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

Tim Brookes 26-09-2012

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 Bye Bye iChat: Getting Started With The New OS X Messages App [Mountain Lion] As the dust surrounding Apple’s OS X Mountain Lion release settles, it’s time to evaluate whether those killer features announced earlier this year are really that good. For me the most exciting addition when I... Read More 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 A Complete Beginner's Guide to macOS: Get Started in Just 1 Hour Our complete guide to macOS will show you everything you need to get started and comfortable with a brand new MacBook or iMac. Read More 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 So What's The Deal With The New MacBook Pro? Read More , 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.

OS X Mountain Lion Is Far From Perfect & Here's Why uptodate1

As part of the new laptop deal, Apple offered a free upgrade Bought A Mac Recently? Claim Your Free Upgrade To OS X Mountain Lion Read More 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 Paragon NTFS For Mac OS X Review One of the drawbacks when switching from Windows to Mac is the lack of native NTFS support. You can read from NTFS volumes with no problems, but writing is another story. Luckily software like Paragon... Read More 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).

OS X Mountain Lion Is Far From Perfect & Here's Why stuttering xn

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 [No Longer Available].

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 Tweak Mac OS X & Access Hidden Settings With Mountain Tweaks & Lion Tweaks [OS X] Apple’s walled-garden approach to computing has some pretty far-reaching implications for an everyday user of OS X. Apple provides, on the whole, a smooth and pleasant experience while using your computer, partly because the options... Read More do little to help the situation.

OS X Mountain Lion Is Far From Perfect & Here's Why ml 10 8 1 xn

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.


OS X Mountain Lion Is Far From Perfect & Here's Why stuttering2 xn

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.


OS X Mountain Lion Is Far From Perfect & Here's Why soundlag1 xn

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.

OS X Mountain Lion Is Far From Perfect & Here's Why soundlag2 xn

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.

OS X Mountain Lion Is Far From Perfect & Here's Why graphics 1082 xn

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.

OS X Mountain Lion Is Far From Perfect & Here's Why sound 1082 xn

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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  1. Sas
    January 21, 2013 at 9:12 pm

    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
      January 22, 2013 at 8:15 am

      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.

  2. Jeff
    December 20, 2012 at 1:32 am

    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
      December 20, 2012 at 1:37 am

      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
        December 24, 2012 at 5:40 am

        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.

  3. Mike
    October 10, 2012 at 11:15 pm

    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.

  4. Kavita
    October 5, 2012 at 10:53 pm

    can we get osx upgrade offers in rewards here...

    • Tim Brookes
      October 6, 2012 at 2:02 am

      High improbable, it's just not Apple's style, sorry!

  5. B.R.B
    October 5, 2012 at 1:29 am

    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.

  6. salim benhouhou
    October 2, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    i have an appeal towards mac os . i will try it soon .

    • Tim Brookes
      October 2, 2012 at 11:51 pm

      It's a fantastic operating system that, in my experience, beats Windows in terms of workflow and stability while being compatible with just about everything you could ever really need (unlike Linux, I guess). Not to mention you can bootcamp for Windows apps and games, or run Windows 8 off a USB drive once it comes out which completely removes the need for a separate Windows partition (I'm quite excited about this, despite really not liking the look of Windows 8).

      There's also virtualbox, but I've not had great experiences with it and find it tends to crash rather a lot.

  7. TC
    September 30, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    You buried the lede. "Don't forget to submit feedback to Apple" should be right up front, because complaining on Apple Support Communities has zero impact with Apple Software Engineering. It's not an official support channel, as its terms clearly communicate. Either use that feedback form, or, even better, contact AppleCare directly at 1-800-GO--APPLE or 1-899-800-APPL if you are an Education customer.
    There are Retina EFI and SMC updates, by the way.

    • TC
      September 30, 2012 at 2:55 pm

      My bad on double post. Website told me it wasn't posting the first one.

  8. TC
    September 30, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    It still amazes me how many people go to Apple Support Communities as if that will help make changes, despite the clear terms that they do no such thing. ASC is not an official support channel. If you want Apple Software Engineering to hear that a lot of people are experiencing an issue, you MUST go to AppleCare (1-800-GO-APPLE or, if you are an Education customer, 1-800-800-APPL) and report the issue; they and Developer Technical Support are the only groups that report findings to Engineering. Until you do that, complain all you want on websites, or in ASC, but don't think you're having an impact on how quickly issues get fixed.
    You've run the Retina EFI Update and Retina SMC Update?

    • Tim Brookes
      October 2, 2012 at 11:47 pm

      Yes I have run both updates, and updated to 10.8.2.

      I don't expect the Apple Support Communities to help - it's just a forum, after all. When I said that Apple were ignoring the problem I meant from the many, many people in those threads who have submitted feedback to the company while no announcement has been made about attempting to fix either issue. The lag is marginally better in 10.8.2 after the EFI update but really the main problems are still there, a lot of lag and inevitable sound stutter.

      The point is that there are a lot of people with the issue, and it would be nice for a company that makes quality hardware to address a software issue (or at least admit it). These issues appeared after upgrading to Mountain Lion, and so can be pretty much directly attributed to the upgrade. Hardware problems are highly unlikely, unless ML is breaking hardware which is even more unlikely.

      I've submitted feedback multiple times, as have others. That wasn't doing a whole lot of a good, so I thought I'd write an article documenting my experiences while using ASC to backup my claims with the many people who have posted there. Sometimes all you can do is raise awareness of an issue, and that's what I've done through feedback and this article. I don't see what's so wrong with that.

  9. Rick
    September 30, 2012 at 3:02 am

    I have a 2011 macbook pro running Lion and have been using sites like this to
    make my mind up whether to upgrade or not.
    as of Sept 29 2012, I think I'll continue to wait for a more stable release.
    Thanks for all the input everyone.

