I’ve spent the last few months just hating Apple’s OS X Lion. I thought they should have given it a better nickname, like “System Hang” or “Patience is a Virtue.” I spent more time starring at the dreaded spinning beach ball of death than I did getting work done. Where I once kept open as many browser windows and tabs as I liked, I began closing everything I didn’t absolutely need right then. Aperture 3, which I adore, had become impossible to use.
Things had gotten so frustrating, I was seriously thinking about doing a clean system install — something I used to have to do every 6-12 months with Windows, and was one of the reasons I made the switch.
But there were other things I could do to speed things up, and here they are in no particular order:
• Replace system HDD with a super fast SSD. But that’s expensive, and a hassle. First you have to clone your existing system on it, and all four of my drive bays are full. So I’d have to put the SSD in a FireWire-freindly enclosure, clone it the slow way, then swap it in for the HDD.
• Put in a faster video card. This seemed the least-likely to do any good, and I’m not exactly taxing the card this machine shipped with more than two years ago.
• New CPU. I could install a non-sanctioned EFI update, and swap out my quad-core Xeon for something sexier. But not only is that expensive, it also voids my warranty.
• More memory! This is usually the go-to upgrade. It’s easy. It isn’t very expensive. And even if it doesn’t do a whole lot, you know you want it anyway.
Now, this Xeon processor has three memory channels, but the motherboard has four memory slots. If you fill all four, your memory takes a speed hit — but you can fit in more memory. If you use just three matched memory sticks, the processor can take full advantage of its memory architecture.
When I bought this box, I also picked up four 2GB memory sticks. I figured I could try it both ways: 3 sticks for 6GB of faster access or all 4 for 8GB of restricted access. Under previous versions of OS X — Leopard and Snow Leopard — things ran faster and smoother with the full 8GB.
Well let me tell you: Lion does not like slow memory. Not one bit.
Yesterday I ditched all four 2GB sticks and replaced them with three 4GB sticks. The 50% increase in memory space is a nice bit of room for Lion to run around in, but I’m wagering that leaving that fourth slot unfilled was what really did the trick. Because let me tell you, right now this Lion roars. All the bad things I said about Lion? I take them all back. And if you’re a frustrated Mac Pro/Lion user, heed my advice.
At this very moment, I’m looking at email, 40 or 50 browser tabs in six windows, my calendar and iTunes blown up to full screen, ripping a Blu-Ray and crunching it down to 720p at 30fps, sorting through more than 2,000 RAW images in Aperture, doodling around with three different Pages documents, and two Christmas shopping spreadsheets — all strewn across nine virtual desktops, while in the background iTunes is serving up two video streams to Apple TVs upstairs and Time Machine is cranking away to keep my data safe.
My Mac is a Mac again.