Musings on OS X stability and memory management

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Stability and efficient memory management are among the qualities I value most highly in an operating system. I hate rebooting, especially if it’s forced on me by kernel panics or other freezeups. I usually have somewhere between one and two dozen applications open, including several browsers that may have a dozen or more tabs loaded up, so it takes me quite a while to restore the workflow status quo even after the system reboot is executed.

Happily, OS X has been a pretty stable OS from the get-go, notwithstanding a few builds along the way that were prone to kernel panics on my hardware, mainly in early versions (ie: pre-Tiger). The iOS has been even more exemplary, thanks in part to Apple’s mixed-blessing “walled garden” policies. I can’t recall ever having a system lockup on my iPad 2 over the past 15 months of intensive use, and application crashes are also a rarity.

My principal complaint with OSX is that—doubtlessly aggravated by my multitasking and many open apps proclivities—the memory heap tends to get clogged up and poky after only a few days of uptime, particularly, I’ve noticed, on my Core 2 Duo MacBook, which has 4GB Of RAM. After three or four days, things begin to slow down and the unwelcome spinning beach all starts showing up all too frequently. Another RAM upgrade to 6 or 8GB would probably help, but the computer is nearly halfway through its fourth year of (virtually flawless) service, so I’m more inclined to budget for a system upgrade. In the meantime it’s those tedious reboots every few days.

Which makes me appreciate even more the stability of my 12 year old G4 upgraded Pismo PowerBook running OS X 10.4.11 Tiger. Demonstrating what I mean, here’s a screenshot of a new Tex Edit Plus document on the weekend.

Once in the past I actually saw “Untitled Document 300″ in Tex Edit Plus—testimony to the rock-solidness of that great text editor. But under my current workflow mode, “Untitled 200″ is a high water mark in recent years.

I can’t recall exactly when I last rebooted the Pismo, but I’m pretty sue it was over a month ago. It gets some four to five hours of use daily, so that’s at least 150 hours without a restart. Not too shabby for a dozen year old laptop that gets pushed beyond its designed capabilities regularly. A salute to OS X Tiger as well, which is my favorite version of OS X so far within the context of respective eras.

Now, that said, the old Pismo really could use a restart. It’s been noticeably sluggish over the past week or so, but not quite bad enough to convince me to bite the proverbial bullet and reboot the machine. Certainly not the beachball-a-thon that afflicts the MacBook after a week or so of uptime.

On the other hand, it intrigues me how long it might go while still delivering tolerable performance. It’s the Web browsers that bog down the most, although Camino in particular has been holding up surprisingly well. I had been planning to restart on the weekend, but the imminent appearance of Tex Edit Plus “Untitled 200″ (without “cheating” by just opening a bunch of new documents) persuaded me to hold off.

It’s already Tuesday. Maybe next weekend.

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