OS X Mavericks shows Apple loves clean designs, even if you can’t see them

October 22, 2013

(dan taylor)

Apple is expected to release the latest version of its desktop operating system, OS X Mavericks, at its iPad event in California today. The update, which will likely sell for around $20 as a download, is stuffed with new features. Among them? Several enhancements that will reduce the power consumption of your Mac.

Apple is known for being fanatical about stripping away as much stuff as possible from its hardware designs. Every year, its products get thinner, or they get made with fewer and fewer parts. But with the new features in Mavericks, Apple is making a big play for energy efficiency, showing that Apple's minimalist philosophy is also increasingly being applied under the hood.

App Nap App Nap is a little bit like what happens when you switch from one app to another on your iPhone — when you're focused on other tasks, your background apps become less active. Because they use fewer system resources, your device gets to save a little energy. Apple claims CPU efficiency gains of up to 23 percent. (Here's how you'll be able to turn it off if you want everything to be running at full speed.)

Compressed Memory When your background apps are inactive, another feature called Compressed Memory kicks in. It takes the oldest processes being stored in your RAM and crunches them down dynamically as you're working rather than transferring them to your hard disk. In theory, this should save a bit of time and energy since it's faster to read and write from RAM than a magnetic hard drive — though it's unclear whether computers with solid-state drives will see the benefits of this technology since they're already so much faster than traditional hard drives.

Timer Coalescing This is just a fancy name for doing more things at once. Timer Coalescing bundles certain activities into batches, which means there are going to be some periods when your computer isn't working as hard. During those times, the CPU enters a low-power mode that, according to Apple, makes it 72 percent more efficient when the computer is on battery power.

Apple has made efficiency a priority before; it's how the iPad and the MacBook Air achieved such terrific reputations for battery life. But in those cases the company mostly bragged about how long you could spend detached from power, rather than explaining the engineering that made it possible. Apple is very clearly proud of its energy solutions in OS X Mavericks — as it should be. Being able to tailor the software precisely to the hardware is something that very few tech companies can do, and the fact that Apple is leveraging that advantage to improve energy efficiency is a sign it knows cleanliness and simplicity aren't just about surface looks.

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post.
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