Is Tiger or Leopard Better for Sub-867 MHz G4 Macs?

I’ve been using Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard on an unsupported Mac for a few months now. It is a 500 MHz Titanium PowerBook G4 with 1 GB of RAM. It runs a lot better than you might think, and I am happy using it for my daily machine.

But how does Leopard compare to OS X 10.4 Tiger?

Leopard is a heavy OS, especially for G4s. Apple seriously raised the hardware requirements from previous versions of OS X. All versions prior to Leopard would run on a 300 MHz G3, but with Leopard, Apple hiked the minimum to an 867 MHz G4.

I run both Leopard and Tiger on the same PowerBook; I run Mac OS 9 too.

I did a similar experiment a few years ago on an 867 MHz Titanium PowerBook G4, the slowest PowerBook that officially supports Leopard. There was a 4% decrease in speed and benchmarks from Leopard compared to Tiger. This is to be expected – after all, Leopard is a newer OS than Tiger. However, with the additions of new tools like QuickLook this can save time opening files, so you don’t really notice the 4% slow down.

But what about my 500 MHz PowerBook?



Leopard is surprisingly fast at booting on any machine and is even pretty quick on my 500 MHz G4. Tiger boots in 63 seconds, while Leopard takes 74 seconds – a little slower, but not drastically.


I used Skype 2.8 and TenFourFox 5.0, an adaptation of Firefox 5 for PowerPC Macs. The same versions run on both Tiger and Leopard, so it gives a better comparison. Skype took 20.4 seconds to load under Tiger and 23.5 seconds under Leopard. TenFourFox 5.0 took an impressing 5.4 seconds under Tiger and 6.7 under Leopard.

There isn’t a massive difference in loading times, but it is noticeable. I did try a few other apps, but they were different versions for Tiger and Leopard, which gives unfair comparisons.

Benchmark Apps

Running some benchmark tests brought up some interesting results. Geekbench results are 349 under Tiger and 308 under Leopard. Thats an 11% drop. Xbench came in at 23.25 under Tiger and a disapointing 15.02 under Leopard, a massive 35% drop.

Tiger or Leopard?

Apple’s reason for raising the hardware requirements was partly due to graphics. Leopard is very graphically intense, and this is where an unsupported Mac suffers the most. The high hardware requirements rely mainly on better graphics chips, and therefore lower-end G4s can have graphical glitches, jerkiness, and bugs.

Saying that, I have run it on a 400 MHz G4, which is about as low as you can get, and the graphical “problems” do not interfere with day-to-day use.

If you plan to run Leopard on a unsupported Mac, you are definitely a tinkerer and experienced in the Mac world and therefore expect a few problems and know how to deal with them.

I am currently bouncing between Tiger and Leopard on my 500 MHz G4, and Tiger definitely has the edge in terms of speed both in Mac OS X and apps. It’s smoother, but Leopard has the edge in that it supports more software and has newer features.

The Future of PowerPC

In 2011, the PowerPC platform is struggling to keep its head above water. The bigger Intel boys are splashing it and holding its head under the water. In 2011, it’s not really a contest between Tiger or Leopard anymore. That boat has sailed. It’s PowerPC vs. Intel.

If the apps you want run in Tiger, I would stick with it and get the maximum speed and performance you can out of your low-end Mac. If you have a Mac that officially supports Leopard or need Leopard for a certain piece of software (perhaps features like Spaces and Time Machine), run Leopard.

One final note to remember when running Leopard on a machine that doesn’t support it is heat. I’m running it on a Titanium PowerBook G4, a model renowned for heat anyway – especially early models – even under Tiger, but put Leopard on it, and you can expect it to run hotter and possibly shorten the life of your machine (unless you use additional cooling methods).

Publisher’s note: I’ve been benchmarking Tiger and Leopard on a dual 500 MHz Power Mac G4 recently. Mine is also configured with 1 GB of memory, but has the added advantage of a 7200 rpm hard drive. My Xbench scores were 27.07 under OS X 10.4 and 19.43 with 10.5. Subjectively, Leopard feels a bit sluggish compared to Tiger, and you can make each run a bit faster by disabling Spotlight and Dashboard. dk

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