OS X Mountain Lion Is Far From Perfect & Here’s Why

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I’ve held off writing this article for a few weeks now, in the hope that Apple themselves would step forward and acknowledge that their latest release, OS X 10.8 “Mountain Lion”, has some serious problems that need to be sorted out. Unfortunately the company hasn’t said a word, ignoring hundreds of reports of problems on their own Support Communities website.

After using Mountain Lion for a few months now, I can confirm that new features like Messages and Notification Centre are great additions to the operating system. There are lots of other features you can read about at our OS X Mountain Lion guide too. Unfortunately, I can also confirm that there are some serious problems related to the UI, general user experience and audio that many have tried to circumvent, isolate and fix with varying degrees of success.

If you too have noticed a thorn in the paw of your Mountain Lion there’s a chance to add your own feedback at the end of the article.

Not On My Mac

I have the base model Retina MacBook Pro, which I purchased pretty much as soon as it came out, having waited for the new model to upgrade. I’d limped on with a borrowed laptop for some time so the second Apple announced their new models it was time for me to part with AU$2,500, but gain a mobile powerhouse with a display to die for. When I received the machine it was running Lion, as Mountain Lion had not been released at that stage. Under Lion, my first real Mac OS X experience was a dream.

As part of the new laptop deal, Apple offered a free upgrade to the newest member of their feline family, OS X Mountain Lion, upon release. I held off at first, instead needing to find a method of writing to NTFS in order to backup my data just in case something went wrong. Once this was done, I entered my code, waited a few hours then installed the upgrade. Everything went smoothly, and before I knew it my machine had restarted and was awaiting my login.

Immediately after logging in I noticed problems. The first was a rather disappointing amount of lag and stutter in the UI. This was most noticeable when switching between desktops using three-finger-swipe, with the judder noticeably more annoying on desktops with a few apps open. Straight away I started to look for the problem, testing other parts of the OS as I went. The second related issue I noticed was another instance of serious UI lag – when entering Mission Control (F3 or three-finger-swipe upwards).

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As opposed to the silky smooth animations seen in Lion, the process occasionally slowed to single figure frames. Noticeable jerks, maybe 5 frames of animation at most, occur when Mission Control has not been used for a while. Entering and exiting Mission Control once the animation has been “cached” so-to-speak, and everything returns to normal – until you access it again in half an hour.

Launchpad was also particularly jerky, with serious slowdown occurring on the initial fade-in and swiping between pages of apps.

Don’t Be A Jerk

Now there are probably a few of you thinking “so what, deal with it – it’s just a jerky animation” and to a point I agree, but the fact that this problem appeared between versions left me wondering why Apple had not noticed it in the first place. And so, I turned to Apple’s Support Communities for more updates on the issue and found this thread.

It turns out there are a lot of Retina MacBook Pro owners experiencing this problem, despite their machines being fine under OS X Lion. Tweaks like disabling the new 3D dock do little to help the situation.

Disappointingly the first update 10.8.1 did little to help fix the issue, with significant lag still noticeable under general use and in applications like Safari and Mail. There are even a few non-Retina Mountain Lion owners in that thread complaining of similar issues, and just for confirmation I’ve since used Retina models in various stores running Lion which were buttery smooth (even after opening as many applications as I could) – leaving me convinced this problem is limited to 10.8. It’s not hardware, as many Apple support personnel first suggest, and in my experience resetting your PRAM and clearing caches does little to help.

The community has been deep in speculation over what the issue related to graphical lag could be, with some suggesting that the dedicated or integrated graphics chip drivers are to blame, others claiming Mountain Lion runs a lot hotter than Lion due to tuned-down fans to help voice dictation pick up sound more clearly and some interesting theories that certain animations are drawn by the CPU and not the GPU.

I’ve personally found that hiding the dock really speeds up desktop switching (though jerks still occur), as does changing Stacks to folders if you prefer having your dock showing at all times. The problems with Mission Control and Launchpad, for me and a lot of other users, seem to persist regardless of dock visibility.

It Gets Worse

So a jerky UI is annoying, and detracts from the AU$2,500 laptop experience a fair amount, but the other problem that owners of Macs across the board have been experiencing relates to a sound issue, in particular a stuttering and jerking. Let’s cast our minds back to when Apple successfully marketed the Mac to professionals looking to create music, video and other media praising its innate ability to “just work” with trademark rock-solid stability. Sure, the stability is still there, but stuttering sound is the last thing I wanted to hear from my high end laptop. What’s more, this is happening even for those with expensive external sound cards.

