Upgrading to Snow Leopard

The UPS truck pulled up yesterday and delivered my family upgrade pack to Snow Leopard. Though I'm a software developer I really stick to the web side of things and have not participated in any of the developer versions of Snow Leopard. As a result, I've only done modest reading on it and I am approaching this upgrade as many consumers would.

Rather than jump in with both feet, I decided to upgrade my MacBook Pro first, holding off on my primary machine (a Mac Pro) until I had seen which applications are compatible.

Application compatibility? Doesn't everything work?

Well, no. Most general purpose applications run fine - the majority for me did in fact. It's those little extensions that I've become hopelessly addicted to that can cause a problem. My biggest concern with Snow Leopard was whether or not I would have to change the way I work if one of my applications suddenly stopped working.

Since Apple released Snow Leopard ahead of schedule it apparently caught a number of independent software developers off guard and unprepared to release updates to their software.

The other thing I was interested in was the performance improvements. I wanted to see if on a real world Mac I would see any real bump in performance. Armed with the trusty stopwatch feature of my iPhone I ran through a number of different boot ups and application loads both before and after the upgrade to see how things changed.

The measurements I took are by no means scientific - it's difficult to get sub-second timings down when you are poking at a virtual button on an iPhone to record times. That said, I did record the duration several times to ensure they were always in the same range. If not, I'd record a few more and come up with an average. The goal was not to say "This is X seconds faster" but to get a rough feel for performance improvements.

Installing Snow Leopard
The installation of Snow Leopard was pretty simple. Pop in the DVD, launch the installer, select the hard drive to install it to and let it run. Mine estimated 45 minutes but it actually ended up being an hour before the reboot sequence required me to step in and do anything. If you are installing this and you get the estimated time up, use it as chance to run errands because it will be a little while.

Once installed I got a very un-Apple like message window:
Where is System Sheesh, I don't know, that's not something I normally run or even care about. This was a modal window (parked on top of everything) so it clearly wanted me to figure it out. I didn't see it in the list so I clicked Browse and hunted around for it. I used my other machine to Google up the location of said file and it turns out it's located in:

/System/Library/Core Services

I navigated there, selected it and from that point on I was in Snow Leopard. I know if I asked my wife to do this installation on her Mac and she saw this message she would be yelling out "DAVID!!!" right about now. If not, she would probably just click Cancel in frustration, and I'm not sure what the impact of that would be.

Application Compatibility
With Snow Leopard fully installed I set about trying my different applications. The first thing I noticed was that my iStat Menu was missing. Turns out they'll need to issue an update to make it compatible with Snow Leopard. Next up Xmarks was MIA from my menu bar as well. Neither of these were mission critical for my work flow so I'm comfortable waiting until patched versions are available (which both indicate they are working on).

The only application (so far) that has had an impact on me is 1Password. Without going in to too much detail I'll pass you along to the page they have provided to sort through the best way to get 1Password to appear in Safari. For now I'm using Firefox, which doesn't have the 1Password compatibility issue.

For you devs out there, be aware that if you are normally running an instance of MySQL you'll need to download the 64bit version and reinstall it. As a Ruby on Rails developer MySQL is vital to my local development activities. Here's a helpful post from Stack Overflow that provides some guidance. It will take me a while to really test out my other development related applications.

Performance Improvements
One of the things everyone seems to be saying about Snow Leopard is that it's faster. It clearly is a smaller OS, since it actually gave me back 17GB of disk space. Snow Leopard "felt" quicker but I wanted some real world numbers to validate that for me.

The Mac I upgraded is a 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro. I've got a 200GB HD and upgraded the memory to 4GB. It has always been a pretty snappy machine so I actually did need the stop watch to see if there was real improvement.

ActionLeopardSnow Leopard
Start to full load1m 37s1m 3s
Shut Down10.5s4.5s

This was a pretty clear improvement, both on the front and back end of the start up / shut down process. I actually found that because I had a number of extensions I needed to go into System Preferences and activate many of them by clicking on their icon in the Other section. Examples were Growl and SteerMouse. Once those extensions were loaded manually (and set to auto-load) my boot times improved to what you see above.

