Is Leopard Slower than Tiger on G4 Macs?

2009 – I have had so many arguments with people stating that Apple deliberately geared Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard to perform much better on Intel machines so as to pull people away from the PowerPC platform. I thought it was about time this myth was laid to rest. I wrote an article a few months ago, Leopard Runs Very Nicely on PowerPC Macs, and thought I would follow it up with some benchmarks and facts.

You might think it is a bit late now that we are about to enter the OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard era, but there are still so many machines out there capable of running Leopard that are stuck with Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger because people are scared of slower performance.

I am writing this on an 867 MHz 15″ PowerBook G4. I have been running Leopard on it for about six months with 768 MB of RAM, and it has been a pleasant experience. A few days ago I maxed it to 1 GB of RAM (the extra RAM really has made a lot of difference), and it is fitted with a 5400 RPM Fujitsu MHT2080AH 80 GB hard drive.

It is the lowest spec machine to officially support Leopard, so you would think that it would struggle to keep up, but it doesn’t. So let’s cut to the chase and look at raw benchmark results.

I triple-boot my PowerBook with Mac OS X Leopard 10.5.6, Mac OS X Tiger 10.4.11, and Mac OS 9.2.2, so it is easier to get an accurate reading of which OS is faster, as they are all using exactly the same hardware. This was one of the last Macs to boot natively into OS 9, so while there is no Classic support in Leopard, I have the best of both the latest OS and am able to run older software, and OS 9 absolutely screams along on this hardware.

Benchmark Results

  • Mac OS X 10.4: Xbench is 27.58, and Geekbench is 542.
  • Mac OS X 10.5: Xbench is 26.43, and Geekbench is 519.

There is a little performance drop (about 4%) going from Tiger to Leopard, but then Leopard is a different kettle of fish. Tiger was designed to run on 300 MHz G3 machines and is far less dependent on your graphics card. I still hold my stance that the main reason Apple raised the bar so high with the minimum specs of Leopard was to ensure maximum graphics capabilities.

I have run Leopard on a 400 MHz Power Mac and PowerBook, and it is definitely the graphics that pull and older Mac down. If you were to put a Leopard-compatible graphics card in a 400 MHz Sawtooth Power Mac G4, I don’t think you would have too much problem using it as an everyday machine.

Leopard isn’t much slower than Tiger, and I think you would see the gap narrow even more on a higher-end G4. With a better equipped graphics card, you might even see Leopard perform better.

The 867 MHz 15″ Titanium PowerBook came with 32 MB ATI Radeon 9000, and the 867 MHz 12″ PowerBook came with 32 MB Nvidia GeForce 4 420 graphics. The 1 GHz 15″ Titanium PowerBook came with a 64 MB ATI Radeon 9000. The 1 GHz 17″ PowerBook came with an Nvidia GeForce 4 440, and the 1.33 GHz 12″ PowerBook came with a GeForce FX Go5200. Some, like the 1.67 GHz 17″ Aluminium PowerBook, came with 128 MB ATI Mobililty Radeon 9700.

These would cope much better with the high graphics demands of Leopard – they have more powerful graphics cards than some early Intel Macs, such as the 1.5 GHz Core Solo Mac mini, 1.67 GHz Core Duo Mac mini, 1.83 GHz Core Duo MacBook, and 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo MacBook, which are only equipped with a 64 MB shared Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950.

Leopard does run slightly slower on some PowerPC Macs, but then it is two-and-a-half years newer than Tiger and has a lot of graphics intense features. Run it on a machine that has the minimum specs for Leopard, and you will see benchmark results drop slightly; run it on a higher spec’d G4, and you might see them increase.

Leopard responds to as much as RAM as you can throw at it. I benchmarked my 867 MHz PowerBook G4 with both 768 MB of RAM and 1 GB of RAM, and adding extra RAM pushed both benchmark results and performance.

  • With 768 MB RAM: Xbench 21.85, Geekbench 424.
  • With 1 GB RAM: Xbench 25.43,  Geekbench 519.

Got a Leopard capable G4 that is still running Tiger? Cram it with RAM and install Leopard; you won’t regret it.

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