Parallel Desktops

Upgrading to Snow Leopard

The UPS truck pulled up yesterday and delivered my family upgrade pack to Snow Leopard . Though I’m a software developer I really stick to the web side of things and have not participated in any of the developer versions of Snow Leopard. As a result, I’ve only done…

Mac OS X - Snow LeopardThe UPS truck pulled up yesterday and delivered my family upgrade pack to Snow Leopard. Though I'm a software developer I really stick to the web side of things and have not participated in any of the developer versions of Snow Leopard. As a result, I've only done modest reading on it and I am approaching this upgrade as many consumers would.

Rather than jump in with both feet, I decided to upgrade my MacBook Pro first, holding off on my primary machine (a Mac Pro) until I had seen which applications are compatible.
Application compatibility? Doesn't everything work?
Well, no. Most general purpose applications run fine – the majority for me did in fact. It's those little extensions that I've become hopelessly addicted to that can cause a problem. My biggest concern with Snow Leopard was whether or not I would have to change the way I work if one of my applications suddenly stopped working.
Since Apple released Snow Leopard ahead of schedule it apparently caught a number of independent software developers off guard and unprepared to release updates to their software.
The other thing I was interested in was the performance improvements. I wanted to see if on a real world Mac I would see any real bump in performance. Armed with the trusty stopwatch feature of my iPhone I ran through a number of different boot ups and application loads both before and after the upgrade to see how things changed.
The measurements I took are by no means scientific – it's difficult to get sub-second timings down when you are poking at a virtual button on an iPhone to record times. That said, I did record the duration several times to ensure they were always in the same range. If not, I'd record a few more and come up with an average. The goal was not to say "This is X seconds faster" but to get a rough feel for performance improvements.
Installing Snow Leopard
The installation of Snow Leopard was pretty simple. Pop in the DVD, launch the installer, select the hard drive to install it to and let it run. Mine estimated 45 minutes but it actually ended up being an hour before the reboot sequence required me to step in and do anything. If you are installing this and you get the estimated time up, use it as chance to run errands because it will be a little while.
Once installed I got a very un-Apple like message window:
Where is System Sheesh, I don't know, that's not something I normally run or even care about. This was a modal window (parked on top of everything) so it clearly wanted me to figure it out. I didn't see it in the list so I clicked Browse and hunted around for it. I used my other machine to Google up the location of said file and it turns out it's located in:
/System/Library/Core Services
I navigated there, selected it and from that point on I was in Snow Leopard. I know if I asked my wife to do this installation on her Mac and she saw this message she would be yelling out "DAVID!!!" right about now. If not, she would probably just click Cancel in frustration, and I'm not sure what the impact of that would be.
Application Compatibility
With Snow Leopard fully installed I set about trying my different applications. The first thing I noticed was that my iStat Menu was missing. Turns out they'll need to issue an update to make it compatible with Snow Leopard. Next up Xmarks was MIA from my menu bar as well. Neither of these were mission critical for my work flow so I'm comfortable waiting until patched versions are available (which both indicate they are working on).
The only application (so far) that has had an impact on me is 1Password. Without going in to too much detail I'll pass you along to the page they have provided to sort through the best way to get 1Password to appear in Safari. For now I'm using Firefox, which doesn't have the 1Password compatibility issue.
For you devs out there, be aware that if you are normally running an instance of MySQL you'll need to download the 64bit version and reinstall it. As a Ruby on Rails developer MySQL is vital to my local development activities. Here's a helpful post from Stack Overflow that provides some guidance. It will take me a while to really test out my other development related applications.
Performance Improvements
One of the things everyone seems to be saying about Snow Leopard is that it's faster. It clearly is a smaller OS, since it actually gave me back 17GB of disk space. Snow Leopard "felt" quicker but I wanted some real world numbers to validate that for me.
The Mac I upgraded is a 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro. I've got a 200GB HD and upgraded the memory to 4GB. It has always been a pretty snappy machine so I actually did need the stop watch to see if there was real improvement.
Action Leopard Snow Leopard
Start to full load 1m 37s 1m 3s
Shut Down 10.5s 4.5s
This was a pretty clear improvement, both on the front and back end of the start up / shut down process. I actually found that because I had a number of extensions I needed to go into System Preferences and activate many of them by clicking on their icon in the Other section. Examples were Growl and SteerMouse. Once those extensions were loaded manually (and set to auto-load) my boot times improved to what you see above.

Next up I started loading applications. Here were my results:

Application Leopard Snow Leopard
Safari (1st time) 3.4s 1.6s
Safari (2nd time) <1s <1s
Text Editor (1st time) 1s <1s
Text Editor (2nd time) <1s <1s
iPhoto (1st time) 13.5s 10.4s
iPhoto (2nd time) 1.9s 1.8s
iTunes (1st time) 9.7s 5.1s
iTunes (2nd time) 1.8s 1.5s
Pages (1st time) 12.9s 10.1s
Pages (2nd time) 1.5s 2.0s
Firefox 3.5.2 (1st time) 18s 15s
Firefox 3.5.2 (2nd time) 2.2s 2.4s

So, generally I saw a modest improvement in application load times. I've only just started playing with Snow Leopard and I'll likely have more observations coming soon. While I'm generally happy with the upgrade from a performance standpoint and love the strategy Apple is using for this, I'm holding off upgrading the Mac Pro until I have a better handle on which of my development tools need upgrading / patching.

How about you? Did you notice similar improvements in performance? Found a site that can help identify Snow Leopard compatibility? Drop a note in the comments!



By David Alison

I bought my first Mac almost 24 years ago when DOS ruled the world. I didn't keep it too long though. I was just kicking off my career as a software engineer and needed to go with PCs. I bought my 2nd Mac in February of 2008. I didn't expect that I would find myself using the machine as much as I have. It's not that I hate Windows (well, I pretty much hate Vista but XP is a fine OS), it's just that I find myself constantly playing with this machine.

I'll share with you here my experiences of making the move from Windows to Macintosh. I still have a foot in both worlds, hence the name of my section.

2 replies on “Upgrading to Snow Leopard”

Comments are closed.