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Mac OS X 10.6 Brings Serious Performance Gains

Michael Larabel

Published on 28 August 2009
Written by Michael Larabel
Page 1 of 13 - 148 Comments

While our focus at Phoronix is on testing hardware under Linux, we remain friendly and interested in other BSD and UNIX operating systems too, including Mac OS X. With the launch of Mac OS X 10.6 "Snow Leopard" we have been particularly interested in it considering the technological advancements that have been made in this update thanks to their large focus on improving the performance of Mac OS X. With that said, we have spent all week working on a grand Mac OS X benchmarking showdown by comparing the performance of the retail build of Mac OS X 10.6.0 to the earlier Mac OS X 10.5.8 through a number of different quantitative tests. We firmly believe that as of right now these are the most detailed desktop performance numbers available concerning Snow Leopard, but we already have more figures on the way. We have performance numbers from not just one Mac computer, but two different setups. Here's to the first 60+ tests we ran!

The stated goals for Mac OS X 10.6 "Snow Leopard" have been on improving performance, efficiency, and lowering the overall memory footprint of this operating system. With these performance tuning efforts, Apple has dropped support for the older PowerPC-based Apple computers and are now focusing strictly on Intel-based hardware and optimizing for x86_64-capable processors. Snow Leopard brings full 64-bit support both in the kernel and for their user-space applications, except for a few that are not yet ported like iTunes and QuickTime. The 64-bit addressing support alone should yield a nice performance boost, but greater performance gains in Mac OS X 10.6 can to a large extent be attributed to Grand Central Dispatch (GCD) and OpenCL.

Apple's Grand Central Dispatch is designed to deliver better desktop performance through improving parallel programming on Mac OS X with multi-core processors by making it easier on developers and on the operating system by handling the thread management and ensuring all CPU jobs are distributed across the available computing cores. Xcode in Mac OS X 10.6 has also received more work to LLVM (the Low-Level Virtual Machine) and Clang, as an alternative to the GNU Compiler Collection.

We have talked about OpenCL before as its an industry standard and Apple is one of the large companies involved in its creation, but besides appearing in a NVIDIA Linux driver, Mac OS X 10.6 will be one of the first places to find the Open Computing Language in action. The specifications to OpenCL 1.0 were released last year and the graphics card manufacturers in particular have been busy working on implementing this support within their drivers to exploit their massively powerful capabilities. However, this OpenCL support on Mac OS X is only available to those with an ATI/AMD or NVIDIA graphics processor and not the Mac computers with Intel integrated graphics.

Beyond overhauling the performance of Mac OS X when at the desktop, Snow Leopard is also much faster at starting up and shutting down. Apple has been claiming this for a while and even to the magnitude of waking up twice as fast and nearly the same speed in shutting down, and we have confirmed it in our tests. When installed, Mac OS X 10.6 also takes up at least 7GB less space than did Mac OS X 10.5.

While what we are looking at is strictly the Mac OS X performance, Snow Leopard does bring some other refinements too like support for the Microsoft Exchange Server, improvements to its Time Machine software, a more advanced Finder, QuickTime X, the CUPS 1.4 printing server, changes to the Stacks and Dock icons, and other alterations.

Well, that is our synopsis on the technology changes to be found in Mac OS X 10.6. Of course, this is quite brief since we are just focused on the numbers, but for more information on Snow Leopard check out the Apple Developer Connection and their technology page. Now let's get to some animal benchmarking!

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