The problem occurs during video playback on the web, when listening to MP3 files in VLC and iTunes and in my favourite music application, Spotify. “Sporadic” is a term I would use to describe it, with the issue occurring (for me) some time after startup. A reboot does tend to fix it temporarily, but it was never a problem in Lion after more than a week of uptime. Others aren’t so lucky, claiming that their sound lags within minutes of booting up from a cold start. It is also rather shocking then that Apple have not acknowledged or addressed this issue either.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Sm9fkx-hTk

And so, once again, Apple Support Communities here I come. In no time I found a thread that now has more than 15,000 views and around 300 replies from Mac owners across the spectrum with this issue. While many are simply eager for a fix, others are screaming bloody murder and adamant that they will never purchase another Mac again.

I’m not so easily put off, and instead just want the company to acknowledge that there is an issue and that a fix will arrive. As of this very moment I am writing this article, 10.8.2 has just been released with little in the way of improvements in either of these departments – the UI lag and sound stutter persist, though battery life has apparently improved.

There are limited other problems that users are encountering, which does muster the question – why was Mountain Lion released with so many problems? Why have two OS updates (and an EFI update to the Retina model) been released without Apple targeting let alone acknowledging the problems? Poor battery life, stuttering in sound and UI lag are not trademarks of an Apple computer. These are high-end products, and with the recent Retina image retention debacle, it seems all is not quite as it once was in Cupertino.

If you are experiencing these issues then don’t forget to submit feedback to Apple if you are eager for a fix.

What are your experiences with Mountain Lion? Do you have a Retina MacBook pro? Is it laggy? How is the sound on your iMac or MacBook Air? Add your thoughts below this post.

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Comments (35)
  • Sas

    This is why I do not want a MacBook Pro with retina display. according to my research this is the only computer with the problem. My MBP without retina display works perfectly fine with mountain lion and has no UI lag AT ALL. Why would I want a retina display? I’m not a creative design professional or something. And I can run iPhoto, iMovie, Garageband, Microsoft word, Powerpoint and excel together with no lag.

    • Tim Brookes

      Well as I replied above it’s a lot better now.

      And I think once you’ve spent any length of time with the RMBP you’ll find it very hard to go back to the standard MacBook (or any laptop for that matter). The screen just looks so good that it’s worth the odd stutter here and there, and while it’s a first-gen device and the whole buyer beware principle still exists for such things, it’s actually a bloody good debut for the technology. If you stare at a screen for as long as I do, you really appreciate it (or rather, when you go back to an older lower-DPI screen you start pining for the Retina again).

      When the MacBook Air gets a Retina update it will probably re-take the throne as the best laptop out there, at least for people who don’t need the graphical grunt or processing power found in the Pro. Till then this thing still owns everything on the market, at least in my book anyway.

  • Jeff

    I bought a new Mac mini to replace my ancient one that was running Tiger and I’ve had nothing but trouble with ML. I haven’t seen the stuttering issue that many people here are discussing, but I’ve seen a whole lot of other problems. For starters, Migration Assistant doesn’t work and I had to manually transfer my files. I couldn’t figure out how to transfer my Mail files, so I ended up calling Apple Care. They used Remote Desktop to log in to show me what to do but I still can’t see my saved mail. The file structure between 10.4 and 10.8 are different. Finder icons are all gray but there is a little fix for that. Mail icons are also gray and there is no fix for that. And I can’t get Mail to send. Receive? Sure. Send? Nope. It is set up exactly like Tiger is and it doesn’t work. I’ll probably have to rebuild all of my rules, too. I should bill Apple for my time. I’ll be calling Apple Care again tomorrow. Wire Tap Studio can’t be registered – the OS doesn’t recognize the administrative password because WTS is not a MacApp program. Don’t get me started on MacApp – sometimes my password works there, other times it doesn’t. Apple has a real racket going. I’d never recommend upgrading to ML. I wish I hadn’t bought the machine – I should have purchased a Linux box.

