Snow Leopard: Great news for Windows 7, too

The new OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard comes with Boot Camp 3.0, a collection of software drivers that make Windows run much better on Mac platform than with Boot Camp 2.1.

Dong Ngo SF Labs Manager, Editor / Reviews
CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews 3D printers, networking/storage devices, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.
Dong Ngo
4 min read
OS X 10.6 includes Boot Camp 3.0, a new collection of software drivers that make Windows run much better on Mac hardware. Screenshot by Dong Ngo/CNET

Every time I see the "I'm a Mac/I'm a PC" ads on TV, I can't help but wonder, "Why not both?" And it has never been a better time for that.

Overall, personally, I found that while the new Mac OS doesn't warrant a "wow," it's still definitely worth the $29 upgrade price. Snow Leopard offers an even more streamlined Mac experience than Leopard and noticeably faster interface responsiveness. The application performance, however, is slightly slower than it is with Leopard, at least on the MacBook Pro we used as our test machine. As the OS is now a pure 64-bit operating system, expect the application performance to improve over Leopard as you add RAM or use it with a high-end desktop.

Mac users can read more about Snow Leopard in my colleague Jason Parker's full review. On the other hand, for Windows users, especially Windows 7, the release of Snow Leopard is straight-on great news.

Boot Camp 3.0 enables Windows to read files from OS X's partition. Screenshot by Dong Ngo/CNET

I recently blogged about running Windows 7 on a 15-inch Unibody Macbook Pro, which required some tweaking with Boot Camp 2.1. Snow Leopard comes with Boot Camp 3.0, which makes installing and running Windows on a laptop a much more pleasant experience.

First of all, the new Boot Camp includes all the drivers necessary to run both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows 7 smoothly on the Mac hardware.

(Note that you only need to run the Boot Camp Assistant, BCA, if you want to dual-boot OS X and Windows on the same machine. The utility will then create a new partition for the installation of Windows. In this case, make sure you run the BCA first when the computer boots up to avoid file errors. If you want to run just Windows and skip OS X altogether, you can boot from the Windows 7 install DVD and start the installation the way you would install the OS on any PC from scratch.)

After the installation is done, Boot Camp 3.0 can be installed from the Snow Leopard DVD. Then, without further ado, you got yourself a great Windows computer.

The second really nice thing about Boot Camp 3.0 is the fact that it includes a software driver to make Windows able to read the Mac partition (somewhat like MacDrive minus the ability to write). This means that when you dual-boot OS X and Windows, Windows now can browse and read files that reside on OS X's partition without any extra software install.

The last major improvement of Boot Camp 3.0 that I am very happy about is the battery life. Windows 7 now has much improved battery life compared with what it had with Boot Camp 2.1. I haven't tried Windows Vista or Windows XP, but Windows 7 now has about the same battery life as Snow Leopard.

Other little things have also been improved. The double-tab right-click works right away and the multitouch pad is now less sensitive (though still a little too sensitive). With Boot Camp 2.1, it was so sensitive you just couldn't use the "tab to click" feature because of the extremely high risk of making accidental clicks. The sound and video chat are also much more stable now than before.

Apart from Boot Camp 3.0, Snow Leopard comes with tools that make a PC become part of a MacBook Air. Screenshot by Dong Ngo/CNET

If you want to nitpick, there are two little odd things Windows users will find on Mac hardware. First, the MacBook's keyboard doesn't have two separate "Backspace" and "Delete" keys, which come in handy when you want to remove text. Second, the Boot Camp control panel doesn't include an option to change the sensitivity of the multitouch pad and there's no separate "tab to click" options for the right and left clicks, either.

Other than Boot Camp 3.0, Snow Leopard comes with two other tools that make a Windows computer work better with a MacBook Air. The first is called Remote Install Mac OS X and it allows for installing the new OS remotely onto a MacBook Air. The other is the DVD or CD sharing that allows the MacBook Air, which doesn't come with an optical drive, to use the PC's DVD or CD drive as one of its own.

Overall, I have to say Boot Camp 3.0 takes the Windows experience to a new high on Mac hardware. To me, this is about as exciting as the release of Windows 7 itself.

So there you go, Windows fanboys, don't say Apple never does anything for you. And Apple fanboys: the truth is that inside every new Mac there's a PC just waiting to jump out.

CNET Editors' note: This story has been edited since it originally appeared.