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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. George says:

      Leopard feels faster, especially safari, finder and parallels. Startup may be slower, but in my case, I have several third party extensions and several large disks that factor in. I startup rarely anyway due to the robustness of OS X. Also video-driver hangs (stuttering scrolling) seem to be gone. Didn’t get best performance until I went back and did a clean install. (MBP15 2.4)

    2. Leopard feels faster, especially safari, finder and parallels. Startup may be slower, but in my case, I have several third party extensions and several large disks that factor in. I startup rarely anyway due to the robustness of OS X. Also video-driver hangs (stuttering scrolling) seem to be gone. Didn’t get best performance until I went back and did a clean install. (MBP15 2.4)

      Well, that does confirm the subjective reaction I had. It feels faster, even if the measurements don’t always confirm those feelings.

      Peace,
      Gene

    3. Bill says:

      My g4 mini 1.42gHz with 1 GB of ram is definitely snappier with Leopard. I have also had 4 or 5 lockups with Leopard in the last month, which is surprising to me, I only had a few with Jaguar and Tiger altogether.

      I am sure Apple will get everything ironed out. I’m taking a friend to the Apple store tomorrow to get her a new Mini. I am confident she will love it.

    4. Will says:

      My Mac is a QuickSilver 2002, originally with 250 MB of SDRAM, a G4 800 MHz PPC processor, and a graphics card with 32 MB DDR VRAM. It came with Mac OS X 10.1 Puma.

      In 2002, I installed extra memory, bringing the total to 1.25 GB SDRAM and fitted an extra internal hard drive.

      In September 2007, I replaced the original 800 MHz CPU with a faster 1.8 GHz G4 CPU from Sonnet Technologies and Tiger still worked as before but, now, just slightly faster.

      I installed Leopard several days after release, and have found that;
      Finder is much faster in Leopard and now is a pleasure to work with.
      Pages in Leopard is noticeably faster to start up and also works faster.
      Safari in Leopard is faster and is stable: beta 3 crashed often in Tiger.
      Mail in Leopard is faster.
      The whole interface in Leopard is more responsive.
      Leopard appears just as stable as was Tiger: in 2.5 years, Tiger had no kernel panic.
      Because I rarely have had to restart in Tiger or Leopard, I cannot compare restart times, but if there is a difference, it is negligible.

      Because my present graphics card is the original 32 MB DDR VRAM job, I do not suffer the silliness of a transparent menu bar.

      The only difficulty I have experienced with Leopard is a sleep issue, when my Mac has come out of sleep about five times. I have seen a thread on the Internet which points at USB issues and now unplug the only USB device normally attached constantly, an H-B ink-jet printer, and this appears to have resolved the disturbed sleep issue. In Leopard, the printer works just as it did in Tiger.

      As with the Tiger installation, I installed Leopard with ‘erase and install’ and would not consider any other installation method – life is far too short!

      I find Leopard such an improvement over Tiger, I would not even consider reverting to Tiger.

    5. Terry says:

      Leopard is “snappier” across all 4 of my machines. I have a G5 2×2, a G4 mirror, a duo core 2nd generation macbook pro and a g4 1g powerbook. Finder is now much more responsive on all of them. Working in applications is about the same as it was in Tiger.

    6. Karl says:

      For me I currently have running…
      Panther on PowerMac G5 1.8M Hz 2 GB RAM.
      Tiger on iBook G3 600 MHz 640 MB RAM and on a PowerMac G4 800 MHz with 1.2 GB RAM.
      Leopard on a PowerMac G5 2.3 MHz with 3 GB RAM.

      This is what I observe:
      Panther on the PowerMac G5 – runs well. OS very stable. Applications very stable. Fast for “normal” use. Fast for graphic software.

      Tiger on iBook – OS stable. Applications stable. Slow for “normal” use. Very slow for graphic software use. To the point of looking to upgrade to a new laptop.

      Tiger on PowerMac G4 – runs well. OS very stable. Applications very stable. OK for “normal” use. Ok for graphic software.

