Apple, Tech, and Gaming

Long Lasting Mac Value: Tiger and Snow Leopard

- 2012.02.20 - Tip Jar

The mission of Low End Mac is to help you maximize the life of your Apple gear.

This is definitely not the goal of Apple as of late, and these days it seems that the company wants you to replace your Mac every three years or so, given the speculation that the next release of OS X, dubbed "Mountain Lion", seems to require exactly that.

Mac OS X Mountain LionAs outlined in Dan Knight's Too Many Macs Left Behind by OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, some Macs that were current through early 2009 are projected to get shut out of further OS updates based on Mountain Lion's requirements. Mountain Lion will supposedly exclude all systems running Intel GMA 950 or X3100 integrated graphics, if the developer preview requirements carry over to the retail version. These Macs that lose support could conceivably still be covered by AppleCare, yet no longer be receiving OS updates! What kind of message is Apple trying to send? Are Macs going by the wayside like mobile phones (they might as well be doing so with the continued iOS assimilation of OS X).

I, for one, purchase a Mac to receive long lasting value. That's why you pay a premium price for a Mac. In addition to superior reliability and engineering, you should not expect to quickly lose staying pace within three years for a machine you paid hundreds or possibly thousands of dollars for. You can't even sell your used physical copies of Mac OS X or Apple software any longer, since everything has gone digital and is attached to your Apple ID.

Maybe Apple should do away with desktops and give away the MacBook Air for free with a two-year data plan subscription and only sell that along with the iPhone and iPad with them all running iOS going forward? Okay, maybe that's a bit heavy on the sarcasm, but netbooks went the route becoming a disposable computers, and look where they are today - on the brink of extinction.

The Long Lasting Value of Tiger

Mac OS X TigerIn all seriousness, I suppose what I'm really trying to say is that Apple needs to breed long lasting value into its own culture to keep its customers loyal and happy, as it did in the past, rather than the opposite philosophy it is following as of late. Consider the 12-year-old PowerBook Pismo that Low End Mac's staff covered in the most recent Low End Mac Round Table. The Pismo was over five years old when Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger shipped in April 2005, and it could load Tiger (and later even an unsupported install of OS X 10.5 Leopard with a G4 upgrade).

Tiger runs perfectly fine on the Pismo and, in fact, is probably the best OS for the Pismo (and nearly all other PowerPC Macs) - provided that you have enough RAM installed. The Pismo had a weak ATI Rage Mobility 128 GPU with just 8 MB of video memory (VRAM) compared to the very last PowerBooks - the 1.67 GHz Hi-Res 15" and 17" models shipped with Tiger and 128 MB of VRAM along with the exponentially more powerful ATI Radeon 9700 Mobility.

The extra technologies in Tiger, such as Core Image graphics, were simply disabled when a model with lesser hardware, like the Pismo, booted up into it. Tiger was an unprecedented value for PowerPC (PPC) Macs and allowed you to continue to use Mac OS 9 applications in "Classic Mode" while staying up-to-date and compatible with the Web and other software that had minimal hardware requirements yet needed the most recent OS version.

Tiger also generally sped things up dramatically on Macs designed to support it, breathing more life into these aging machines. It was one of those great moments that made you proud to own a Mac and made you amazed of what the engineers at Apple had accomplished.

The Long Lasting Value of Snow Leopard

OS X Snow LeopardThe same thing happened again with OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, keeping support for all Intel Macs while maximizing Rosetta performance, which lets Intel Macs run PowerPC software. Snow Leopard may have dropped all of the Universal Binary PPC code and as a result marked the end of the line for PowerPC support, but with Snow Leopard as a streamlined OS and with Rosetta fully optimized and matured, Snow Leopard ran PowerPC applications designed for earlier versions of Mac OS X with the greatest of ease (with a few minor exceptions).

If you had both an Intel Mac and a PowerPC Mac and did not need Classic Mode and applications designed for OS 9, but you did find yourself using both Macs due to underwhelming Rosetta performance on the Intel versions of Tiger (Intel) and Leopard, the Rosetta in Snow Leopard gave you a compelling reason to just use the Intel Mac.

I'm typing this on Microsoft Word from the Office 2004 suite, and I have not noticed any slowdown or change in how the application works using Rosetta. Word 2004 is not very demanding as far as an application goes, but I also played some older Mac-specific game demos to test the theory further. For example, Doom 3 for the Mac arrived before Tiger and the advent of Intel Macs (it was compiled specifically for fast PowerPC G4 and G5 Macs), and it works flawlessly using Rosetta in Snow Leopard at the highest resolution on my 2.3 GHz Core i7 Early 2011 MacBook Pro. It's obvious just how good Rosetta was and why so many continue to be up in arms over Apple eliminating support for it when OS X 10.7 Lion was introduced.

It's understandable why Lion won't run on lower-end Core Duo and Core Solo Macs (and may have much to do with dropping Rosetta), since Lion is fully 64-bit and those older machines were 32-bit only, but with Mountain Lion there seems to be no good reason to drop Macs just because they have underpowered graphics. Just disable features that are going to require more powerful graphics cards, as Tiger did with Core Image, while keeping the GUI the same. Apple could make a lot of people happy by making a downloadable repository of "Virtual Macs" that would fully emulate older hardware (at full speed) while running Lion and allow users to install and run older applications, but instead it chose to have us find third party solutions such as VMware Fusion or find ways around its installers.

Lion and Mountain Lion Reduce Mac Value

The recent versions of OS X have taken away much more value than they add to the Mac, but that may be a necessary evil for some of the most recent technologies and applications. As a seasoned Mac user, I find the best Mac OS X value is a close call between Tiger on PPC and Snow Leopard on Intel for the wide variety of features and compatibility they provide. Both give you access to smooth backward compatibility with legacy applications (OS 9 applications using Classic Mode in PowerPC Tiger and PPC application support through Rosetta in Snow Leopard). Both Classic Mode and Rosetta were at their peak in their respective final variants.

Both Tiger and Snow Leopard are installable on a wide variety of Macs spanning at least a five year period. In addition, Snow Leopard is the very last version of Mac OS X to have the word Mac in it. Now by Apple just calling it OS X, it de-emphasizes the importance of the Mac and the connection between it its operating system.

Nothing against Lion and Mountain Lion, but these new operating systems continue to devalue the Mac, decrease compatibility, and are unlikely to provide enough useful features to become your primary OS. I gave Lion a fair chance, but for now Snow Leopard just feels better - and it runs noticeably faster too (even on this quad-core i7 with 8 GB of RAM) and would still be my primary OS even if I had no PowerPC applications requiring Rosetta.

The best Mac you can purchase has always been the one that allows you to have the option of using both new and old technologies and operating systems, rather than being forced into an entirely new way of thinking. I don't know about you, but I still like to "think different."

My next article that will look at the best crossover Macs - Macs that provide the best of both worlds. Hint: My Early 2011 MacBook Pro is one of them, as I am currently dual booting Snow Leopard and Lion while retaining access to ExpressCard34, Firewire 800, and Thunderbolt. LEM

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Dan Bashur lives in central Ohio with his wife and children. He uses various PowerPC G3 and G4 Macs running Tiger and Leopard. Besides finding new uses for Macs and other tech, Dan enjoys writing (fantasy novel series in the works), is an avid gamer, and a member of Sony's Gamer Advisor Panel. You can read more of Dan Bashur's work on ProjectGamers.com, where he contributes regular articles about the PSP, classic gaming, and ways you can use Sony gaming hardware with your Mac.

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