Despite being a mere 21 builds apart from the previous seed, 10A314, released earlier this month….the latest Snow Leopard seed (simultaneously released in both Standard and Server versions) has definitely taken a big step forward in many areas.
Several elements of the full internal Mac OS X 10.6 code tree, such as the “Marble” interface revamp and overhauled Finder as well as the entire PowerPC version of the operating system, continue to be withheld from the developer builds — but even absent those more visible features, Snow Leopard is truly beginning to shine and show full potential with the advent of 10A335.
Performance is a notable area of big improvement since build 314 was released at the beginning of April; already stunningly fast, sources confirm that 335 removes a significant amount of debug code which always bogs down developmental versions of OS X as compared to their final-release counterparts. Several developers have reported to Rumors that on even the oldest single-core Intel Macs the difference is noticeable; on more recent Mac Pros — notably the current Core i7 “Nehalem” Xeon 8-core/16-thread models — the word “dramatic” has been used more than once.
CPU-specific tweaks and ever more pervasive use of threading as part of the Grand Central optimization project are a significant part of the reasons for the difference; but the one area where 10A335 really shows off its growing muscle is OpenCL.
As many readers already know, OpenCL is Apple’s implementation of GPU co-processing; that is, tapping the huge computational power of the graphics processor for general-computing tasks. In previous builds of Snow Leopard, OpenCL was present and delivered impressive results for certain tasks….but over the past month, the benefits of the technology have become considerably more pervasive.
In tasks which have the most obvious potential for being accelerated by OpenCL such as video encoding, 10A335 is upwards of 10-15% faster than previous seeds, suggesting that the core of the technology has been improved — but via a nifty little internal tool called “OpenCL Monitor,” sources at Infinite Loop have allowed Rumors to see just how active the GPU is when undertaking common everyday tasks in Snow Leopard such as web browsing in Safari 4 or Firefox 3.1b3, reading/viewing email in Mail.app, using any one of several Twitter applications, or even listening to music with iTunes or Pandora.
Compared with previous seeds, OpenCL was much more heavily involved in accelerating these tasks; also, when both audio and complex 3D graphics (for example, iTunes Visualizers or playing games while listening to Pandora) or other mixed-media tasks were undertaken simultaneously….the amount of CPU used is much lower than with Mac OS X 10.5.x or even Snow Leopard 10A314, and the framerates/performance of the tasks were markedly improved. Multi-tasking while running such applications in the background is considerably snappier.
Performance improvements are to be expected at this stage, since Snow Leopard is still technically in the “alpha” phase and is only just beginning to approach true “beta” status….but what really struck our sources and hands-on reporters is the remarkable stability of 10A335.
The previous build, 314, was many things but it was far from stable. We’ve received several bug reports (many of them quite nasty crashes, more extreme than typically seen with a build of OS X at this point in its developmental life cycle) from developers every single day this month that 10A314 was in the wild as the current dev-seed.
Since 335 was released last Wednesday, we’ve only received two(!). Both involving strange errors being spit out by the OS during the shut-down process, causing delays in shutdowns or reboots, but no bona-fide crashes.
That isn’t to say that 335 is rock-solid stable; we’ve managed to make a few bundled applications including QuicktimeX Player and iTunes crash in our own hands-on testing over the weekend, but even in our most intense stress-tests thus far we haven’t been able to make the system itself lock up.
Some testers reported than the previous build, 314, was somewhat slower than its predecessors….most likely due to the debug code which was removed in 335. So some of the perceived performance difference could be simply due to the nature of the development process; but other things, including the size of applications (both on disk and in RAM), have clearly changed in the past month — and very much for the better.
Boot-up times are subtly improved, the system itself uses approximately 10% less RAM (depending on how much is present on a given system), and I/O from all storage devices — particularly slower ones — is noticeably smoother due to improved memory caching routines.
Given the state of the new build, and the continued absence of several key features which Apple is keeping tightly under wraps until late in the “beta” stage, some on the grapevine have speculated that Snow Leopard might not meet its original June (WWDC) release target.
According to the best information our sources can provide — which we consider very reliable, but Apple has plenty of time to change its course/mind between now and the World Wide Developer Conference (June 8-12th) — this is the not the case. Even if it requires cutting features or holding them back for 10.6.1 et cetera….Infinite Loop *will* hit its targeted shipping date.
That said, there is no hard & fast reason why Mac OS X 10.6 would have to actually ship on June 8th to meet that target. As long as a finalized “Golden Master” build is delivered to developers at WWDC, the actual boxed discs could ship as late as the last week of June and still fulfill last year’s promise of “About a Year From Now.”
Other speculation has centered around Snow Leopard’s expected pricing — the traditional $129 of previous major releases, or something lesser to encourage adoption in tough economic times — but that’s a topic for another day. Clarity is still a moving target on this subject because according to sources, even Apple is still debating this internally.
Stay tuned for much more in-depth, hands-on reporting of testers’ experiences with this latest build of Infinite Loop’s next-generation operating system and its little cousin “iPhone OS” 3.0 in the days to come! If you want exclusive details and insights that go beyond our blog postings, don’t forget to Follow us on Twitter — and we’re always excited to hear from you: whether it’s by email, IM (AIM/iChat: MacOSRumors), or by simply submitting a comment using the form below!