Correcting Some Lion Misinformation

July 12th, 2011

For an operating system that hasn’t officially been released yet — and all bets suggest it’ll happen by mid-week — there is some misinformation already flowing fast and loose. Maybe it’s not so serious yet, but you can see the handwriting on the wall.

One particularly annoying tidbit suggested that you need a RAM upgrade to run Lion.

If you examine Apple’s official system requirements for Mac OS 10.7, you’ll find out it’s all about the processor: “Your Mac must have an Intel Core 2 Duo, Core i3, Core i5, Core i7, or Xeon processor to run Lion.” Nothing said about RAM. But most of the Mac models included on that list, which dates back to the end of 2006, have at least 2GB of RAM. As I said in my weekend column, upgrading RAM isn’t easy on some models, and impossible on others, specifically the hot-selling MacBook Air. Indeed, the entry-level MacBook Air, and MacBook for that matter, still provide 2GB of RAM. If you buy one today, either is eligible for a free Lion upgrade, and you don’t need to fret over the memory needs.

That doesn’t mean that Lion will be as snappy as you might like, or that you’ll be able to run loads of your favorite apps in a 10.7 environment without things bogging down. But Apple clearly expects performance will be decent enough that customers won’t feel cheated. Nobody doubts they have used 2GB Macs as part of the internal test scenario, and certainly developers installed Lion betas on a variety of hardware to test for compatibility with their products.

I suppose that tale arose in response to rumors that Apple is quietly asking their retail employees to upgrade memory on demo computers. The story has run in several places, yet it seems nobody bothered to question how that would be done on a MacBook Air, unless they somehow expect service people to perform logic board transplants, which is utterly absurd.

So much for increased memory needs.

The second tidbit of advice will be nerve-wracking if you follow the usual directions. Knowing that there will be no support for PowerPC apps, some uninformed tech pundits suggest you highlight each of your apps, separately, choose Get Info from the Finder’s File menu (or press Command-I), and see if it’s strictly PowerPC. If it is, that app won’t launch under Lion, period. I mentioned Office 2004, and various versions of Intuit’s Quicken as examples, but there are lots more, some dating back to the early days of Mac OS X, in 2001. Most of you will be able to upgrade to a newer version, or perhaps find a different app to fill the same need. If you can’t, you’ll have to avoid Lion, keep Snow Leopard installed on a second hard drive or partition, or use a Windows alternate with Boot Camp or a Windows virtual machine.

But there’s an easier, faster way to find out how much software on your Mac is PowerPC only. Just choose About This Computer from your Apple menu and click More Info, which will launch Apple’s System Profiler. On the left sidebar, choose Software / Applications, and you’ll see a list of everything in a single window, though it may take a few moments to appear. Click on an app’s name, and an information display will appear in the bottom pane that will reveal whether it’s a PowerPC app. You still have to do them one-by-one, but the process is far more efficient. You may also find a third party utility online that’ll catalog these obsolete apps.

When I ran a System Profiler check before writing this article, I was comforted to discover that the apps I need for my work and leisure would still work, though there may be Lion-related glitches that will require updates. Still, a surprising number bore the dreaded PowerPC label, and a few Classics (for the original dead and buried Mac OS) appeared on the list. So you can bet I’ll be reviewing those relics so see why they are still on my Mac’s startup drive, and make a final decision what to do with them. They will likely all be trashed. You may not be so lucky.

But none of this means you should take the Lion leap on Day One. Typical of any major Apple OS upgrade, there will be bugs in the first version that won’t be fixed for a few weeks, when the inevitable 10.7.1 arrives. You may just want to examine the official reviews and online chatter to see if there are show stoppers that would prevent you from having a great experience. But remember that no matter how reliable an OS release might be, someone somewhere will have problems. Maybe their system configuration is off the beaten track and thus creates problems most of you won’t encounter. Or maybe it takes a rare confluence of circumstances to produce a nasty symptom.

As for The Night Owl, we’ll be upgrading to Lion on the very first day, and we’ll will make sure there are recent “clone” backups in case the previous Snow Leopard setup has to be restored. Whatever decision you make about upgrading to Lion, always consider regular backups as your first line of proper system protection.

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30 Responses to “Correcting Some Lion Misinformation”

  1. Andrew says:

    I was very surprised not to find a single PPC app on any of my Macs. I’ve been a Mac user since 1993 and assumed that something would still be there, but everything I use has moved to Universal or Intel over the years.