    • Tim Brookes

      Hmmm it sounds like a lot of your problems are due to the 4 or so versions of OS X you missed in the interim. I know a lot of changes came in with Snow Leopard, and even Lion to a degree, with ML being a step-up from Lion with a few nice extra features. My laptop has definitely settled down now, I very very rarely get any stuttering (sound) any more but the occasional on-screen lag with an app like Contacts (try maximizing it, I get about 3fps on the animation) whereas Launchpad is silky smooth and Mission Control a lot better than it was.

      Also do you mean the Mac App Store? Did you disable GateKeeper? Literally the first thing I did when I upgraded to ML. You can do it from System Prefs > Security & Privacy > General tab > Allow applications downloaded from: Anywhere. You will need to click the padlock and enter your admin password to make changes.

      Hope this helps!

    • Jeff

      Yes, many of my problems stem from the 3 versions of the OS that I missed. I did disable Gatekeeper after experiencing way too many problems trying to download software – updates of programs that aren’t in the App Store, for example. But I’ve also created 3 AppleIDs so far because they stop working after a few days. I wonder how long this newest one will work? The problem with Mail was because the page for the incoming mail server does not specify that “user name” is the e-mail address of the account in question. That was maddening, because my ISP (I have my own domain) kept on saying it was because of SMTP authentication and port selection. Well, this iteration of Apple Mail defaults to 25, 465, or 587 and that is nowhere explained. That problem is fixed now, too. Apple Care helped me with the saved mail issue – there is an import mailbox feature of Mail that I didn’t know about. I was making a mountain out of a mole hill, thinking that I had to move the files from the USB stick to a folder in /Library//Mail. Now, if Migration Assistant had worked …. I still have plenty of things to learn about this new OS. Would I recommend that people skip versions of the OS? Well, it depends on how much head-banging frustration you are able to tolerate while you climb the often steep learning curve of the new OS. Me? I’m about out of blood.

  • Mike

    I have got a Macbook Pro Retina a few weeks ago, with Mountain Lion on it. I had many problems with it, and I have a 2010 Macbook Pro with Snow Leopard to compare it with. Most worrying is that system can hang so that you need to forcefully shut it down with the power button. Or it might not wake up. Safari can hang when you zoom a page. These are the biggest issues that worry me. But keyboard layout problem is also incredibly annoying — it won’t stay the way you set it in an application, if you switch to another application (where you used a different layout) and back. It’s not how it works in Windows, and it’s plain stupid and incredibly annoying when you’re trying to work. I submitted feedback to Apple, but got no reply. Another problems are mostly with new features – back/forward swipe sometimes doesn’t work, zoom swipe doesn’t work in Mail and works differently in Safari, Mail sometimes doesn’t show content of messages when “Organize by Conversation” is enabled, iTunes playback skips when using its EQ, menu bar text rendering is not anti-aliased (too thin to be comfortably readable) when menu is translucent, spell checker uses US English no matter how you want it to be UK English… So, Mountain Lion shows just how much Steve Jobs meant to Apple, and how soon things get worse as he’s gone.

  • Kavita

    can we get osx upgrade offers in rewards here…

  • B.R.B

    I first purchased An iMac about 12 years ago (And 3 more since) and had no operating issues or problems……..ENTER LION……..I purchased the lion operating system as soon as it came on the market. There were a few minor issues that were soon taken care of with some timely updates. I then purchased OS x Lion Server (One month before the release of OS x Lion Server) and was never able to get it to work properly, but I did have some success with it…..NOW COMES MOUNTAIN LION……As soon as Mountain Lion became available I downloaded it. I have regretted it ever since. Besides the inherent problems withOS x Mountain Lion I discovered that OS x Lion Server wouldn’t operate in Mountain Lion, so like an idiotic fool I purchased OS x Mountain Lion Server at the additional cost and I have never been able to get it to work at al!!!!!!!! When I contacted Apple Support, I was told that since the warranty on my computer was expired, I would have to pay for an extended warranty plan (at over $150.00 american) for the hardware before I could get any software support. This indicates to me that they have no confidence in their product, so why should I? Be warned both about OS x Mountain Lion and OS x Mountain Lion Server!!! If you haven’t yet got them…avoid them. I am tempted to get rid of the macs altogether. Why pay top end prices and get Crap. If I wanted these kinds of problems I would have saved a fortune and bought PC’s.

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Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.