.

I am not a programmer, and I don’t know enough about the inner workings of a software program such as iTunes to draw any conclusions here. But I must admit that I am quite disappointed that iTunes doesn’t perform significantly better on my new G5 Quad than it did on my G4 MDD, at least when it comes to accessing track information in the “Get Info” dialog box.

The fact that things are not significantly better appears to indicate that it is mostly a software problem, and not a hardware problem. Yes, iTunes does have to access the hard drive to load the track information. But surely accessing the information for a 4 or 5 MB music file on the hard drive doesn’t take 3 or 4 seconds. Heck, it takes much less than 3 or 4 seconds to duplicate the entire file in the Finder! As well, the delays continue to occur even after the information has been loaded, as can be seen when switching from tab to tab within the track information dialog.

I am afraid that this is simply not acceptable. I know that consumer-level applications in the “i” family (iPhoto, etc.) are not exactly performance leaders—but it’s not like there is a professional-level application for Mac OS X that matches iTunes’s feature set and offers better performance and better support for very large collections of music files.

So for now I am stuck with iTunes, its modal track information editing process, and its poor performance. On a brand new top-of-the-line G5 Quad, I honestly expected better.

One Response to “iTunes, 17,000 tracks, and a G5 Quad”

  1. ssp says:

    Same here… I also expected to see better performance in iTunes when going from 400 to 1330 MHz in my involuntary computer upgrade. But it remained about the same.

    I still remember that iTunes used to be snappy up to the time where I had a _few_ thousand tracks accumulated. And then it started to crawl. I wonder whether it’s because it’s not good at handling more data or whether it’s all the extra crap they added to iTunes that slows it down.

    It’s still faster than Spotlight, though ;)

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