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Apple Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard review

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Apple Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard

Summary

Our Score:

8

User Score:

Snow Leopard is at the same time quite appropriately, and entirely misleadingly named. Appropriately, because it is, as the moniker betrays, more an upgrade to the previous incarnation of OS X than a radical overhaul. Misleading because while a living, breathing snow leopard is superficially distinct, but fundamentally little different to a leopard, OS X 10.6 is pretty much the exact opposite; little has changed on the surface, but underneath we're dealing with an entirely new creature.

It's worth considering, though, that with its £25 upgrade price, it's unlikely that many Leopard users are going to be in much debate as to whether to go for this new, fluffier version. That amount is certainly well within my impulse-buy threshold, and I surely can't be alone. If you're the frugal type, however, and are sitting on the fence then you'll probably want somereassurance first.

From the word go Apple shows it hasn't been resting on it's Leopard-scented laurels. The installation is "up to 50 per cent" faster than Leopard this time around, says Apple, and I certainly couldn't call it slow. Vista and Windows 7 may also offer upgrade installs from their previous versions, but Apple outright encourages it.

One neat trick of the installer is that if for some reason the upgrade process is interrupted - say, your laptop battery dying - it will simply carry on where it left off with no data loss. It's one of those gimmicks most users will never notice, but which suddenly seems a lot less pointless when you find yourself needing it.

Impressively, a Snow Leopard install will take up less space than the Leopard it has upgraded from - some 6GB on average. Some of this space saving is as a result of compressing OS files, part of it comes from removing Rosetta - Apple's PowerPC compatibility layer - from the default install and part of it comes from not installing printer drivers by default, both they and Rosetta will now be pulled from the 'net on demand.

Any programs installed in Leopard and known to be incompatible with Snow Leopard are put in a separate folder during the upgrade. It's then up to you to either find an alternative that will work, or hope there's an updated version.

The entire core application base of OS X 10.6 has been rebuilt in 64-bit. Well, almost; Grapher, DVD Player, Front Row and iTunes are still 32-bit although only with the later will anyone ever notice, I'd warrant - iTunes is still horribly slow at times.

With Snow Leopard Apple has cut support for any new 32-bit APIs, which should give a clear signal to developers that the time to switch to 64-bit is now. The transition should be made easier, as OS X can run 64-bit applications even when booted into the 32-bit kernel, which it does by default - unlike Windows which can't run 64-bit programs in its 32-bit incarnation.

There is one limit to the 64-bit/32-bit coexistence, in that OS X doesn't cater for 64-bit applications loading 32-bit plugins. This gives rise to one of Safari 4's neatest features. While Safari itself loads as a 64-bit application, plugins in pages are loaded in their own separate processes. A fringe benefit of this is that should a plugin crash (I'm looking at you Flash) it won't take the browser with it - Safari simply reloads the plugin and refreshes the page. It's not quite up there with Chrome's tab-independence, but in the real world both methods will likely prove as effective at preventing browser crashes.

Palpman

September 9, 2009, 4:20 am

Sooo much faster! Boots in a few seconds and shuts down almost instantly, I like the new features, cheap, well done Apple!

Digital Fury

September 9, 2009, 10:14 am

Not bad overall, it could have been better...and worst.





I can't really upgrade at the moment because of software incompatibilities with some 3rd party solutions, in my case DxO, Fujitsu ScanSnap and DEVONthink Pro Office, which get somewhat broken under 10.6, but for 30€ you can't complain much about the limited number of new features it brings to the table. In mostly interested in Grand Central Dispatch and OpenCL, but it might take some time for software to catch up; if ever with OpenCL. GPU acceleration has existed now for some years, yet very few software actually uses it and to limited effect.

Ironduke

September 9, 2009, 11:27 am

Another Lustful Victory For Uncle Steve





Cue the windows 7 funboys.............