Next up I started loading applications. Here were my results:

ApplicationLeopardSnow Leopard
Safari (1st time)3.4s1.6s
Safari (2nd time)<1s<1s
Text Editor (1st time)1s<1s
Text Editor (2nd time)<1s<1s
iPhoto (1st time)13.5s10.4s
iPhoto (2nd time)1.9s1.8s
iTunes (1st time)9.7s5.1s
iTunes (2nd time)1.8s1.5s
Pages (1st time)12.9s10.1s
Pages (2nd time)1.5s2.0s
Firefox 3.5.2 (1st time)18s15s
Firefox 3.5.2 (2nd time)2.2s2.4s

So, generally I saw a modest improvement in application load times. I've only just started playing with Snow Leopard and I'll likely have more observations coming soon. While I'm generally happy with the upgrade from a performance standpoint and love the strategy Apple is using for this, I'm holding off upgrading the Mac Pro until I have a better handle on which of my development tools need upgrading / patching.

How about you? Did you notice similar improvements in performance? Found a site that can help identify Snow Leopard compatibility? Drop a note in the comments!


Keleko said...

First, if you don't know about this site, you should visit here:

That dialog you got looking for System was strange. I didn't see anything like that on either my MBP or my wife's Mini, and neither did any of the other two people I know that have done SL upgrades.

I'm using 1Password myself, and the latest version (possibly still in beta) seems to be working well with Safari in SL. It works in both 64 and 32 bit mode of Safari. However, Safari Adblock does not work in 64 bit mode yet. Version 0.4RC3 works in 32 bit mode only. 0.5, whenever it is done, is supposed to support 64 bit mode.

I've also noticed speed improvements with Snow Leopard, though I haven't bothered to do any timings. I was fine with the speed of things in Leopard, so faster in Snow Leopard is even better.

Anonymous said...

My install went fine plus I didn't see the screen which would have alarmed me too! I only saw a success screen followed by a screen with Apple icons for Time Machine Finder etc
I did have one problem after the install as I couldn't get online my Ethernet connection was dead. Time Capsule's wireless was working fine. It was only the next day when I found out how to fix the issue without having to buy a new router!
Boot times are faster plus I notice an overall improvement is speeds so far I am very happy especially as this is my first upgrade with my iMac.

aliciaginalee said...

I'd also forgotten about the System Events thingy. I just typed the question into Google and got the answer.

Got 1Password 3 beta working with Safari quite happily.

I really miss Post to Twitter that I had in Safari pre-SL. Also waiting for Onyx to get their act together.

Apart from that smooth sailing.

netnothing said...

1Password v3 which is in beta works in 64-bit. They are even offering the upgrade now at a discount.

I've heard that canceling the System Events message is fine to do, not sure why it popped up.


Jason said...

I think you mean <1s. Thanks for the review.

David Alison said...

@Jason: Thanks for the catch - fixed. This was a function of wrestling with Blogger. For the life of me I can't get that gap above the second table closed up. WP, here I come.

@Kevin: Glad to hear that it's a harmless message - still out of character to see that. I did find during my search that others experienced the same problem.

brian said...

I am still waiting for my dvd in the mail. I sent in my up-to-date program payment 2 months ago. I'm disappointed that Apple has me delayed like this. I should have received it Friday. Anyone else waiting?

PetieG said...

PetieG: worked flawless on recent NVIDIA Mini -- i didn't even realized it finished. =) I did a clean install on unibody macbook -- plenty of backups around, was relying on TimeMachine for things like licenses/etc in the Library folder ... i restored a few things from TM and then decided to turn it on -- BIG mistake, as my 300GB TM for my macbook suddenly because a new 7GB one and all of my 'extras' that i wanted to restore were gone!! No data loss, just time (to dig out serial #'s, settings, etc.) You'd think there would be a warning that you are going to overwrite a pre-existing TM backup!!!

Anonymous said...

I saw similar results to you. One thing I noticed is a major improvement in Javascript. SunSpider results of - 471ms compared with 1181ms for FireFox 3.5.2 - same machine under 10.6. Realworld JS feels fast if not comparable.

MagerValp said...