      Leopard on the PowerMac G5 – OS very stable. Applications less stable. Fast for “normal’ use. Fast for graphic software.

      For me, the enhancements in Leopard make it faster (Spaces, QuickView, Finder). The applications seem to be a lot less stable. A lot (un)expectantly quitting and I get a few more application “hangs”, which surprises me. If I were to go back. I probably would install Leopard “fresh” to see if that would help clear up some issues.

      Overall, Panther, Tiger and Leopard seem fast on the right hardware. Of course the PowerMac G5 2.3 MHz is king in my set up no matter what OS was/is on it. Tiger was fast. Leopard is just as fast if not faster, but the stability of the applications is an issue, but off set by the enhancements. So I’ll stick with Leopard.

    7. William Timberman says:

      Subjectively speaking, my dual 2.0 GHz G5 is much faster in all respects; boot-up is 20 seconds faster, and the finder, for the first time since I installed the OSX beta, feels as fast as the old OS did. I haven’t had a single kernel panic either, although Safari and Mail have crapped out a time or two.

      Graphics performance is also much improved, from simple things like font rendering, to complex things like Photoshop filters and video. Of course, I’m not taxing the video card much — I’m still using an old 15-inch flat panel bought with my old Cube (for $1K, yikes!) almost exactly seven years ago.

      I couldn’t be happier with Leopard. When I read the horror stories on the Web, I just scratch my head. I had terrible experiences of my own with the point-zero releases of Panther, Jaguar and Tiger, but this cat has kept its claws sheathed for me — so far at least.

    8. lemonlime says:

      At this point I would say it’s a combination of items starting with 10.5 being a new release and each persons personal configuration. But from what I have read on multiple sites and personal experience Xbench is also at fault. The first thing I noticed on my Mini after a clean install was how quick it booted to the desktop.

      I also have noticed that a clean install as opposed to an upgrade install on the same machine will give you a slight performance increase. It also seems to avoid a lot of weird issues in the long run that seem to crop up when an upgrade install is ran. Even though it shouldn’t matter I think the benefit comes from not having all the cobwebs that piled up from the miscellaneous programs we install too the late nights of torture we put our systems through.

      I also Installed it on my severely handicapped G4 450 with barley 400 Mb of ram and 10.5 beats 10.4 to the desktop every time. One annoying thing I rarely see is the spinning beach ball that I would frequently see in 10.4.

      There are a few areas I would have liked Apple to have taken programs such as Spaces a little further than what they had. Instead of just organizing application workspaces they should have given us the ability to have a separate desktop folder for each space. Which would in turn give us the ability to save certain files and folders to certain Desktop Spaces. Also bookmarks in dictionary when dealing with Wikipedia would have been nice.

      Out of all the releases I have used including the nightmare that was 10.0, 10.5 is the most stable and best user experience out of the box for the way I like to work. Even with the few programs no longer run with 10.5 I wouldn’t go back to any previous version.

      One last thought Networking now works without even having to think about it.

    9. Don says:

      On my G4 167 MHz PowerBook with 1 Meg of RAM, Leopard is obviously faster. I did notice that it started to slow down, however, both in starting up and opening applications. I ran Cocktail (Leopard edition) to clear caches and perform the chron tasks. Immediately it was back up to its faster speed.

      Recently, my S.O. upgraded her 3 yr. old Dull from 256k to 1 Meg of. She was blown away by how fast her old computer suddenly was. She thought she would have to get an entirely new computer, but now she is more than satisfied. Although I wasn’t bogged down, getting Leopard has been a similar experience. I especially like the speed boost in Safari.

    10. lemonlime says:

      On my G4 167 MHz PowerBook with 1 Meg of RAM, Leopard is obviously faster. I did notice that it started to slow down, however, both in starting up and opening applications. I ran Cocktail (Leopard edition) to clear caches and perform the chron tasks. Immediately it was back up to its faster speed.