  2. VicS says:

    If you happen to have an early 2008 White Intel MacBook (came standard with ONE Gb RAM) like I do, and try to install OS X Lion, you will receive an error message early on telling you that you MUST have 2 Gb RAM to install Lion.

    That was the easy part, it took me THREE DAYS and THREE RAM purchases at three different stores to find RAM that actually WORKED in my MacBook. Although there are two SIMM Slots, the new RAM can NOT be installed in either slot. It only works when installed in the correct slot, in the other slot, no dice.

    Once I overcame the RAM requirement, it took about 35 minutes to install Lion and reboot. First impression? This big cat is F-A-S-T… was like getting a whole new MacBook, EVERYTHING I do now is fast!!!

  3. gopher says:

    Mac OS X’s RAM requirement conveniently got left off but was not hidden from the original PR on Apple’s website:

    That’s where the 2 GB requirement came from.

    • @gopher, Which basically covers most supported models, except that reader’s MacBook evidently. I’m surprised it was so hard to get RAM that worked, since Macs, other than some iterations of the Mac Pro, take standard RAM upgrades.


  4. gopher says:

    Finding RAM that works is difficult because Apple’s specs frequently are not exactly the same
    as the specs you might read in a store that does not specialize in Mac compatible RAM. That’s why I made this FAQ to find stores that do:

    • @gopher, Thanks. It really depends on the model, but, as I said, the Mac Pro tends to be the most troublesome.

      I find, basically, that if you pick a dealer who actually advertises on a Mac site, or one of the magazines, they will have compatible product, and you can find really great prices. Mainstream companies, such as Micron, also have special areas devoted to Mac RAM upgrades.

      But shop around. Physical stores, alas, tend to be overpriced on memory upgrades.


  5. Sponge says:

    You say that every Mac on the list of supported machines has at least 2 GB of RAM. Maybe you meant that they can handle at least that much. In any case, my late 2006 MacBook Pro (Core 2 Duo, 2.16 ghz) shipped with 1 GB of RAM. Since I only use it for light computing these days, I haven’t upgraded it but plan to for Lion.

  6. Larry Gusaas says:

    Not all Macs with Core 2 duo processors came with 2GBs of RAM. The late 2006, mid 2007, late 2007, and the cheapest early 2008 MacBooks came with 1GB of RAM standard.

    The cheapest late 2006 MacBook Pros came with 1GB of RAM standard.

    It was not until the early 2009 iMac that all iMacs came with a minimum of 2GB Ram. Some late 2006 iMacs had only 512MB of ram.

  7. Rob Dern says:

    Gene, thanks for the heads up.

    A suggestion: You won’t have to click through the apps in About this Mac if you select the ‘kind’ column when the apps finally all show up. That will order them showing all the Classic, PowerPC, Universal and Intel apps grouped together.

  8. Andrew says:

    I remember when 2 GB was the realm of big servers and 256MB on a laptop was VERY high-end.

    • @Andrew, Ah so young and foolish. 🙂

      Actually, I remember buying a new Mac with 8MB of RAM installed, and I thought that was an amazing amount of memory.


      • David says:

        @Gene Steinberg, My first Mac originally shipped with 3MB of RAM. The previous owner had upgraded to 5, but it still wasn’t enough to cut and paste between Word and Excel if any other applications were open so I maxed it out with 17MB.

        What’s really shocking is how quickly the RAM in my early Macs overtook the hard drive in previous Macs. First Mac had 40MB HD and my third Mac had more RAM than that.
        Second Mac had 120MB HD and my 4th Mac had more RAM than that.
        Third Mac had 540MB HD and my 5th Mac had more RAM than that.
        Fourth Mac shipped with a 2.1GB hard drive and my RAM exceeded that in my 7th Mac, but exploding hard drive capacity has effectively broken the pattern. That fourth Mac eventually had a 9.1GB HD and I have yet to own a machine with more than 4GB of RAM.

        • @David, That Mac with 8MB RAM (a IIcx), had a 100MB hard drive that cost all of $1,200. And that was cheap in those days.


          • Neil Anderson says:

            @Gene Steinberg,
            In the days when 48k of RAM won bragging rights I saw my first external hard drive, Apple’s 5 MB ProFile for a mere $3499 before taxes. In all seriousness the salesman told me “You’ll never fill this up.”