Robert Elliot

September 9, 2009, 11:40 am

Actually a Snow Leopard isn't just a different looking Leopard; it's a big cat that looks like a Leopard, but whose exact taxonomic position is unclear, with its nearest relative likely to be the Tiger.





This comment brought to you by Pedants Anonymous.

Doug Ellison

September 9, 2009, 12:05 pm

On the flip side - I can barely notice the difference here on my UBMB. Seriously - I can't tell I'm on SL. I wasted an afternoon upgrading. Maybe in 6-12 months when dev's have begun to use the under-the-bonnet differences in SL, but in the meantime, I've found it a waste of time.

Mathew White

September 9, 2009, 12:22 pm

I'd be applauding Snow Leopard - if it hadn't decided that everything in my Documents folder was unnecessary, also my Downloads folder, removed all of my contacts from the address book, made my Adobe CS4 unstable, removed the website list from Dreamweaver and generally been, well, a bit unkind to me. (thankfully, back-ups were to hand).

BeardedHawk

September 9, 2009, 12:39 pm

This doesn’t read like a review, more an extended marketing piece for Apple. I don’t see any benchmarks to test performance against 10.5, just enthusiastic explanations that read like its from Apple’s website. I have 10.6 on two Mac’s – a 24” 3.06Ghz iMac and a 13” MBP, both with 4Gb Ram. I don’t notice any speed improvement in performance in either, but at least the MBP is stable – the iMac now only exits Apple Mail using force quit and crashes other software. I’ve seen warning screens I’ve never had on a Mac before. I know, I know never buy the “.0” version of any software. Well I though as this was an upgrade to 10.5 that I’d be OK. Wrong. So this article with its lack of analysis and refusal to report user problems (HP printer recognition?) makes it, in my view, anything but “trusted”. I’m sure 10.6 will be great. But avoid it until 10.6.1 at the very least.

Cub

September 9, 2009, 12:41 pm

I would imagine the latest and greatest (controversial, I know) 64-bit iTunes will be out later on today. Personally, I've never experienced problems with my immense musical library.





Expecting war to break out within the next 4 posts.

rav

September 9, 2009, 1:06 pm

But isn't it just a service pack?!!! ;-)

robjohn

September 9, 2009, 1:18 pm

I upgraded (foolish early adopter that I am) and have actually regretted it. The applications I use are actually a tad more sluggish (especially 'save' routines). Google Desktop indexing does not work any longer so I lost that (I prefer that to Spotlight), with its huge archive of my emails and documents; my HP C4280 printer scanner lost its scanning function (since recovered by searching forum advice, but with a new interface that is worse than the old one). In short I see no speed or other benefits and some definite losses (admittedly in the narrow perspective of the office suite applications I use every day). In short I regret the upgrade, ands if I could be bothered, would roll back to the last OS.

Hugo

September 9, 2009, 1:23 pm

Benchmarking with XBench is broken in Snow Leopard - OpenGL performance takes a huge hit in the synthetic test, but not in reality. Besides which, I've never seen the point in benching Macs anyway - we all know OS X is fast *enough*. If you won't take my word for it that 10.6 is (subjectively) smoother/faster than 10.5 then you might as well not read any reviews because they all contain such subjectiveness.

PoisonJam

September 9, 2009, 1:27 pm

@ Ironduke - No, it's only Mac fanboys that invade PC forums with messages of hate. Windows users generally just don't care about Apple's releases. Nothing more, nothing less. There's no bitterness from this side ;)

Darfuria

September 9, 2009, 1:39 pm

I've had a somewhat clean run with Snow Leopard at home, as my Mac came with it when I bought it - so I simply went through software updates and then installed Snow Leopard before installing any applications.





At work however, I have noticed some applications not working, and the open/save process in the CS3 suite certainly being a lot slower - sometimes crashing.

Rich 42c5

September 9, 2009, 1:41 pm

i upgraded to snow leopard. i'm happy overall, some nice and neat changes and improvements, but nothing fantastic either

Hamish Campbell

September 9, 2009, 1:44 pm

i've upgraded with no issues. I bit disappointed with the boot times, almost no change, I had hoped they could make a big difference here especially as they know the hardware that will be booted on every time. Looks like ubuntu will get theirs down to 10 seconds or something way before anyone else.


