Should You Upgrade To Lion Or Stick With Snow Leopard?

There’s a lot to like about both of Apple’s most recent operating systems: Snow Leopard is stable, fast and mature enough to ensure that any significant bugs are probably fixed by now, while Lion brings new trackpad gestures, additional eye candy, new ways of managing and launching apps, along with a slick iOS-influenced user interface.

If you have a recent model Mac and don’t rely on Snow Leopard’s Rosetta support, it’s probably going to be relatively easy to make up your mind to upgrade or not. However, if your Mac is older, this is a more complex question. Let’s explore it further…

Some Background

As I suspect is the case with many Mac.AppStorm readers, I’ve long been an early adopter when it comes to OS X. I’ve rushed out to get my hands on each iteration of Apple’s Mac operating system since Tiger and was dual-booting my MacBook Pro with OS X Lion from the early developers builds onwards.

To be frank, I was pretty much blown away with the early builds and right away decided that Lion may well be a game-changer. I still feel the same way but have a couple of older Intel Macs which I have to decide whether to upgrade or not, as they currently do not make the grade.

Here’s some points to consider both in favor of staying on Snow Leopard and upgrading to Lion.

Reasons To Stay On Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard still roars on middle-aged Macs

Snow Leopard still roars on middle-aged Macs


If your Mac doesn’t have the new style multitouch trackpad, you will need to purchase either Apple’s Magic Trackpad or Magic Mouse in order to make full use of Lion’s great gestures. This is not such a big deal for desktop users but more so for notebook owners.


Airdrop may not be compatible with your Mac. To check if it is, take a look at the system requirements for Airdrop listed here.


Lion does not support Rosetta, so PowerPC applications are now unusable. This may not be a big deal to you, but it’s a deal breaker to some and you may even be surprised to find that you’re running such software without realizing it.

A simple way to check if you’re running any PowerPC apps is to navigate to your System Profiler and then look under ‘Software’. Here you should see a list of applications and if you choose to sort by ‘Kind’, it should be easy to spot any applications which are based on PowerPC architecture. A visit to the relevant developer’s website will usually be enough to uncover whether there is an updated version in the works.


Lion’s minimum requirements freezes out all owners of the original 32bit Core Duo (not Core 2 Duo) Macs and Apple specifies that you need a minimum of 2GB RAM to run the OS. Though 2GB RAM is fine for normal daily computer use, some may find their Mac lagging when doing anything intensive with this baseline amount.

Stability and Compatibility

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, Snow Leopard is now mature and stable, so your Mac should be able to run it with very few bugs or issues, providing you are fully updated. In addition, there’s a lot of software out there that’s already working on Snow Leopard, while some developers still have to catch up to Lion.

Upgrade To Lion

Lion's great new UI can help increase your productivity on smaller screens

Lion's great new UI can help increase your productivity on smaller screens

Upgrades Are Relatively Inexpensive

If you’re willing to spend just a small amount of money on maxing out your RAM, your Mac will offer excellent performance for some time to come. Further, if you’re willing to install an SSD drive in there, it’ll really fly!

Your Mac Will Probably Be Supported For Some Time

Though Apple have shown themselves to be not at all shy about suddenly dropping support for older computers, Intel Core 2 Duo processors were the standard engine powering for most new Macs until very recently so it’s reasonable to assume that they will be supported for a while yet.

The ‘Magic’ Of Lion

The Lion experience is really quite something to behold on a Mac running the required specifications and multitouch interface in place, it’s an exciting feeling to be on the cutting edge of Apple’s innovation.

So Much More Yet To Come

Though in the past operating system upgrades have resulted in long periods of broken software, it seems that developers have really gotten on board with Lion and many applications are already updated to support it, with cool new features like Versions being utilized. In the coming months we are likely to see a whole new level of innovation, making full use of Lion’s new abilities.

250 New Features

Finally, there are those 250 new features, many of which you may be familiar with to a lesser or greater degree.

Further Reading

If you are thinking of making some upgrades to your Mac, our editor Joshua Johnson wrote two great guides last year which are still relevant and should provide some more food for thought. The RAM guide is here, while you should click here for the hard drive article.

In addition, here’s a few links to some other great Mac.AppStorm articles on OS X Lion, which also contain valuable insights and experiences from our readers in the comments:

Should You Stay Or Should You Go?

Admittedly I have given no definite answers to this question, but it’s such a personal choice that there’s no hard and fast rule to recommend which path you should take. Ask yourself if you’re happy to continue using your computer for the near future and if you’d like to check out Lion’s new features. If the answer is no to either, perhaps you can stay a while longer on Snow Leopard.

Personally, I’ve done both. My new Mac has been upgraded to Lion and will remain so, while I don’t want to spend even a small amount of money upgrading my older computers, since they work so well with Snow Leopard already.