          • steveH says:

            @Gene Steinberg,

            The IIci also had a slot for a fast cache card, which cost about $1K for, what, 32KB cache? It really did speed up my IIci.

            Last time I saw one of those cards, there were several in a bin at a local Mac dealer. For $15 each.

            Last I heard, about five years ago, that IIci was still running in a closet as a printer server.

      • Andrew says:

        @Gene Steinberg, Actually my first Mac was a PowerBook 145B that came with 2MB and was expandable to 4MB, which I did the day I bought it. It just wasn’t an exceptional amount at the time.

  9. Brian says:

    Just an FYI… you don’t have to click on each application. If you stretch the System Profiler window a bit wider, you will see additional columns, one of which is “Kind”. You can sort by that column to have all your PowerPC apps grouped together between Intel and Universal.


  10. Keyword says:

    I was discouraged to find most of my print calibration stuff (eye one and etc.) under that PowerPC list. If those are all paid upgrades it’ll be a tough choice – I need them but not often. Upgrade or not?

    • gopher says:

      That will be a hard choice. Upgrade only if some software is only 10.7 compatible, but in stages. Clone your system to a larger hard drive partitioned to store two copies of 10.6, and then upgrade one to 10.7. Replace your internal hard drive with the same size as your clone, and clone back. Then keep a second clone. You will end up with two copies of each, 10.6 and 10.7.

  11. Ken Heins says:

    I literally threw away a Powerbook 100. Then about 6 months later, some museum put out a request to buy one for a computer museum.

    Offered $800 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    What can i say?

  12. Daniel says:

    I installed Lion on my late 2010 Macbook Pro (with everything maxed except for the 500 gig hard drive rather than solid state). Nothing at all was wrong with my computer. The update went through. It seemed to be working fine, though the kernel proc was consuming additional cycles (I presumed were for indexing the hard drive or something like that). Next day, I couldn’t log in. I thought that was weird. I restarted the computer. The disk was trashed. I reboot again to get to the disk utility. The disk is damaged. I run the repair. It says everything is fine. I reboot. Lion trashes my hard drive again. By the time I took it to the Apple Store, my hard drive was complete toast.

    What really pissed me off was that they tried to insinuate I would have to pay for a brand new hard drive. Despite the fact that I paid a crap-ton of money for their extended Applecare warranty, or that it was THEIR software that damaged the hard drive. I still don’t know if they intend to actually attempt to charge me for a 500 gig hard drive their defect wrecked, and despite a warranty I paid money for.

    I have the worst luck with this company. I really don’t see what all the Apple cultists see in these people. They are quite abusive of your trust and business. It’s not the first time I have had to deal with abusive business tactics from this company either.

    But as far as this update.. I am quite convinced there is a defect in there somewhere. There truly was nothing wrong with my hard drive. I went out of my way to care for that computer, keep it updated, clean the hard drive, etc. It worked just fine up until I installed Lion. If it were some old model, then I can accept a few computers damaged for some other reason. But this computer is only a year old. It was the best model they were selling, with all the features maxed out.

    Worse, there is no telling when they will fix it and I will have to fight with them about charging me for the damage they caused. I am back to using my old linux machine.

    • gopher says:

      I’m sorry to hear of your loss, but your hard drive was probably already on its way out. Operating system upgrades speed such demise without warning simply because the amount of data changing hands, especially in the boot sector. No machine is immune from hard drive failure at anytime. And no company can warrant against data loss. Backing up is your responsibility. explains why. Software can’t directly cause hardware to fail, but knowing when hardware is marginal can be almost impossible. So really, you have to look at it like a game of Russian Roulette. Upgrade only when you are certain you need it, and you are prepared with at least two separate backups.

      • Alan Miller says:


        It may seem unusual that software alone, in this case OS X Lion can wreck a hard drive, but I have two external drives, two 1 GB external drives that are both wrecked after trying to upgrade my system to Lion. I have a hard time believing that it is just coincidence that my drives both chose to fail at the same time. The complaint here I believe is warranted. There is something that is happening with OS X lion that is causing hard drive problems, in my case it killed both my external backup drives. Personally I would not reccomend upgrading to Lion until it’s been updated a time or two and the problem whatever it is has been fixed. Of course, we may never see Apple admit the problem, but hopefully they will at least quietly correct it.

