Snow Leopard Macs: The New Low End

I spent all day arguing with my fellow local Mac group members about Apple’s decision to release another version of OS X less than twelve months after Lion – and the rapid pace at which Apple is making Macs outdated.

Then it suddenly struck me: Why am I bothered? I’m not going to be in the market for a brand new Mac unless I win the lottery; just keeping in the Mac world is hard enough for me at the moment – hence me using 6- to 10-year-old Macs.

OS X 10.8 Mountain LionTo put another spin on it, Apple’s rapid pace is a good thing for us low-end users. All those rich people who snub their noses at any Mac older than a year will be shedding their castoffs for the new Mountain Lion laden shiny beasts when OS X 10.8 is released this summer.

PowerPC’s Days Are Numbered

As much as I love my gorgeous new addition, a 12″ PowerBook G4, it is still PowerPC-based, and it’s days are numbered. The latest version of Mac OS X it will run is 10.5 Leopard, and Leopard isn’t necessarily the biggest problem, as Intel Macs using Leopard can still run the latest versions of Firefox and Chrome. The problem is the architecture: The PowerPC platform is dead. There are a handful of developers still supporting it, but the majority have dropped it.

Apple has dropped it, bar a few iTunes updates recently. Mozilla has dropped it, releasing no more versions of Firefox as of version 4, release almost a year ago. Adobe has dropped it, releasing no more PPC versions of the Flash plugin starting with version 11 in Late 2011. And Google never released Chrome for it.

OS X 10.6 Snow LeopardSo wind it back a few paragraphs to the bit about “castoffs”, and what do we have – a new category to add to the Low End Mac package: Low End Intel. Yes, Intel Macs that will not run Mountain Lion (and those that will not run OS X 10.7 Lion) are stuck on OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard.

We are now in to our sixth year of Intel Macs, and some of these won’t run the latest version of OS X or any future versions. There will be people with Lion machines all over the world crying themselves to sleep at the news that their Mac will not run Mountain Lion.

Early Intels Become More Affordable

Second-user Macs command a high price; even my G4 wasn’t cheap. However, with the progression of the Intel machines, the prices for PowerPC Macs have fallen through the floor. I paid a mere £65 for my 12″ 1 GHz PowerBook G4; twelve months ago this would have cost around £100. The same is beginning to happen with early Intel machines, partly due to the increasing hardware specifications of newer Intel Macs – faster processors, better chip technologies etc. – but mainly due to Apple deciding to not to allow Lion to run on them.

Some people will be reading this, thinking, “Why would you want a machine you know is already outdated?”

In short, cost.

I just bought a G4 and think it is great speed-wise. It copes with my needs, which range from web browsing, emailing, tweeting, and writing to heavier tasks such as light video and music editing.

Buying an Intel Mac that runs Snow Leopard – namely any Core Duo Mac – will give me a newer operating system (than Leopard on my PowerBook), a massive increase in processor speed, a higher RAM ceiling, better drive technology, and the holy grail of Mac, Intel architecture, opening me up to a whole new breed of software.

Even a first generation Intel would be considerably more powerful than the G4 I would be replacing.

Snow Leopard Still Has Legs Going Forward

The general consensus is that software developers – and even Apple to a degree – will treat Snow Leopard like the Windows XP of the Mac world, the base ground for lower-end users, while Lion and Mountain Lion be the higher end. Snow Leopard will continue to be supported for a few years to come.

I say, “Bring it on.” In the next six to twelve months I will be making the leap to Intel, and it will be a low-end one, running Snow Leopard – or Lion at most.

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