OS X Mavericks: Fast

I wasn’t planning to upgrade to OS X Mavericks any time soon. I knew the upgrade would be worth it in some respects but I was fearful that my Mac would slow down and that I would end up paying $30 for an upgrade that added new features but negatively impacted performance. It turns out that this wasn’t the case at all! Mavericks, so far, is the best release of OS X since Snow Leopard in my opinion.

Performance

In mid-2009 my four year old iMac blew a transistor or something on the motherboard. It was bricked. I could have fixed it for about half the cost of a new computer so I decided to buy a new one. I’ve had that late 2009 model 21.5” iMac ever since. It came with a Snow Leopard upgrade disc (it seems every Mac I buy comes with a free OS upgrade now that I think of it). Being happy with Leopard but knowing that my iMac was made to work with Snow Leopard I hesitantly inserted the disc and upgraded. There’s some sort of psychological barrier to upgrading your OS just after you take your computer out of the box. To me, it feels like the computer shouldn’t need an upgrade since its brand new and upgrading will come with the performance hit we’ve all grown used to over the years. That said, my Mac was built with the new OS in mind but it just hadn’t been released yet. Long story short, the upgrade went flawlessly, as they always do, and no performance hit was noticed.

Why do we associate OS upgrades with slower computers? Being a child of the 90’s (born in the 80’s but with earliest memories in the 90’s) I remember Windows 95 through Windows XP. I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about but what I did know was that every six months our home computer would become outdated as processor speeds doubled and computer hardware of all sorts became better and cheaper. When a new OS came out you either bought a new PC or you prayed that upgrading your system wouldn’t slow it to a snail’s pace. If you bought a decent machine stocked with Windows 95 then your upgrade to Windows 98 would be a little bit slower but not so much that it was a big problem. If you were a bargain shopper and had a Win95 PC you upgraded to 98 then you were fucked. I don’t know why OS upgrades made computers so noticeably slow back then but if I had to guess I’d say it was because hardware was getting more performant and cheap so quickly that each OS upgrade was built to take advantage of those advances which meant leaving behind PCs manufactured just a year prior or less. I had a Windows ME laptop (my very first computer of my own) which I upgraded to a pirated copy of XP and holy shit was the performance awful. I dealt with it because by that time I was becoming a power user – it was the beginning of my interest in technology which led me to my current occupation – and I knew a few tricks to speed things up.

The assumption that OS upgrades will slow performance is becoming dead wrong, especially if you have a Mac. OS X upgrades may have come with a performance hit in the past but since Snow Leopard I haven’t seen a modern (2007 or later) Mac choke on one. My 2009 iMac has gone from Snow Leopard all the way to Mountain Lion with an upgrade to Mavericks coming today. The last time an upgrade took its toll on that machine was going from Snow Leopard to Lion. At that point I added an extra 4GB of RAM to machine (8 total) and it’s been humming ever since no matter what OS I throw onto it.

I also have a mid-2012 MacBook Air (11”) that I just upgraded to Mavericks. When I first bought it, Mountain Lion had just come out and there was a free upgrade offer to those who bought my model of MacBook. I was hesitant then about the upgrade too but I did it and saw no gain or loss of performance.

When I heard that Mavericks was supposed to improve battery life and performance even in older Macs I was skeptical. I’ve heard those “it’s the fastest OS ever” before and it turns out that they only apply to brand new hardware with the OS pre-installed most of the time but this time it was true! I installed the OS and walked a way for a while. I came back to open my laptop and it instantly sprung to life. Now, MacBook Airs are known for this sort of thing but this time was different. Usually it springs to life but takes a second or two before I can enter my password to get on to the desktop. As a developer I’m running a decent number of programs at once, some pretty powerful, and in the background. After a few days with the same apps running it would take a second or so for the Mac to wake up. Now with the very same apps and no changes to my workflow it springs to life.

Safari – worth a second look

The performance everywhere is quite noticeable. Even Safari feels faster. I had abandoned Safari long ago in favor of Chrome because of its great developer tools and snappiness. After giving Safari a second chance its speed and comparable feature set are making it worth a second look. I may set it as my default if things keep going well.

XCode and developer upgrades

OS 10.9 comes with an Xcode upgrade with SDKs for 10.8, 10.9 and iOS 7. Some surprises I found were that the built in Apache has been updated to 2.2, PHP is now at 5.4, and stale old Ruby 1.8.6 is gone in favor of Ruby 2.0.0. Git has also gotten an upgrade of sorts. I had Git 1.7 installed directly from the Git binaries. After my upgrade to Mavericks I found that git was now at 1.8.3.4 with “Apple Git-47” in parenthesis.

Prettier

Mavericks is prettier than Mountain Lion. There aren’t any huge changes to the design but just added a little bit of transparency in a few places and getting rid of the fabric pattern makes a huge difference. The calendar app and others that were once total skeuomorphic are now just simple with what looks to be a more functional design.

Finder

Yeah yeah, Finder now has tabs and tags. There was a time when I would have cared but I don’t. If this is a big deal for you I’m sorry I can’t say much more about it because I just don’t care.

Fullscreen X 2

Putting an app into full screen mode now doesn’t turn your workstation into a single monitor setup. The full screen app goes on one monitor and your other apps go on the other. It’s wonderful and something I’ve been dying for forever.

There are a lot of new features in Mavericks but the ones that have gotten me most excited are the ones you usually don’t notice liked the Ruby and Apache upgrades. Most of all, Mavericks has finally gotten me to stop fearing OS upgrades. From now on I shall embrace them and trust Apple when they say they really do improve performance. At the end of the day, the best new feature of Mavericks is how it makes my MacBook speedier than when it was brand new.

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