Snow Leopard and Multiple Processors

Posted on by Larry

[ This article was first published in the June, 2008, issue of
Larry’s Final Cut Pro Newsletter. Click here to subscribe. ]

Brian Seegmiller writes:

I have a quad 2.0 GHz Intel mac. I wanted to see if all the processors are being used when I render a project. When I looked at the activity monitor it seemed they were not all being used as I thought they would. I have always wondered why this was when rendering in FCP 5. Is there a way to use more of the processors when rendering.

Larry replies: Brian, you have discovered one of the dirty little secrets of OS X: more processors do not mean faster speed from the same application.

The reason is that almost all software does not know how to divvy up data and computation instructions to take advantage of more than about two processors. Applications have to be specifically re-written to support multiple processors, which, for example, Compressor 3 has. Multiple processors are the greatest help when running multiple applications at the same time.

This is what the recent announcement of the next version of OS X seeks to fix. In Snow Leopard (or version 10.6), Apple will be adding operating system support to make it easier for applications to access multiple processor cores efficiently.

However, there’s a down-side to this as well. According to initial reports, Snow Leopard will only support Intel/Mac computers. This is because to make the operating system smaller and faster, it is reported that Snow Leopard will not support programming libraries (called “Carbon” libraries) which are used by older systems and software. This is truly a two-edged sword. Systems that run 10.6 should be much, much faster. But, older computers will not be supported. Older applications that rely on those Carbon libraries, like Final Cut Pro and many others, will need to be massively rewritten to support the new operating system.

Here I get to take out my crystal ball. No one has told me anything. I did not attend the developers conference; but, IF all this is true, that tells me that we will not see any significant releases of Final Cut this year. Instead, Apple is probably concentrating all its development efforts on getting Final Cut Pro to work in the new operating system environment.

Snow Leopard requires Apple to rewrite FCP in a big way – this is just as major an effort as getting Final Cut to work on Intel/Mac’s in the first place; probably bigger. This kind of major rewrite in a program’s life comes along only rarely. With luck, Apple will use it for more than just achieving compatibility.

It is my hope that Apple will use this opportunity to fix a lot of the long-standing bugs and weirdness in the program, as well as finally turn some attention to improving the interface.

A Snow Leopard release of Final Cut could be AMAZING – with opportunities for Apple to improve it’s speed, reliability, and interface. Apple says the new version of the OS will be out in “about a year.”

I can’t wait.


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