... wherein I bloviate discursively

Brian Clapper,

Mac OS X Lion has ruined my MacBook Pro

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Updated: It’s all about the RAM. See below.

About a month ago, I upgraded my vintage 2006 MacBook Pro to Mac OS X Lion. It was only $29.95, so, why not?

That decisions turns out to have been a bad one. Lion seems to have been designed to force me to buy a bright, shiny, expensive, new Mac.

See, my old MacBook Pro tops out at 3Gb of RAM, and Lion seems to be a memory pig. After moving from Snow Leopard to Lion, I see far more spinning beach balls of death than before, and my laptop is sluggish to the point of unusability.

As htop(1) shows, below, the system has very little free memory available.

htop is not to be believed, when it comes to virtual memory, but output from both top(1) and vm_stat(1) shows significant swap in use:

The top of top(1):

Processes: 146 total, 5 running, 2 stuck, 139 sleeping, 748 threads    11:28:15
Load Avg: 2.47, 3.13, 3.43  CPU usage: 15.73% user, 61.98% sys, 22.28% idle
SharedLibs: 61M resident, 0B data, 13M linkedit.
MemRegions: 28581 total, 1689M resident, 89M private, 497M shared.
PhysMem: 289M wired, 1869M active, 851M inactive, 3008M used, 63M free.
VM: 279G vsize, 1337M framework vsize, 4371493(0) pageins, 98781(0) pageouts.


Mach Virtual Memory Statistics: (page size of 4096 bytes)
Pages free:                          13738.
Pages active:                       478298.
Pages inactive:                     217968.
Pages speculative:                    2030.
Pages wired down:                    74137.
"Translation faults":             27871677.
Pages copy-on-write:               1256631.
Pages zero filled:                13202459.
Pages reactivated:                  301477.
Pageins:                           4374243.
Pageouts:                            98781.
Object cache: 29 hits of 270248 lookups (0% hit rate)

Since cutting over to Lion, I have not suddenly started running lots of extra applications; if anything, I now routinely kill apps I’m not sure I need, something I did far less frequently under Snow Leopard.

Clearly, 3Gb of RAM is not enough to run Lion, despite what Apple says.

Others are having similar problems. On the Apple Forum, one discussion blames AdBlock. Even though I use Google Chrome, not Safari, I disabled AdBlock; doing so does not appear to have made much of a difference.

Someone else claims that Apple is aware of performance complaints and is rolling out significant performance improvements in Lion 10.7.2. Other claims that cron(1) jobs or login actions that run the purge(8) command helps a lot; I may try that approach, but having to do that seems like a complete kluge–assuming it even works.

Alas, a new Mac is not in the budget right now.

Update, 17 October, 2011 {#update}

Over the weekend, I bought a new Mac, a 15-inch MacBook Pro with a quad-core i5 and 8Gb RAM. It came with Snow Leopard (it’s a refurbished machine), so I upgraded it to Lion.

It’s behaving just fine, compared to the old machine. But, of course, it has 2⅔ times the RAM. I’m running my usual complement of stuff: a remote SSH session, a number of windows, Thunderbird, Chrome, iChat, the (impossible to spell correctly) Yorufukurou Twitter client, iCal, TrueCrypt, and iTunes. According to htop(1), it’s using just north of 4Gb of RAM.

With 8Gb on board, that’s not a problem, of course. But my old machine maxed out at 3Gb, so, with Lion, it swapped like crazy.

Moral: Apperently, Lion wants RAM. If you’re fond of running as much stuff as I am, jam your machine as full of RAM as you can.