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Benchmarking results: Is Snow Leopard really any faster than Leopard?

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One of the biggest features of Snow Leopard isn't something apparent to the naked eye: software tweaks and refinements intended to make OS X a leaner, meaner OS for your fighting Apple machine. But is Snow Leopard really any faster? Now that I've successfully upgraded two Macs to Snow Leopard I've got some benchmarking results to share.

My Early 2008 MacBook Pro shipped with OS X Leopard 10.5.2 installed. I ran Geekbench on the stock OS X installation after upgrading the RAM to 4 GB to get a baseline for comparison of future performance. 18 months later I ran the same test immediately after updating to 10.6. Both tests were performed with Geekbench testing in 32-bit mode immediately after a restart, with no other programs open except the Finder, nothing loaded in Dashboard, and no Time Machine backup running.



Machine specs:

Intel Core 2 Duo @ 2.60 GHz w/ 4GB RAM

Average Overall Geekbench score for this model of MacBook Pro: 3304

Read on for the scores.Machine specs:

Intel Core 2 Duo @ 2.60 GHz w/ 4GB RAM
Average Overall Geekbench score for this model of MacBook Pro: 3304

Read on for the scores.

10.5.2 results:

Overall Score: 3364

Integer: 2965
Floating Point: 4785
Memory: 2412
Stream: 1692

10.6 results:

Overall Score: 3511

Integer: 3082
Floating Point: 5055
Memory: 2467
Stream: 1701

The benchmarking gains are small, particularly in memory and stream performance, where the gains are negligible and most likely just a statistical deviation. Overall performance has gone up by just over 4%, with the biggest performance gains seen in floating point operations, which increased by 5%.

My wife's late-2006 MacBook saw similar gains in performance, but with her machine I have three sets of values to compare: performance with a base installation of 10.5.2, with 10.5.8, and with a brand-new 10.6 install.

Machine specs:

Intel Core 2 @ 2.16 GHz w/ 2GB RAM
Average Overall Geekbench score for this model of MacBook: 2741

10.5.2 results:

Overall Score: 2773

Integer: 2451
Floating Point: 3894
Memory: 1975
Stream: 1577

10.5.8 results:

Overall Score: 2849

Integer: 2365
Floating Point: 4249
Memory: 1907
Stream: 1528

10.6 results:

Overall Score: 2977

Integer: 2444
Floating Point: 4484
Memory: 1975
Stream: 1577

Once again there's no gain in memory or stream performance, but measurable gains in overall scores and floating point performance. Between 10.5.2 and 10.6, there's a jump of 7.4% in overall score and a significant increase of 15% in floating point performance.

Joachim Bean's Geekbench scores on his Mac Mini showed a similar 3-5% gain in performance just by upgrading to Snow Leopard.

While the performance gains aren't huge, they do seem to reflect the optimizations present in Snow Leopard. And this is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Snow Leopard's potential. Once developers start taking advantage of new technologies like Grand Central and OpenCL, applications in OS X will be screamingly fast.

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