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Will Snow Leopard really make my computer any faster?

We've seen the benchmarks. We've heard from the techno-geeks. According to Apple, Snow Leopard should result in some impressive speed gains, and hefty hard drive space recapture. But does this speed bump actually result in tangible benefits for the average user? Do you really get back a functional amount of hard drive space? I undertook an intentionally low-tech approach to find out, looking at the space on the drive, and using my iPhone's stopwatch function to time various functions before and after upgrade. I took measurements on two computers: a low-end, bare bones white MacBook used lightly as a secondary computer, and a higher-end MacBook Pro used heavily as a primary computer. The white MacBook was generally speedy and efficient before the upgrade, due to the fact that it had very little installed on it. However, the MacBook Pro was bloated and slow due to lots of programs, with problems magnified by years of hard drive image flashes over various computer upgrades, typical of the non-technical business user.

All start up times are true start up times. In other words, I didn't deem the computer to have "started up" until I had full, no-lag control of a fully-propagated desktop. Same went for the programs whose start up times I tested -- none were deemed started up until the program was responding to input and usable. I picked some common programs that I felt reflected typical use. I turned on auto-login to the primary account on both computers to gain timing accuracy. Not all the results are comparable between computers; certain programs were on one computer but not the other. But, in general, the task was instructive.

2 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo MacBook (white), with 2 GB 667 MHz DDR2 SDRAM


Leopard:

Start up chime to true, usable desktop: 35 seconds
Firefox start up: 11 seconds
Safari start up: 4 seconds
iPhoto start up to edit window on 1 GB photo library: 11 seconds
Microsoft Word 2004 start up to blinking cursor: 25 seconds

Snow Leopard:

Start up chime to true, usable desktop: 32 seconds
Firefox start up: 9.5 seconds
Safari start up: 1.5 seconds
iPhoto start up to edit window on 1 GB photo library: 9 seconds
Microsoft Word 2004 start up to blinking cursor: 26 seconds (after Rosetta install)

Upgrade time: 44 minutes
Hard drive recapture: 15 GB
(see update below)

2.2 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro with 2 GB 667 MHz DDR2 SDRAM

Leopard:

Start up chime to true, usable desktop: 153 seconds (ouch!)
Firefox start up to loaded homepage: 13 seconds
Safari start up to loaded homepage: 4 seconds
iPhoto start up to edit window on 9.45 GB photo library: 24 seconds
Microsoft Word 2008 start up to blinking cursor: 29 seconds
Adobe Acrobat 6.0 Standard start up: 120 seconds

Snow Leopard:

Start up chime to true, usable desktop: 57 seconds (ooh!)
Firefox start up to loaded homepage: 10 seconds
Safari start up to loaded homepage: 3 seconds
iPhoto start up to edit window: 12 seconds
Microsoft Word 2008 start up to blinking cursor: 25 seconds
Adobe Acrobat 6.0 Standard start up: 57 seconds (after Rosetta install)

Upgrade time: 66 minutes
Hard drive recapture: 10.5 GB
(see update below)

My overall impression? The speed-improvement claims are fairly well-substantiated. Both computers are operating speedier than before, with the greatest overall speed gains in the power-user computer. The bare bones machine, while faster, is not really that much practically faster. For this computer, the 15 GB of extra space was the most dramatic improvement. As for the MacBook Pro, it achieved some stunning start up time improvements: start up time is now consistently forty percent of what it used to be. Even waking up from sleep (an event I did not time) both computers are now noticeably faster, locking on to a previously-used Wi-Fi network almost immediately.

In all, both computers were at least somewhat functionally enhanced from the upgrade, and I am glad to see an operating system upgrade that truly gave the user some real speed and space benefits rather than concentrating strictly on adding features.

UPDATE: As our commenters have noted (and Megan posted about last week) part of my space savings is due to the reworking of how Snow Leopard measures gigabytes.

UPDATE 2: Fellow blogger Joachim Bean has some of his own speed tests to share:

2 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Mac mini with 1GB 1066 MHz DDR3 SDRAM (GeForce 9400M)

Leopard

Startup chime to true, usable desktop: 57 seconds
Shutdown: 8 seconds
Safari startup: 7 seconds
Microsoft Word 2008 startup: 17 seconds
Mail startup: 11 seconds
Xcode (3.1.4): 10 seconds
iPhone Simulator startup: 20 seconds

Snow Leopard:

Startup chime to true, usable desktop: 49 seconds
Shutdown: 5 seconds
Safari startup: 2 seconds
Microsoft Word 2008 startup: 17 seconds
Mail startup: 7 seconds
Xcode (3.2): 16 seconds
iPhone Simulator startup: 20 seconds

Upgrade time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Hard drive recapture: 12GB
(see update)

We've seen the benchmarks. We've heard from the techno-geeks. According to Apple, Snow Leopard should result in some impressive speed...