      • Daniel says:


        Software most certainly can destroy a hard drive, especially when it runs in the kernel. There exist several viruses in the wild that can damage hard drives. There is at least one confirmed act of industrial sabotage by software. So.. yeah. You truly can damage a hard drive with code. In this case, I don’t know how, but I suspect it happened when Lion was indexing the drive.

        • gopher says:

          Knowing the physics of hard drives, the software may create activity that would hasten the death of an already marginal hard drive, but a well designed hard drive has now hundreds of thousands of hours before failure unless a power surge or poor cabling damages the drive. A physical impact that has enough innertia can damage a hard drive, or make the head closer to the platter than it should be to the point it actually scratches the platter. But the software is not itself that which damaged the hard drive. It was already damaged before, and just happened to be written to on a sensitive spot.

          • Daniel says:


            I know something of the physics as well. It certainly is possible to damage hardware with software, especially when it has access to the kernel, which Lion does.

            Here are some interesting threads in Apple support forums:





            Notice the first one. That pretty much describes what happened to me. I paid for the maximum warranty so they replaced it after hassling me about it.

            There truly is no excuse for this. A computer sold for over five grand, which was well cared for, should not go to seed in less than a year. I have installed countless images on other computers. I still have a Dell from almost ten years ago that I cannot even begin to imagine how many linux distros I installed on there.

            Personally, I really do think they have some kind of defect here causing damage to some percentage of their customers’ machines. If that is not the case, then they have enormous quality control issues with the hardware they are selling people at these frankly rather expensive prices.

            I really do like the Mac experience. Don’t get me wrong. But I certainly am no sucker, and they clearly screwed up here. I agree that it is unlikely anybody can write code to damage hardware, but I have seen that happen before, and I am rather certain that happened here as well.

            I have seen software that most definitely damaged hardware of a base radio controller. I have seen government contracts to build software that destroys hardware, and to further harden systems against such attacks. It’s not easy to do this, but it can be done. Apple had the best possible chance to inject a defect that does just this because they have access to the kernel. I don’t know if this is what actually happened but I think it likely something like this happened. Here is an interesting opinion about the software cannot harm hardware myth:


            • gopher says:

              >Notice the first one. That pretty much describes what happened to me.

              Umm…the first one, he loaded a Developer beta. There were probably other shenanigans going on that he didn’t tell us of. Discussing loading a Developer beta in a public forum is a breach of the Non-Disclosure agreement. Not to mention his complaining to Apple about something which he either probably shouldn’t have (since he didn’t bother to read the non-disclosure agreement, as he is announcing in a public forum he has the beta), or if he does have, he probably has done things to tweak his system that AppleCare wouldn’t care about, since it is obviously a user induced damage case. He probably is covering up the fact he spilled something or broke something physically.

              The second one was clearly a really bad directory issue. Probably shut down his computer due to a hardware problem with RAM, or an incompatible driver without using the software to shut down. This damages directories when you use hardware to shut down without software. It causes similar symptoms.

              The third one, another Node issue. These are directory issues, not hardware issues.

              The fourth one, a 7 page thread. I do not read seven page threads. These are rant threads where people are just acting as trolls, and a waste of time to read. Give me one clear indication where software actually damaged hardware.

              The final link, an interesting exploration into computer past. But back then computers were much simpler, and their diagrams were public knowledge down to the register for every computer function. They are no longer, especially not Macs. In fact, this closed end computing saves Macs from the most notorious possible “hardware” attacks. Someone would have to create a pseudo firmware update. Apple’s operating systems themselves don’t apply firmware updates. Essentially that’s what that kid genius did. So before you jump to conclusions, know what you are dealing with.

  13. gopher says:

    Hardware can’t be broken by software. That’s the first flaw in your argument. Firmware, boot sector issues, hardware issues already present, and drivers that don’t speak to firmware can make apparent hardware issues exist, when in fact they don’t exist. Read my backup FAQ on data recovery:
    And try different cables and hard drive cases that are known to be Lion compatible by their manufacturers. is one vendor I know constantly strives to be compatible.

  14. Getting Opinionated: Fair Journalism Online | Click Kelvin - Gaming and Tech News Plus Gadget Reviews says:

    […] it as a reference for different purposes. One of the victims of misinformation in tech industry is Apple’s Mac OS X Lion. Many bloggers spread a rumor about the OS that users need to upgrade their RAM to be able to use […]

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