Last-minute user questions about Snow Leopard, part 1

With Snow Leopard's release just around the corner (and some pre-ordered copies being on-track to ship soon if not already), many people are coming forth with last-minute questions about the OS, its install process, requirements, and support for third-

Written by Topher Kessler

With Snow Leopard's release just around the corner (and some pre-ordered copies being on-track to ship soon if not already), many people are coming forth with last-minute questions about the OS, its install process, requirements, and support for third-party devices. In the next couple of days I will post some of these to help people think about what might be needed before upgrading.

Will my scanner/printer/other device work with Snow Leopard?

Snow Leopard contains many drivers for third-party devices such as printers and scanners; however, full support for these devices is up to the manufacturers, so be sure to check with them before updating to see if they have tested their devices with developer builds of Snow Leopard. You may need to install a new driver if you need to run Snow Leopard in 64-bit mode.

For scanners, the program "VueScan" will more than likely enable any scanner in Snow Leopard, and the developers have a build that will run in 10.6. For printers, Apple's support of Gutenprint and CUPS should allow for most printers to at least function.

Do I need to install Leopard before reinstalling Snow Leopard?

For people who run Leopard, Apple has provided a $29 "upgrade" or a $9.95 "up-to-date" option for installing Snow Leopard. Many people have wondered if these disks will provide the option for a full installation, or whether or not they require a Leopard installation to be present before they will install Snow Leopard.

In the past Apple has provided upgrade DVDs with new computers and order options for upgrade DVDs for qualifying computer systems, just like they're doing now with Snow Leopard. These upgrades have required an existing installation of the previous operating system, so there is nothing to suggest Apple will change this strategy now.

Will there be a standalone version of Snow Leopard?

Currently there is no standalone version of Snow Leopard, but that does not mean Apple will not release one in the future. Apple clearly intends to use Snow Leopard to distribute iWork and iLife in the Box Set, so for now there are only the upgrade versions and the box set available.

Coupled with the previous questions about upgrade DVDs, many people have wondered whether Tiger users can just use the $29 Snow Leopard upgrade to install the new operating system. Our position on this is: do not count on it. If you are wondering about this and wish to try, go ahead and purchase the $29 upgrade if you can, and if it does not work then you can legitimately purchase a discounted version of Leopard to install and then upgrade to Snow Leopard with the previously purchased $29 upgrade DVD.

Will my graphics processor support OpenCL and H.264?

People with relatively new graphics processors have wondered if their system will support OpenCL or H.264. For now, according to the Snow Leopard tech specs page Apple has the following graphics chips supported for OpenCL:

Nvidia GeForce 9400M, GeForce 9600M GT, GeForce 8600M GT, GeForce GT 120, GeForce GT 130, GeForce GTX 285, GeForce 8800 GT, GeForce 8800 GS, Quadro FX 4800, Quadro FX5600, ATI Radeon 4850, Radeon 4870

In addition, only the GeForce 9400M is supported for H.264 acceleration, which suggests they are using the onboard graphics processor only for this feature.

While these options may seem limited, more than likely these features are driver-specific, and the Apple/Nvidia/ATI driver development teams may just need to work on the drivers for older cards to get them running with these new technologies. The Radeon 2000, 3000, and 4000 series cards all support H.264 decoding in hardware, so there theoretically should be no reason why this cannot be enabled for the cards.

Time will tell, but for now Apple has limited these technologies to these graphics cards. Meanwhile, read our article on Snow Leopard graphics and processor requirements for more information and discussion about this.

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Topher has been an avid Mac user for the past 10-15 years, and has been a contributing author to MacFixIt for just over a year now. One of his diehard passions has been troubleshooting Mac problems and making the best use of Macs and Apple hardware both for family and friends, as well as in the workplace. He and the newly formed MacFixIt team are hoping to bring enhanced and more personable content to our readers, and keep the MacFixIt community going here at CNET. If you have questions or comments for Topher or the other MacFixIt editors, feel free to contact us at http://www.macfixit.com/contact

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