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  • So Is Leopard Really Slower?

    December 5th, 2007

    Up till now, Mac users have been spoiled. Each and every release of Mac OS X has been shown to be demonstrably faster than its predecessor, whereas with Microsoft Windows it’s usually the reverse.

    However, Leopard includes a huge amount of under-the-hood changes that tax the graphics processors fiercely, particularly on slower Macs. On the other hand, with less work for the CPU to handle, shouldn’t that signal speedier performance for most of you?

    Well, maybe. But recent benchmarks from Bill Fox’s Macs Only site show a troubling trend, one that I hope doesn’t portend an unfortunate change in Apple’s direction. Before I give you my two cents about his results, though, let me tell you that Bill is extremely careful about his work, and he doesn’t take the task of measuring the speed of software and hardware casually. Everything is checked multiple times, with restarts between each set of tasks, to ensure the most accurate results. He also uses different sets of hardware, so you can get a fair basis on which to make a decision.

    So what do we see from his tests?

    Well, for one thing, it may take almost twice as long for a Mac to restart with Leopard installed as with Tiger. But it’s not an across-the-board situation. So on his 15-inch  2.4GHz MacBook Pro, boot times increased from 31 seconds to 56 seconds. That’s one huge slowdown, and one you’d observe without the need to resort to a stopwatch. On the other hand, the startup times of his 24-inch 2.8GBz iMac were unchanged; 25 seconds in both cases.

    This is damned peculiar, because the MacBook Pro and iMac share lots of hardware, except for the slower hard drive on an note-book. The slightly faster build-to-order processor configuration on the iMac shouldn’t account for an improvement of more than a few seconds. So I’m at a loss to guess why there’s a performance disparity here, unless it’s solely drive related.

    When it comes to so-called user interface graphics, all that eye candy takes a huge toll on both models.  Quartz graphics figures are improved somewhat with Leopard, but OpenGL, which is heavily used to generate all those special effects, has worsened.

    No to be fair, it’s quite possible there are shortcomings in the canned benchmark applications, such as  Xbench 1.3, which contribute to the results, and that they don’t reflect use in the real world. I know that, in my own subjective experience, only the slower startup times seem to be noticeable. Leopard’s interface seems perceptibly speedier in my personal equipment lineup, which includes a first-generation 17-inch MacBook Pro and a Power Mac G5 Quad.

    So where does the fault lie? Is it Xbench 1.3, which hasn’t been updated since the middle of 2006? Or is it due to the fact that the graphic drivers in Leopard aren’t fully optimized for the new operating system yet, and future maintenance updates will reflect a noticeable improvement?

    To be sure, that’s happened in the past, as Mac OS X releases have grown faster between the major upgrades due to Apple’s constant stream of maintenance updates.

    I don’t pretend to have the answers. Besides, none of those benchmarks should really impact on your productivity, which you can’t say about Windows Vista, where molasses is the name of the game even on a speedy PC.

    What does concern me more, however, is the continued variance in Leopard user experiences. As carefully as Bill Fox is in maintaining his Macs, he’s seen a higher number of system crashes since he updated to Leopard, although the 10.5.1 update has improved things noticeably. And, by the way, if you want to hear more details about his Mac OS X benchmarking, you’ll want to listen to his guest shot this week on The Tech Night Owl LIVE.

    What’s more, other benchmarks, using different criteria, show decidedly different results. Take the recent comparisons conducted over at Rob-Art Morgan’s BeatFeats site, where Leopard was, in many respects, faster than Tiger with a suite of high-power applications, where the performance improvements would be most noticeable. Indeed, in situatons where Leopard came out second-best, the results were so close that I doubt most of you would notice the difference without resorting to some instrumentation. In other words, they aren’t significant.

    Now when it comes to which benchmarks rate as the most important in your day-to-day use of Leopard, I would suggest that Rob’s tests are far more apt to reflect your productivity. It really doesn’t matter if some interface widget displays a fraction or a second faster or slower, unless the difference is quite significant, and it’s not.

