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Snow Leopard performance.

Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard) might have promised very few new features but the simple claim of speed gains (and just a £25 price tag) had me ordering as soon as i could. Don’t misunderstand me, i had no complaints about my MacBook’s performance but a cheap speed boost is always welcome.

Here are some thoroughly un-scientific measurements of the differences i’m seeing between the old and new operating systems on my unibody MacBook (2GHz Core2Duo, 4GB RAM, 5400rpm 160GB hard drive)…

Boot time (to login screen): 10.5.8 – 35 sec / 10.6.0 – 43 sec

Shutdown time: 10.5.8 – 5 sec / 10.6.0 – 3 sec

Safari launch (and render homepage): 10.5.8 – 9 sec / 10.6.0 – 5 sec

Firefox3.5 launch (and render homepage): 10.5.8 – 12 sec / 10.6.0 – 10 sec

Mail launch: 10.5.8 – 4 sec / 10.6.0 – 2 sec

iTunes launch (21GB library): 10.5.8 – 9 sec / 10.6.0 – 6 sec

iPhoto ‘09 launch (7GB library): 10.5.8 – 10 sec / 10.6.0 – 7 sec

Dashboard launch (1st after boot – 11 widgets): 10.5.8 – 11.5 sec / 10.6.0 – 8.5 sec

OpenOffice3.1 launch: 10.5.8 – 12 sec / 10.6.0 – 13 sec

Following the install it was immediately quite clear that things were snappier and, as you can see from the above, almost all of the apps I regularly use show this with a noticeable improvement in launch time. I was even surprised to find that the shutdown time, which i already considered rapid, was improved on – from about 5 seconds down to just 3 seconds. Excellent news when you’re in a rush to turn off. Conversely, i was really disappointed to see that boot time seems to have grown by nearly 10 seconds – all the reports i’d read before upgrading claimed boot time improvements. Still, it is a small price to pay for a generally nippier OS.

Some other titbits about Mac OSX 10.6:

  • For me, the upgrade installation of Snow Leopard over the existing Leopard system took 55 minutes (Installer initially estimated 1hour 3 minutes).

  • 10.6 supposedly uses a lot less disk space than 10.5 (since it no longer carries PPC code, etc). After the upgrade my hard disk usage dropped from 66.7GB to 62.5GB. Reclamation of over 4GB isn’t half bad at all but i had expected a little more.

  • As can happen with any upgrade, some 3rd party apps are “broken” by the new OS. Thus far i’ve only run into problems with KisMAC (couldn’t find the Airport card), CyberDuck (wouldn’t start) and Flip4Mac (WMV files played inside QT but not when via WMVPlayer). None of these are massively important to me but fortunately CyberDuck and Flip4Mac both have beta versions available that do work with Snow Leopard. KisMAC is the only app i’m still without but since i rarely (never?) use it, i’m not exactly tearful.

  • As expected, there’s not much of a visual difference between Leopard and Snow Leopard. In fact, if you avoided using the Dock’s stacks and Expose, you may well fail to notice that your machine had been updated at all.

If you were hoping to read something a bit more in-depth than this, see MacWorld’s take on the performance of 10.6 here. Likewise, if you want a full review of Snow Leopard you’ll probably not find better coverage than this 23-page article at Ars.

Update: There’s another “real world” performance test of Leopard versus Snow Leopard here.

Update #2: Ooh, TUAW have joined in with the “real world” testing now too.