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. 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).
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.
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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