Apple’s bizarre online store reboot this morning revealed that the next point-update for Mac OS X will be in the hands of the faithful this Friday, August 28! Many speculated on the purported September availability of the operating system upgrade, but today’s information clears the air.
Although Apple’s web site clearly states that Snow Leopard “Delivers on August 28th,” it is unclear if other sources will be so punctual. We definitely expect Apple Stores to have plenty of stock on Friday morning, but what of Amazon.com pre-orders? Will they also deliver on Friday, or will those of us who pre-ordered there have to wait a few days for this undercover upgrade?
Who Gets What
Snow Leopard is really a major jump forward in terms of advanced hardware and software integration. It brings Grand Central, OpenCL, full 64-bit mode, and QuickTime X along with Exchange support and many tweaks. But many of these features are highly hardware-dependent, so not all Mac users will get everything.
Here’s a cheat sheet I put together based on Apple’s documentation:
|Supported by Snow Leopard||64-Bit Support||Grand Central Dispatch||OpenCL||QuickTime H.264 Hardware Acceleration|
|MacBook (2006-mid 2007)||Yes, with 1 GB RAM||No||Yes||No||No|
|MacBook (late 2007-2008)||Yes||No||Yes||No||No|
|MacBook Air (early 2008)||Yes||No||Yes||No||No|
|MacBook Air (Late 2008-present)||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|MacBook Pro (ATI graphics) through Late 2006||Yes, with 1 GB RAM||No||Yes||No||No|
|MacBook Pro (Nvidia graphics) from 2007-early 2008||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|MacBook Pro (late 2008)||Yes||Capable||Yes||Yes||No|
|Unibody MacBook Pro||Yes||Capable||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|iMac (Intel, through 2007)||Yes, with 1 GB RAM||No||Yes||No||No|
|iMac (2008)||Yes||Capable||Yes||Nvidia only||No|
|iMac (2009)||Yes||Capable||Yes||Yes||9400M only|
|Mac Mini (2006)||Yes, with 1 GB RAM||No||Core Duo only||No||No|
|Mac Mini (2007)||Yes||No||Yes||No||No|
|Mac Mini (2009)||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Mac Pro (2009)||Yes||Capable||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Mac Pro (pre-2008)||Yes||No||Yes||No||No|
|Mac Pro (2008)||Yes||Capable||Yes||Nvidia only||No|
|Intel Xserve (pre-2009)||Yes||Capable||Yes||No||No|
This table is based on the following facts:
- Snow Leopard only supports Intel-based Macs. PowerPC Macs need not apply.
- Booting Snow Leopard in 64-bit mode requires 64-bit EFI, and many pre-2007 Macs have only a 32-bit EFI. You can check your Mac (and help me fix my table) by typing “ioreg -l -p IODeviceTree | grep firmware-abi” in a Terminal window. If it says “EFI64”, your system is capable of running 64-bit Snow Leopard (though it can still run 64-bit apps). But Snow Leopard defaults to 32-bit mode on ALL Macs other than the Xserve at this point, and no one is sure why!
- Grand Central Dispatch requires a multi-core CPU. This eliminates the original base-model 2006 Mac Mini, since it used a single-core CPU.
- OpenCL requires newer Nvidia or the ATI graphics chips. This leaves out many pre-2008 models and some iMac and Mac Pro configurations. Check Apple’s list if you’re not sure.
- QuickTime H.264 Hardware Acceleration only works with the Nvidia 9400M chipset. This leaves out many pre-2008 machines and even the latest Mac Pros, though they probably have enough horsepower on their own.
Finally, if you’re excited about the new Microsoft Exchange support in Mail.app, iCal, and the Address Book be warned! In order for any of this to work, your server must be running Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 Service Pack 1 Update Rollup 4. And most companies still aren’t updated that far!
Update: Check my follow-up post on 64-bit Snow Leopard for more about this controversial aspect!
I held off on Amazon and placed my own order this morning with Apple. I’m with Mark Twomey:Upgrading to Snow Leopard is a safe day-1 activity. Most of the updates amount to new under-the-hood features and the OS has been through round after round of testing. Unlike the massive shift from Tiger to Leopard (which I missed, being a late switcher), Snow Leopard ought to be a lesser upgrade.
Why make the update at all? Here are a few of my reasons:
- It’s cheap: Just $29 to update a single Mac, or $49 for up to five. Compared to Microsoft’s (expired) “limited-time-only” (and incredibly complicated) Windows 7 upgrade, Apple sets out a red velvet carpet.
- It’s easy: There’s just one version of Mac OS X, and any system running OS X 10.5 “Leopard” can update to full-on Snow Leopard. There are no editions and no conflicts updating from 32-bit to 64-bit (like Windows 7).
- It future-proofs your (Intel) Mac: Mac developers have a long history of quickly leveraging new OS X features since Mac users have a long history of quickly upgrading. Snow Leopard adds cool stuff like Grand Central and OpenCL that my Intel- and Nvidia-based Macs ought to be able to leverage. See below if your Mac can use these, too!
Sure, there aren’t any amazing features like Time Machine to set the world on fire. But the Snow Leopard update is still a slam-dunk for any Intel-based Mac user! My Late-2007 MacBook Pro will get everything but H.264 acceleration and my 2009 Mac Mini is all set to go!
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