I have a mid-2010 MacBook Pro, still running 10.6.8 but I'm getting incompatibility messages from various other sites and software.

Processor 2.66 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Memory 4 GB 1067 MHz DDR3

Should I upgrade to 10.7 Lion, 10.8 Mountain Lion? I'm worried that later versions might be too big a jump for other software, and that I might not have enough space to optimize speed with larger systems.

Would I need to do that in increments, or can I skip to newer version?

  • Newer OS are always faster. The question would be what does your hardware supports. – Ruskes Oct 18 '14 at 20:55
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    @Buscar웃: how are newer OSes always faster? Snow Leopard is probably faster and more stable than the more recent versions. – 0942v8653 Oct 18 '14 at 21:20

Here is a report I found, it is not on same hardware as yours so the GPU performances might be different but newer than less.

CPU 10.5.6: 162 10.6.8: 170 10.8.2: 172

Mountain Lion wins for efficient CPU usage and OSX has improved steadily in this test.


10.5.6: 162

10.6.8: 174

10.8.2: 184

Again, Mountain Lion appears to use memory more efficiently, although the Leopard test had 2GB of Apple Ram whereas SL and ML had 3rd party 4GB ram.

QUARTZ (2D Graphics)

10.5.6: 220

10.6.8: 208

10.8.2: 270

Once Again, Mountain Lion appears to show OSX improving over time on the same hardware.

-- OpenGL (3D rendering)

10.5.6: 160

10.6.8: 157

10.8.2: 96

Here, we see continual drops in performance on the same hardware over time with a MASSIVE drop in Mountain Lion compared to either Leopard or Snow Leopard. I ran this test a few times and it varied somewhat, but ML just plain did horrible. Of course newer hardware would do better, but this is apples to apples using an older test software as well. Most older games aren't going to change so it seems valid to me.

-- User Interface

10.5.6: 340

10.6.8: 295

10.8.2: 245

Once again, we see a continual drop in performance. This is real noticeable performance as well. I noticed a definite slowdown in the feel of Snow Leopard over Leopard and it's pretty clear that ML's eye-candy handling of windows and screens feels slower than Snow Leopard as well (although some of it's new so it's not as easy to compare directly). I'm not sure what's going on here and if it relates to all OpenGL stuff, but that's a pretty sad score given the same hardware.

My Mac Mini has scores for OpenGL that are 2.5x higher, User Interface is 1.8x higher and Quartz is also 2x higher and that's with an Intel 4000 so clearly even Intel's integrated chips are over 2x as fast as the 8600M GT (which wasn't bad for its day for a mobile GPU).

-- Disk Test

10.5.6: 39

10.6.8: 48

10.8.2: 56

The hard drive is different under 10.5.6 (5200 RPM Apple vs 7200 RPM Segate) so you'd expect the 10.6.8 score to improve, but 10.8.2 is clearly faster yet for getting the maximum out of the hard drive. I got 110MB/sec writes vs. a mere 80MB/sec in Snow Leopard with the same drive.

Overall, Mountain Lion appears to be genuine improvement in all the tests over Snow Leopard except OpenGL and User Interface. Unfortunately, these are two HUGELY important areas for a "snappy feel" to the interface and window drawing behavior along with potentially (depending on how it behaves with real world games) affecting OpenGL 3D games quite a bit to the negative on the same hardware. I'll have to try some games to be sure, though.

Leopard was mostly a drop compared to Tiger as well on my PowerMac PPC machine in similar areas. In short, the interface/window/3D behavior appears to becoming BLOATED and relying instead of ever newer/faster GPUs to make up for it. Sadly, in some cases the newer GPUs are SLOWER than the last generation (e.g. Mac Mini's GPU on the model with the Radeon).


You have to weigh the balance between increased functionality/usability/security of the new OS with the performance of the old.

You have to ask yourself the question "is the performance increase/decrease worth the added functionality?"

Better yet, "Am I going to notice the difference?"

Your CPU and GPU are not going to change so running comparative benchmarks against them with varying OS's tells you little. If squeezing out every nanosecond of response is key to what you are doing, then this is entirely a moot thread; you should buy a new machine.

It seems that you are running into compatibility issues because your OS is now too old. Upgrading to one that is pushing 4 years old now may not be the wisest move - especially if what you are doing centers around the web where the tech changes almost on a daily basis.

Here's my suggestion (and I have personally done this for a friend and they couldn't be happier) based on the fact you have a pretty good machine in your possession.

First, upgrade your RAM. I'm suspecting you are seeing some performance slowdown if you are running out of memory. Open up Activity Monitor and leave it open as you go about your day. If memory utilization is close to or at the top of its limit, chances are you are sending the overflow memory requests to the hard disk (swap). That'll slow you down for sure.

Officially, your Mac can to go to 8GB of RAM. Unofficially, it can go to 16GB. Get as much as you can afford. More RAM means more space for your OS and applications to work in and less time being "swapped" to the hard disk.

Next, upgrade your drive to an SSD. I can't begin to tell you how much a difference this makes not to mention battery life and less heat. You are going to want to do a nice clean install, not an upgrade here.

Finally (and this one is optional), don't throw away that old hard drive. There are kits available that can turn your DVD drive bay into a second hard drive adapter. You can have two HDDs in your MBP. You can even opt for two SSD's and mirror them (RAID 1) for redundancy or stripe them (RAID 0) for increased performance.

One more thing....

If the "eye candy" and the animations are not important to you, those can be turned off, thus freeing up system resources to be used for other things.

Bottom line is this...for a relatively tiny amount of money (and some surfing on ebay or amazon) you can extend the life of your computer a few more years with much more recent OS.

  • +1 An SSD upgrade makes the world of difference on a machine like this. – JBRWilkinson Jul 7 '16 at 23:19

I am recommending a system upgrade to the latest OS X version El Capitan. Unless your doing some heavy 3D graphic jobs there's no major performance issue with the latest OS X version.

Most important replace your slow hard disk with a SSD and MacBook will so much faster.


Unless you already have install disks, I think the option to install anything other than Yosemite is gone (I could be wrong).

Why not do a new install on a partition on your HD? This will let you boot to either OS.

You obviously need spare disk space.

To proceed you need to boot into Recovery mode to shrink your partition, then create a new and install into this. You can migrate all your apps and settings from the old partition.


Although probably not technically the fastest, I upgraded my late 2011 13" MacBook Pro which has an SSD and just-installed 8GB of RAM to El Capitan from Mountain Lion. After addressing a few kinks with iCloud Drive or the App Store using too much bandwidth for no apparent reason, I don't notice a speed hit in day to day usage or boot-up, and I believe I have more room on my hard drive too, and powering off is significantly faster.

I don't use most of the new features, I just upgraded to keep it compatible with my new iPhone, so you have to decide if it's worth it for you to update. For me it was fine.

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