The "Where is System" popup comes from an applescript that tries to execute tell application "System Events". It's typically used to applescript parts of the OS that normally isn't scriptable, by sending input events. Upgrading apparently invalidates the system cache, which normally keeps track of where System resides. Canceling the requester just means that the script fails.

David Alison said...

@MagerValp: Very cool - thanks for the explanation of what happened!

dusty_colddog said...

one word -- ok two printer drivers. After the upgrade which went great my HP Officejet 5610 would not work. Apple blames HP HP blames Apple -- I still don't have a printer that prints - I'm not an expert but it seems to me if you have a printer that isn't printing then you have a large paper holder.

Alex said...

I have had some Microsoft Word glitches, and incredibly slow performance on part of VM Ware Fusion (until I had restarted XP a few times, and then restarted my Mac).

The only teeth gnashing miserable experience has been that Ricoh has no plans to release an updated 10.6 driver for one of their best selling professional printer models (SP C221SF), a fast color multifunction laser machine. So, Snow Leopard = no printer. Ricoh hates Mac - many frustrating experiences with them - stay far away.

S Ray said...

Actually, not only did I get the SystemEvents message, but I also got one requesting the whereabouts of iCal and one other item I cannot recall.

Brian said...

Not sure if you know this or not, but the 17GB you got back probably isn't 17GB. In Leopard GB were counted in base2 whereas now they're counted in base 10. GiB vs GB. After I upgraded I thought I got back 21GB but after doing some math I found it to be the 7GB Apple said I would get back.

I love your site by the way. I've just bought my first Mac (13" MBP) and your site has helped a lot. Thanks!

kermit said...

On my 18mth old MBP 4,1 it took 37mins. I selected customise and deselected Common Printers and Languages, thus saving about 1.3GB. After reboot I'd lost my screen saver, desktop pictures, Brother MFC ControlCenter, along with iStat Menus and a whole host of other 32bit kernal extensions. I also really miss Glims but I believe that will be updated soon.

I've got a repeatable issue with Time Machine where everytime I enter it my time line on the right is greyed out except for Now. I quit and re-enter it and all is well. If you are a TimeMachineEditor user you'll need to upgrade but one of its nice features is the ability to easily view your Time Machine log.

Overall everything is so much zippier and I can highly recommend every Intel Mac owner does the upgrade just for the speed improvements.

David Alison said...

@Brian: I did not notice that - thanks man. Glad the blog has been helpful.

@Kermit: I did find that initially things didn't seem faster. It took several reboots and playing with the auto-loaded extensions I use before I started seeing the real speed improvements and yes, they are impressive.

Gabor said...

Wow, you've scared me guys, my update is on the way, but before installing it I'll probably make sure my important programs will work under Snow Leopard. If not, I'd rather wait.

I'm not sure about my printer either: Epson RX585.

netnothing said...


Did you check Apple's printer list:


tai said...

@brian - I either misunderstood your statement or there's something off with your math. 21GB (decimal) is equal to about 19.6GiB (base 2), certainly not 7GiB

Brian said...

@tai - Srry for the confusion. Let me see if I can remember how I worked it out...

I'd noted having 169.74 GB (really GiB) before upgrading and 190.86 GB after. 169.74 GiB converts to 182.26 GB, giving me around 8GB difference.


tai said...

@brian- I completely get it now, thx.

Gabor said...


Thanks for the list, I'm lucky to see my printer there.

There's a promise on iStat's site that they'll come up with the Snow Leopard version soon. I use this software all the time so it'd be great to use it after the update too.

netnothing said...

iStat menus has been updated:


Thomas said...

Hi David,

I got the Where is the system event? dialog on my sisters Macbook 13"
Just clicked cancel.
Everything works fine.

The dialog didn't appear on my Macbook Pro Unibody

Chan said...

My upgraded was flawless.

My biggest worry was VMware but it seems ok so far. Did not get any system Event msg either.

I have gained about 5-10 Gb as I remember. But this could be due to sole reason of SL has changed the way it represent the HDD capacity.

Now if you gotta 8GB flash, it shows exactly as 8GB, not 7.34Gb something. With bigger and bigger drives this gap can be in GBs I guess. So space gains are just marketting jargons.