      Recently, my S.O. upgraded her 3 yr. old Dull from 256k to 1 Meg of. She was blown away by how fast her old computer suddenly was. She thought she would have to get an entirely new computer, but now she is more than satisfied. Although I wasn’t bogged down, getting Leopard has been a similar experience. I especially like the speed boost in Safari.

      what ever

    11. Rich says:

      I don’t have benchmarks to prove it, but my PowerBook G4, 1GHz with 1Gig of RAM, is much snappier with 10.5.1. I noticed the improvement right away. Mail works better, Safari is good (although there are some javascript rendering issues that were not present in the beta under Tiger). I’m pretty happy with the upgrade and believe it has given my aging Mac some new life. It’s about to be relegated to a second computer when our new iMac arrives sometime in the New Year, but for now – Long Live the PowerBook G4!

    12. roberto says:

      my 2 cents!
      MacBook 2,1 (2GHz Intel CoreDuo, 2 GB RAM)
      Everything feels faster except for Safari. If I have a slow connection, a page loading in a tab stops the rest of Safari from functioning. In Tiger (even with the beta) this didn’t happen. Also, bootup until the login window is crazily fast, but after login, loading desktop and finder (and my startup items such as Mail and Safari) takes an eternity.
      I am really waiting for a new atheros airport extreme driver. I have/had daily kernelpanics, all related to the airport extreme card, to the point that when my MacBook is sitting on my desk I am plugged-in with ethernet and airport off.
      Since I know this issue I can work around, but I loved to have it fixed, because all the speed improvements of Leopard are lost if I have to reboot 6 times a day……

    13. Dana Sutton says:

      I can only comment on my 2.66 Mac Pro. Right out of the box, its XBench overall score was 137.95 (already a lot better than the 108.14 of my previous G-5). Upping the RAM to 3 GB and installing a three-disk RAID 1 array had the effect of raising the score to 173.56 — Macs really do ship with inadequate RAM — and upgrading to Leopard gave a further improvement to 178.96. Some of the specific tests weren’t very much affected by the upgrade, so this overall average increase isn’t all that impressive, but some were more spectacular. the CPU test score, in particular, rose from 137.86 to 152.94. Mind you, these tests weren’t performed under lab conditions, and ideally I should have run each one repeatedly and averaged the results. But they do seem to substantiate the widespread subjective reaction that Leopard makes a very appreciable speed difference, perhaps because it does a better job of handling multicore processing (in which case the speed bump on 2-core Macs might not be so dramatic), or possibly even because some components of Tiger had not been rewritten in Universal code and were being routed through Rosetta. Now, having said all these good things about Leopard — and i. m. h. o. these “under the hood” improvements by themselves are sufficient justification for making the upgrade — I must add that my subjective reaction that the decrease in boot time, if any, is comparatively disappointing.

    14. Leopard is snappy on my iMac. I don’t tend to worry too much about start-up times … Leopard 10.5.0 merrily whistled along at 21 days without a restart. And the restart was because I applied the .1 update.

    15. Feels slower on a Mac mini with only 512MB RAM.

    16. Feels slower on a Mac mini with only 512MB RAM.

      Which is why I think 1GB is the minimum for decent Leopard performance.

      Peace,
      Gene

    17. Izzy says:

      Safari on my old Macbook 2.0 Ghz 1gb Ram 10.4.9 was much faster than my current Macbook 2.2Ghz 1gb Ram 10.5.1. Considering going back to older OS unless 10.5.2 sorts it out. Start up also slower. Boo!

    18. JJ says:

      feels quicker, but whereas tiger use to take 25 secs to boot, leopard takes around 50 secs. Macbook Pro 2.2 GHz Santa Rosa 2 Gb RAM

    19. SuGaRDaD RaMoNe says:

      My ole iBook G4 933MHz with upgraded memory to 1GB PC2700 DDR
      and with Ati Radeon 9200 32MBVram
      Feels just fast as the 10.4 OS
      I haven’t had any problems till today
      I usually connect me iBook to TV and play Encoded to Divx and Xvid movies
      with .srt subtitles without any problems!

      I use me machine for the net, Mail, Office, Movies, Music, Iphone fooling around with JB’s and stuff
      I’m cool… 🙂

    20. Mike says:

      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

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