Just of note it seems my white macbook when from 45 seconds to 35-40.

Keithe6e

September 9, 2009, 2:27 pm

@Jordan, good job you put the smiley on, I thought you were being serious then.

Ben

September 9, 2009, 2:55 pm

Slightly faster boot, much faster shutdown, much faster wake from sleep and near-instant WiFi reconnection, so that's all good. Performance was jittery to start with, only after a couple of restarts have things settled down - but everything's definitely faster now. aMSN didn't work, but if you google you'll find a link to the latest beta, which does.

Ironduke

September 9, 2009, 3:14 pm

rollix jordan they invaded the macbook air thread

GoldenGuy

September 9, 2009, 3:24 pm

I'm not usually an early adopter (the time between admiring Macs and actually buying one was very long) but I upgraded this week for two reasons :





1. Stinginess. I'd rather pay £8 for a currently minor upgrade than £25, and I didn't want the offer to disappear.


2. Fear. I really don't want to fall off the wagon trail by being more than one OS X behind. Apple really have punished Tiger users, and if I'm not mistaken, even the Intel ones.

Cub

September 9, 2009, 4:53 pm

@GoldenGuy - While I agree Apple could have been fairer on Tiger users, I think punished is a bit harsh. Anyone using Tiger obviously didn't see any advantage in upgrading to get the extra features of Leopard... With there been no real extra features for the end user in Snow Leopard, why would people that are still on Tiger want to upgrade? Yes, it offers a speed boost, but so did Leopard offer a speed boost over Tiger.





There is an upgrade bundle that Tiger users can get which includes the latest iLife and iWork and will boost your system to 10.6 for around £120, which for everything you get, is a good price.

eyepopper

September 9, 2009, 4:57 pm

Excuse me for asking this, as I've been living under a huge rock for the last decade or two, but are Apple users those odd folks that pay a huge premium for hardware with a little round thing branded on it because they'd feel bad if they didn't contribute to Steve_J's billion dollar pension pot?





As for the new flavour of OS, I can't say I noticed, but it appears to be slick, shiny and everything else you would expect from Apple. Personally, I still wouldn't buy an Apple product though, out of general principle.

GoldenGuy

September 9, 2009, 5:12 pm

I agree that for everything you get that suite is worth the price, but it's the same problem the PS3 had - good value if you want what's an offer but undeniably a lot of money. As always, I was bit melodramatic but I think the main point stands - if you get off the Apple conveyor belt, there can be a higher premium to be paid in cost and performance. However, I don't want to get into a total cost of ownership debacle, as the PC/Mac fanboys really don't need more baiting. Anyway, I just hope to God they're not planning any big processor switches in-the-not-too-distant future!

Hugo

September 9, 2009, 5:34 pm

Unless you don't want iLife and iWork, in which case it's not a good deal at all.

smckenna568

September 9, 2009, 6:19 pm

All in all I believe that apple products, and most of all the Macbook range, are superior to PCs in general although undeniably overpriced. Clearly the hardware isn't as good as many PCs out there but the combination of hardware and software designed to work together is worth the price to me. Been using a macbook for the last two years for Uni and not a single problem with it. Infact its a pleasure to use compared to my laptops and pc before that.





Just thought I would add my opinion. (welcoming the aggressive replies as I type :))

Digital Fury

September 9, 2009, 6:40 pm

@eyepopper Apple hardware prices have come down to a more reasonable level, and in some cases like my Mac Pro (8-core, 14 Gb RAM, internal SSDs, RAID-6 and GTX 285 cards), it's very competitive from a performance/construction quality/noise level/price perspective compared to anything from Dell/Alienware or HP.





Hopefully Apple with come up with a new Mac Pro design when the Nehalem-EX‎ hits the streets.

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