I thought he apps are slimmed down but in fact I can still reduce new applications using Xslimmer or Monolingual as before.

Apart from most of my pref panels (I miss SmartScroll) all apps seem to work fine.

So far so good.

brian said...

Is anyone still using Quicksilver? I can't seem to get it to work with Snow Leopard.

akmassey said...

Quicksilver is working for me on Snow Leopard. I had to set the Spaces preference item to recognize it on all my Spaces, but other than that there weren't any problems. What kind of error are you seeing?

Sim said...

i am getting a new macbook pro tomorrow and i am wondering whether i should do a clean install of snow leopard or simply upgrade. i am curious what your thoughts were on this, david.

David Alison said...

@Sim: While I'm sure that a completely fresh install of Snow Leopard would probably be best, the upgrade should be fine.

Matt said...

Just installed SL this morning-- everything works (and it's extremely nice that my scanner now works from the Preview app). There was just one thing-- deleting files took a lot longer. Turns out this is due to a change in the default Finder preferences-- deletion is done 'securely' in SL by default rather than quickly. I changed it back to fast, but now I'm thinking-- maybe secure deletion is what I want. Just have to think about it.

Lonnie said...

Still waiting, but it's my fault. I recently purchased a MBP, so I got the $10 upgrade. When it arrived (early, woohoo!) I stuck it in, started installing, then I picked up my MBP (probably with one hand) and got a disc failure. After several attempts I ejected the disc and notice deep circular grooves in the disc...D'oh! Called Apple and they're sending me another for free. Great service! But I have to wait now... :(

Eytan said...

I experienced dramatic speed improvements in my 2008 Dual Quad Core Xeon, and I am running the 32 bit kernel.
I found that many of Apple's application, and a trickle of my updates, seem to do a MUCH MUCH MUCH better job at distributing the workload among my cores. While the upgrade on my MBPro went well, and I saw a slight speed improvement, the extra cores in the Xeon REALLY benefit from the upgrade. I hope you'll get all your ducks in a row to upgrade your tower, because that is where you will see the really dramatic changes...

David Alison said...

@Eytan: Thanks for the comment! I am looking forward to upgrading the Mac Pro but I'm still holding off for a little longer. I'd like to run Safari in 64 bit mode and 1Password v2 requires 32 bit mode; that's one hold back. I may just switch to the 1Password Beta 3 and not worry about that.

The second is Growl support. Growl is my primary notification medium (Mail, Tweetie, etc.) and not having those notifications means changing up some underlying apps I'm not quite ready for. If I don't see a Growl update that supports Snow Leopard within the next week or two I'll just bite the bullet and do the upgrade anyway.

I really would love to see that performance improvement with the multiple cores though!

Buckley said...

I have just upgraded my 2008 Mac Pro to SL and everything is smooooth. I am using the 64bit beta for Letterbox for Apple Mail (v0.24b4), the v1.2b3 beta for Growl and the v0.6.559 (non-beta) for Dropbox. Even my previous logitech control centre drivers for my MX Revolution work as stable as can be in 32bit mode (as soon as I copied and into the main Applications folder).

I have also installed all of these updates and SL on my 13"MBP and iMac in my office and so far absolutely no troubles. I am hoping that some of the drivers above are released in 64bit versions soon though...

jocke said...

I also got that System problem, but i just did a google search and found this blog! Thanks :)

The Contrarian said...

Very cool. I enjoy your blog, David. I have one that discusses very similar topics. The number of similarities in posting topics are kinda freaky, actually. Please have a look:

Slrman said...

Thanks for this info. I'll be installing SL 10.6.1 in a few days and I hope to have a clean experience. I do make a clone of my HD every day though, and I'll certainly do one right before the install.

Anonymous said...

Just so that people know, 'If you upgrade' to Snow Leopard you will have problems with printer drivers not appearing correctly. If you do a clean install you should not have any problems.
e.g Ricoh printers may not appear to auto detect in a Snow Leopard upgrade contact Ricoh and they should send you a patch to get it working until they release offical 10.6 drivers.