    • Tim Brookes
      October 2, 2012 at 11:53 pm

      I can't comment objectively because when I upgraded it proved to be a mistake while at the same time many others have had no such problems. It's an odd situation to be in, my girlfriend has a 2011 MacBook Air and she's left it on Lion because it suits her just fine and after seeing the problems I've had on my newer machine she doesn't want to take the chance. I'd probably revert to Lion if I could, but then again I absolutely love and Notification Centre. If you've bought Lion (i.e. it's in your "Purchases" on the Mac App Store) then reverting shouldn't be too much of an issue if you wanted to do so, but check on the procedure first.

  10. muotechguy
    September 28, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    Probably hardware related; my 2008 iMac is ticking along quite nicely.

  11. Max
    September 27, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    2010 MBP and works perfectly. But then a couple of years ago I have taken off the DVD and installed an SSD where I keep the system, with a link to the "user files" in the HD. So as habit I do a clean install of the system on the SSD every time there's a significantly new version, and I haven't had a problem since.

  12. Timo Reimerdes
    September 27, 2012 at 5:58 am

    For the pricetag on those machines I would expect a product 'as advertised', too.

    Stuttering animations are annoying, but sound... for professional sound studios that have their people working on macs this can actually be harmful.

  13. macwitty
    September 27, 2012 at 4:42 am

    There are reason why some still use Snow Leopard...

    • B.R.B
      October 5, 2012 at 1:36 am

      But you have to reformat your mac to downgrade to snow leopard again, so you loose everything on your computer. I tried every thing...but nothing seemed to work.

  14. Richard Borkovec
    September 27, 2012 at 1:58 am

    From all that I've been reading from different sites, blogs, and forums, Apple really seems to be dropping the ball lately. Almost like ever since they put out a beta product (Siri), they're more likely to throw out beta products for people to try out. Especially when you're dropping that crazy amount of money on a computer, you'd expect it to run beyond perfect.

    • Brian Burke
      September 27, 2012 at 10:26 pm

      You hit it right on the head. Ever since Siri they've been content to push out unfinished products. Anyone here heard about the iPhone 5s with light leaks from the edges? That's poor.

  15. bonioloff
    September 27, 2012 at 12:10 am

    All the comments makes me really want a MacBook Air :D
    I don't have any mac BTW , just iPhone 4S..

  16. Brian Burke
    September 26, 2012 at 9:49 pm

    My thoughts on ML:

    1. Battery life took a hit initially but 10.8.2 has greatly improved it for me.
    2. I have slight lags here and there, but the worst offender is System Preferences. Takes 5x as long to get into it since ML.
    3. Any discussion about ML should begin and end with how Messages SUCKS. Sometimes they show up, sometimes they don't. Sometimes they show up and DISAPPEAR! Still other times, it creates a SECOND THREAD for a person for no reason at all. THIS is my most hated thing about ML.

    • Tim Brookes
      September 27, 2012 at 12:20 am

      10.8.2 has improved my battery life too, though it took a serious hit (something like 3/4 hours down from 7/8 in Lion) and even now it's nowhere near where it was.

      System Preferences is pretty instantaneous on my system, and Messages - while it sometimes drops the odd message - I use extensively with little trouble at all. In fact, it's easily my favourite new feature in ML. Though I do agree it still needs work.

      The lag is what really bothers me though, that an the sound stuttering.

      • Sas
        January 21, 2013 at 9:21 pm

        Your lag is caused by your device not the software. According to my research new computer's Retina Display requires a huge amount of GPU power so some basic animations like entering Mission Control are performed my the CPU. I think there is a limit to what the the GPU can do so when that limit is reached the GPU hands some jobs over to the CPU. Also in your screen shot of a apple discussion one person says "if you change your stacks in the docks to folders ... the lag seems to be reduced". I think that is because the stacks also require GPU power, and removing them will reduce the GPU's load therefore leaving enough GPU power for the laggy animations.

        • Tim Brookes
          January 22, 2013 at 8:09 am

          Yeah I'm inclined to agree, though I must say in the few software updates (and I think one EFI update) since this article my laptop's performance with such things has improved substantially.

          Occasional lag still exists, and for that I blame the graphics being dumped on the CPU. I don't see why Apple chose to do it this way, the graphics chip in this thing is a beast and should easily be able to handle a few high-res icons and pretend leather. Still, it is a lot better now - even with stacks on, I get no lag between spaces any more.

  17. infmom
    September 26, 2012 at 9:30 pm

    I have a Mac Mini, purchased new in January 2012, and have experienced absolutely no problems with Mountain Lion.

    • mantral
      December 14, 2012 at 8:53 pm

      same here. new MacMini with ML and no problems at all.

  18. D. K.
    September 26, 2012 at 8:25 pm

    I bought a MacBook Air 2012 and got also the option for a free update and the UI is as smooth as the UI in OSX Lion.

  19. GTW
    September 26, 2012 at 8:24 pm

    Mid-2011 MBA on 10.8.2. Running flawlessly.
    I know...I know...."Apple is Doomed" and all of that.

    • Tim Brookes
      September 27, 2012 at 12:22 am

      I never said Apple is doomed, far from it in fact. The iPhone makes more money every year than Microsoft do in total, so they're in a very comfortable position. Which is why I personally didn't expect the problems that I and many others on their support boards have encountered.

      Glad to hear your system is running well though, my girlfriend has the same laptop but has held off updating as Lion suits her needs perfectly for the timebeing. Personally I love sending texts from my laptop, so I had to upgrade.

  20. Nick
    September 26, 2012 at 8:18 pm

    I have a 2011 MBA and Mountain Lion is running buttery smooth, love it!