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I am going to do a clean install of OS X on my old MacBook (Late 2008), but the computer will only be needed for:

  • tabbed web browsing (Safari/Chrome),
  • word processing (Office/iWork),
  • and maybe some iPhoto work.

The most important factor is speed (operating, startup, etc.), and all the added features of each OS X are secondary.

Which operating system — the latest Tiger, Leopard, Snow Leopard, or Lion — will run the fastest on this MacBook?

Computer specifications:

  • 2.1 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
  • 4 GB 667 MHz DDR2 SDRAM
  • 120 GB HDD 5400-rpm
  • Currently with OS X 10.5.8 (Leopard)
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closed as too broad by bmike May 8 at 16:49

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

I'm going to put this on hold. It needs to explain what "fastest" is. Define the workload or the test and this can easily be opened. Also, since you already have good answers, letting new people add their two cents will require this refinement to prevent it from attracting more opinions/discussions as opposed to objective facts. – bmike May 8 at 16:50

4 Answers 4

I have the same machine & spec, and have not noticed any slowdown when operating at the latest supported version of Lion when compared with previous versions. Of course, this is purely anecdotal, but reviews have also fairly repeatedly suggested a slight increase in basic speeds incrementally with new versions.

One this is for sure, throw in a cheap SSD of the same size as your existing disk, and it will fair fly compared whatever it feels like now.

Compare, for example, your specs to my Macbook Air 1.6Ghz Core 2 Duo, 4Gb RAM and SSD, which supports ML and feels faster than my 2.93Ghz iMac with 8Gb on the same OS (or did until I put an SSD in the iMac).

Put simply, your CPU and RAM can handle whatever you want to run just fine. Your disk may start to feel the pinch a little, but small SSDs are very cheap these days and will easily make your machine feel like new - that particular macbook is at the sweetspot of benefitting most from an SSD for the least money.

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Getting a small SSD is a great suggestion — perhaps further down the line if this MacBook actually ends up being used – Baumr May 21 '13 at 9:29
up vote 2 down vote accepted

I ended up going with Snow Leopard because Leopard itself was slow (SL offers countless improvements in how it is built, for Intel Macs only), and Tiger, as reminiscent at it would have been to use it, didn't have Time Machine (which admittedly wasn't a requirement in the original question).

The reason why I didn't go for Lion is because I wouldn't be able to have it in it's best iteration: Mountain Lion is reported as superior in speed (but not compatible with this MacBook).

Snow Leopard is running fast and smooth, and personally, I think it's the best fit for this machine.

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from my personal experience (using a macbook pro 15" late 2010: upgraded vom 10.6 to 10.7 to 10.8) 10.6 Snow leopard ran the fastest .. especially in terms of battery life (Lion and Mountain noticeably have shorter battery run time due to more intensive use of graphic acceleration). Typical battery run time on a usual day @ uni: 10.6:(8-10) hours (depending on brightness etc), 10.7 (4-5 hours), 10.8 (6-7 hours) p.s. I took into the account that the battery loses its performance. – Chrisii May 21 '13 at 10:10

For starters, this machine won't run anything later than Lion anyway.

I'd suggest putting in a 60GB SSD, and give it a clean installation of Lion. I have

I have this model, which is almost the same. I added an SSD, and even with 2 GB of RAM, it's a fantastic and zippy browser/email client.

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So many wrong answers. It's the OLDEST versions that are faster, someome said why, because the new ones require more resources. I've tested it. With the same hardware, the newer, the faster. Yosemite SLOOOOWWW compared to going back to Lion/Leopard. Just find whatever software you use and see it's OSX requirements to decided how far back you can go. The old ones are lighter weight because it was matched with the hardware. I tested it on high high end desktop hardware end of 2014.

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Could you elaborate on what high end 2014 hardware runs both the oldest OS X (10.0 ? 10.1? ??) and also 10.9? You might have some great data that could add to the thread. It's hard to tell anything other than you disagree with other answers without some details to back your point. – bmike Dec 1 '14 at 16:12
That's where his argument falls flat. No Apple hardware introduced this year will run anything older than 10.9.2 or 10.9.3. – Patrick McMahon Dec 1 '14 at 18:02
That's where your short sightedness falls flat.I was using Intel desktop hardware (Hackintosh) which is the same hardware that Apple uses, @half the price.I tested the following versions:Tiger>Yosemite.Yosemite was the slowest. I installed each version, tested boot up speed, installed all updates, and ran an application that taxed the CPU(encoding). It was pretty clear and consistent that each new OS was many seconds slower than the last. I am running out of characters so I can't post all the results& hardware used, but there is no cure for willed ignorance so why bother? Keep downvoting me. – Klepper May 4 at 13:44

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