When Should You Upgrade to Snow Leopard?

Posted on by Larry

[ This article was first published in the December, 2009, issue of
Larry’s Final Cut Pro Newsletter. Click here to subscribe. ]

Steve MacDonald (and many others) sent me the following question:

Concerning Snow Leopard, I was hoping you could shed some light on all the issues it has with Final Cut 7. The reason I ask is because it is getting next to impossible to buy a new Mac that doesn’t have this. I look forward to your reply. Thanks Larry!

Larry replies: Steve, there are four answers to this question. Pick the one that best fits your situation.

1. You need new gear and you want to run Final Cut Studio
2. You want to take advantage of new Snow Leopard features within FCP
3. You need to run 3rd party hardware or software with FCP
4. You want to upgrade your existing system to Snow Leopard


Apple releases new hardware that makes new software possible. For instance, until the iPhone was released, the best App in the world had no where to go.

Next, Apple releases the operating system to support the hardware. Sometimes, in the case of the iPhone, the operating system and the hardware are released at the same time. In other cases, such as Snow Leopard, the operating system is released separately.

Finally, with hardware and OS released and available, developers – both inside and outside of Apple – can begin the process of testing, updating, or creating great new software. But only AFTER the release. The definition of beta software is software that continues to change. By analogy, you can’t build a house on a foundation that keeps shifting. The same holds true with software.

Apple needs to release Snow Leopard. Its under-the-hood enhancements promise a wealth of opportunities for developers to build on for years to come. And that’s the key market, initially, for an OS – developers. The rest of us should wait a bit.

As editors, we rely on our gear and software to work reliably to enable us to meet our deadlines. When a new operating system is released, we don’t know what software works and what doesn’t work. Every third-party developer is scrambling to test their products for compatibility, make necessary updates, and release, if needed, a new version.

It won’t hurt anyone to hold off upgrading to a new OS for a while. It is generally a good idea to wait a few months while all the kinks are worked out of the system and third-party developers have all their plug-ins, drivers, interfaces, and hardware tested, updated, and working.


If you buy a new computer, today, it will have Snow Leopard installed on it. If you then install Final Cut Studio (3) on that computer, Apple tells us that it will run fine.

So, if all you need is a new computer to run Final Cut on, you can purchase the gear now and get to work. My wife recently bought a new MacBook laptop with Snow Leopard and she’s completely happy. However, to be truthful, she’s not using it to edit video.


Keep in mind that the current version of FCP does not support 64-bit memory addressing, which means it is limited to 4 GB of RAM. It does not support Grand Central Dispatch, which means that it does not take advantage of all the processors in your system. In fact, there are no new features that become available to you in Final Cut 7 when you upgrade to Snow Leopard.

So, if you want Final Cut to do something more than it can do in OS X 10.5, there’s no reason to upgrade, because the operation of FCP remains the same in both 10.5 and 10.6.

While Apple does not comment on unannounced products, I don’t expect FCP to support the new features in Snow Leopard until the next major release of Final Cut Studio. And I’m not expecting that for a whille.

On the other hand, if there are new features in Snow Leopard that you need, or other software that requires it, upgrading makes sense. Again, keep in mind that the motivation to upgrade needs to be something other than Final Cut Studio.


The answer to this question is trickier. Most plug-ins are now Snow Leopard compatible… but not all of them.

Until recently there have been issues with Panasonic P2 cards, DSLR compatibility, and Sony SxS cards used by EX3 cameras. (I’m currently in the middle of a shoot using Sony EX3 gear. For this reason, I’ve held off upgrading because I can not afford the risk that my EX3 cards won’t mount and capture.)

If you have an existing OS X 10.5 system, carefully check to be sure all your plug-ins either support, or have upgrades to support Snow Leopard. If they all work, go ahead and upgrade.


There’s no doubt upgrading an existing operating system is exciting. All kinds of new toys to explore.

At this point, Snow Leopard is stable and most plug-ins support it.

For me, it comes down to the issue of what do I get for the time I spend upgrading? For me, at the moment, I don’t get enough.

It takes time to upgrade my existing gear, which is currently working fine. It will take more time to be sure all my plug-ins, hardware, and other software tools are working or download and install all necessary updates.

All to get no new features in FCP.

To me, this doesn’t make sense. 2010 will be a year we see LOTS of new software that takes advantage of Snow Leopard. One of these days I’ll see an application I just can’t live without that will justify the time necessary for an upgrade.

But, for me, that tipping point has not yet appeared.


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