    More to the point, as more and more Mac applications receive Leopard-related updates, it’s quite possible developers will harness the updated tools in Apple’s Xcode to glean enhancements in application multithreading and other features that hold the promise of greater efficiency.

    For me, it still seems that everything I do over the course of my workday is, subjectively at least, snappier in Leopard. Perhaps Apple concentrated on certain parameters that visually impact performance, even if a stopwatch shows a contrary result. I don’t pretend to have the answers, but I will watch developments carefully as Leopard gets maintenance updates and third-party applications become more compatible.

    And, of course, I welcome your comments and your own experiences. Feel free to run your personal benchmarks and let us know the particulars here.



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    33 Responses to “So Is Leopard Really Slower?”

    1. Leopard feels really sluggish to me compared to what I used to have. Tiger really screamed. I went from a first gen 1.85 GHz G5 SINGLE PROCESSOR to the new 8 core MacPro and I feel that I have to wait a lot from start up through using my basic apps. On the other hand, so far it’s been really stable

      Leopard takes longer to start up. But you’ll get the best performance from your Mac Pro if you maximize memory. The standard configurations come with 2GB RAM. Double it. Triple it. Memory throughput is measurably higher at each increment.

      One good supplier is Other World Computing (OWC). They have Apple-approved memory at a half to a third the price of Apple’s own, and they use similar suppliers.

      Peace,
      Gene

    2. cmw says:

      Leopard hour glasses for me and Tiger almost never did!

    3. Stephen says:

      My G4 17 inch Powerbook has had nothing but trouble. This has definitely been my worst experience to date with upgrading a computer. My computer is older. I went from Panther to Leopard. However I have 1GB of RAM and a 1.5GHz processing speed and right now I can barely type my computer is moving so slowly.

    4. qrius says:

      My experience w/ leopard on my mbp (from upgrade from tiger) is the following:

      1. something’s wrong w/ the airport. i used to connect to cafe’s internet wifi fine, but now, leopard has issues. sometimes, it just doesn’t even find the network. my pc friends don’ t have this problem. my tiger had no airport issues.

      2. it takes dang long to boot up on leopard. also, there is some initial lag when first trying to open files/apps after a reboot. i’d say it’s about 75% of the bootup speed of tiger. (subjective measurement).

      but all in all, I like leopard, but #1 really bothers me. even after a reboot, airport still has issues and can’t find the public wifi network.

    5. My experience w/ leopard on my mbp (from upgrade from tiger) is the following:

      1. something’s wrong w/ the airport. i used to connect to cafe’s internet wifi fine, but now, leopard has issues. sometimes, it just doesn’t even find the network. my pc friends don’ t have this problem. my tiger had no airport issues.

      2. it takes dang long to boot up on leopard. also, there is some initial lag when first trying to open files/apps after a reboot. i’d say it’s about 75% of the bootup speed of tiger. (subjective measurement).

      but all in all, I like leopard, but #1 really bothers me. even after a reboot, airport still has issues and can’t find the public wifi network.

      Your description is missing a few details, which may help.

      1. What kind of Mac is this?

      2. Which version of AirPort?

      Also note that Leopard might seem slower when Time Machine is running.

      But bootup speed isn’t significant, unless it’s monumentally longer. Did you install the 10.5.2 and Graphics updates?

      Peace,
      Gene

    6. Brian says:

      I have a 17″ macbook pro, 2.16 GHz, 2GB memory. I recently upgraded to Leopard (clean install) and it takes forever to boot up once I login. I mean…really loooooong. It’s driving me nuts. Once it’s up, all is good – it’s just this eternity waiting to get going.

      I’ve never had a mac with this boot-lag. Bummer.

