The upcoming version of OS X promises to be a streamlined and refined system, cutting out much of the old, bloated code that has persisted since the initial 10.0 public beta version which was released in the summer of 2000.
Along with stripping out all of this legacy code, Apple has incorporated a variety of new technologies in Snow Leopard that will make the most out of modern computing hardware, and has dubbed these technologies "OpenCL" and"Grand Central Dispatch". In addition, they've made the switch to fully supporting 64-bit computing in the new OS, but while Snow Leopard will install on all intel-based Macs, not all Macs have the hardware requirements to support these key enhancements.
Many people looking forward to these features may wonder if their machines meet the requirements for running the much-touted features of the new OS.
Graphics and OpenCL
One of the big features in Snow Leopard is the ability to tap into many more computing resources at once, and part of this is the inclusion of OpenCL, which allows the system to make use of the graphics processor for everyday tasks when it's not in use by other programs. According to the Leopard technical specifications page, this ability will require a computer with at least the following graphics processors:
NVIDIA Geforce 8600M GT, GeForce 8800 GT, GeForce 8800 GTS, Geforce 9400M, GeForce 9600M GT, GeForce GT 120, GeForce GT 130.
ATI Radeon 4850, Radeon 4870
Most of these processors were released in the last year, which means that while Snow Leopard will run on any Intel system, its full speed and computing potential will only happen on the following models released so far:
The following models will run the OS, but will not benefit from the enhanced power available from the GPU:
While the Mac Pro computers that shipped in 2007 and later may not have initially had supported graphics chipsets for OpenCL, but they do contain PCI Express v2.0 expansion slots so you should be able to upgrade their graphics cards to take advantage of the new technologies. Apple released a GeForce 8800 upgrade kit for the Mac Pro that can still be purchased at some retailers (such as this option at B&H Photo and Video). The Apple part number is "MB137Z/A", so you should be able to search for that if needed. Unfortunately, Mac Pro computers shipped before 2007 had PCI Express v1.1 slots, which means that while upgrade cards that need v2.0 slots may still work, they are not supported and there might be bandwidth problems resulting in lower than expected performance in some situations.
It should also be noted that there may be ways to enable OpenCL on unsupported graphics processors, just like there were ways to enable the AGP-only "Quartz Extreme" enhanced interface on PCI Macintoshes when OS X 10.2 "Jaguar" came out. If there is no such option, however, iMacs, Mac Minis, and MacBooks that do not have the proper GPUs will not be able to use OpenCL.
Processors, Grand Central, and 64-bit computing.
Its obvious that all PowerPC owners are out of luck when it comes to Snow Leopard. On June 16th, the first PowerMac G5 models will be put on Apple's "obsolete" list, signifying the true end of the PowerPC era. Granted security updates for Leopard will still be released for PowerPC machines, but the hardware is on its final legs.
Snow Leopard's support for intel processors is also limited, though Apple's quick adoption of dual core and dual processing technologies makes the limitations relatively few in number. Apple's "Grand Central Dispatch" technologies for enhancing multicore processing requires, well, a processor with "multiple" cores. One might think that all intel macs contain at least two processors, but when Apple released the first intel-based Mac Minis they had the option of the Core Solo processor for a few months. Technically these computers should be able to run Snow Leopard, but will not have the hardware to take advantage of either OpenCL or Grand Central Dispatch. If you have one of these machines, however, Snow Leopard promises to be faster based on the refined and optimized code, so it should be worth the upgrade if you are interested.
The last processor-based concern is that of 64-bit support. When Apple made the switch to the intel platform, the first chips they incorporated were 32-bit only, which frustrated people since Apple had touted 64-bit computing in the G5 as the way of the future. The switch had its initial limitations, but luckily as with multicore support, the adoption of 64-bit capable processors was relatively swift. However, there are a few models of intel Macs that will not be able to take advantage of the 64-bit computing support in Snow Leopard, which are any computer with a "Core Solo", or "Core Duo" (not "Core 2 Duo") processor. These are the following systems:
Luckily, for most people Apple jumped to using multiple 64-bit processors rather quickly in the transition to the intel platform, so unless you were one of the first to but an intel mac, you are probably good to go for using both Grand Central and 64-bit computing.
What Computer do I have?
If you are unsure what hardware you are running on your system, open the "System Profiler" application that's available in the "Utilities" folder, and highlight the "Hardware" category (not any subcategory). This will show you a "Hardware Overview" list which will display information about the processor type and the number of processors available to the system, and should say whether or not the processor is a "Core Solo", "Core Duo", or "Core 2 Duo". To then find out what graphics processor you have, click on the "Graphics/Displays" subsection, the graphics chipset model should be listed at the top in bold. If the processor and graphics card models match the requirements, then you should be good to go for all that Snow Leopard will have to offer.
What if I dont meet the requirements?
If your computer does not meet the bare minimum requirements of an intel processor, you will not be able to run Snow Leopard; however, if you are running an intel machine that doesn't meet the requirements for one of these features you will still be able to run all your programs just as you currently do without the added functionality. Snow Leopard will be running off of refined code that will run faster on all supported hardware, and will give you other benefits such as file system compression and interface refinements, new QuickTime, and numerous other advantages. You will still be able to take advantage of many new software features, just not some of the hardware-based enhancements.
UPDATED: Included MacBook Air information
Read our article on installation procedure changes in Snow Leopard to help prepare for the upcoming OS.Resources