    7. Sofashaker says:

      have a new MBP Penryn 2.4GHz /2GB RAM/200Gb HDD Leopard is ok but only thing i dont like about is that it lags USB/bluetooth mouses, it’s kind a latency, from i start to move mouse and cursor starts to move a bit later. Installed windows on VMware and there is no lag. On dedicated windows machine also no lag. A bit of a problem here cause usb midi keyboard lags too.

    8. kamil says:

      I have MacBook Pro 2.2 (Santa Rosa) as well and I do like Leopard. But start-up, as many have already experienced, takes significantly longer than with Tiger. With Tiger it was just a matter of seconds rather than a minute or so. Also, starting up apps after reboot takes a bit too long… So I do feel leopard is slower, especially after the reboot.

    9. I have MacBook Pro 2.2 (Santa Rosa) as well and I do like Leopard. But start-up, as many have already experienced, takes significantly longer than with Tiger. With Tiger it was just a matter of seconds rather than a minute or so. Also, starting up apps after reboot takes a bit too long… So I do feel leopard is slower, especially after the reboot.

      Give it a little more time after startup. Apps should open at a normal rate then. As to a longer startup period, well, the Macs I have now had Leopard preloaded, so I have no experience with prior OS’s. However, the boot time is not a significant issue unless it takes far more than a minute or two.

      Peace,
      Gene

    10. Raj says:

      On my Dual 125GHz G4 tower, Leopard takes about 5 minutes to start and get to the login screen; Tiger used to take about 2 minutes. I get the initial gray screen for about a minute or so, then it sits on the blue screen for 2-3 minutes, before showing the login screen; don’t know what’s going on under the hood–lots of disk activity.

      I have 2GB RAM on this machine and once it’s logged in, the OS performs at about the same speed as Tiger; haven’t noticed any slow-down or speed-up compared to 10.4.x.

      I did a reformat of the drive before doing a clean install of Leopard, then applied the combo patch from a disk image (downloaded from Apple).

      Anyone have similar issues with slow startups? solutions?

      Thanks,
      raj…

    11. rupps says:

      In my case I feel leopard slower and applications more prone to fail. I am not talking about ITunes, IChat or IPhoto, but about real productivity applications.

      I also feel that Leopard is more memory hungry than Tiger.

      And about disk space, my Tiger installation is roughly 2Gb, where Leopard is about 6-7Gb, after deleting plenty of unuseful stuff. I have three partitions with three Tiger’s / Leopard’s installed, so this gets important for me, since I have a MacBookPro, and Leopard means 15 Gb space loss.

      Besides, Leopard has some annoying bugs regarding keyboard and mouse after wake from sleep that I can’t tolerate. Made me lost some €.

      That’s why I downgraded to Tiger (10.4.11) and things are really stable and fast again.

      All this comments are for 10.5.1, I suppose under 10.5.2 things would be better.

      Anyway… I am waiting until 10.5.5 to give Leopard a second chance.

    12. DSM says:

      I have Leopard 10.5.2, and frontrow doesn’t work. I’ve been using Leopard for a few months and being a Windows guy myself, I’ve found that there are performance issues and crash issues just like Windows Vista. I’ve had vista since it came out and will admit to the problems. But, i’ve had a clean install since February with very few problems. I’m still in the “getting used to” stage with Leopard, but overall, I can’t say I’m totally floored by any kind of great performance/stability differences.

    13. Bong says:

      I upgraded from 10.4.11 to 10.5 in a last ditch attempt to cure the kernel panic every single time I tried to wake up my G5 2.0Ghz ppc (model 7,3; Boot ROM Version: 5.2.4f1). I believe I have the correct firmware, I’ve tested my 3GB of RAM and I’ve unplugged peripherals. It didn’t solve the problem however and though I’m not convinced a completely clean install will solve my dilemma it seems the only option left to me. I really don’t feel inclined to do this at the moment as I’m quite busy with work, so it leads me to ask has anyone else had this grief and know a simple solution before I am forced to embark on said disc/data exodus?

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