How-To: Upgrade To Snow Leopard — The Right Way



A lot of people will be upgrading to Snow Leopard this weekend. There’s the right way to do it, and there’s the wrong way.

Here’s how to do it right.

When it comes to upgrading to Snow Leopard, you’ve basically got two options: upgrade Leopard or wipe the old OS and start fresh.

Upgrade: This is the easiest option — simply upgrade. Install Snow Leopard right on top of your existing Leopard install. Apple recommends this, and in most cases it’ll be an easy, painless upgrade. Of course ‘painless’ is a relative term in Cupertino, and if our experiences upgrading from Tiger to Leopard are any indication, this option leaves us a bit wary. Not to mention, over time our computers become crud-magnets; collecting up all order of detritus.

Our recommendation:

Start From Scratch: Here’s what you should do: wipe your drive and start from scratch. That sounds radical, we know, but we’re such big fans of this option that we actually do this every six-months, wether or not there is an OS upgrade to be performed. You’ll be amazed how snappy your ‘old’ Mac is when it’s starting on a pristine new disk.


  • Singular – a shareware program and automator action for finding duplicate files.
  • Omni Disk Sweepernow freeware from our friends at OmniGroup, this will help us clean slim down our drives
  • Carbon Copy Cloner — a freeware/shareware app that makes a bit-for-bit copy of your hard dive. Usually used for making backups.
  • Extra hard drive or external hard drive (preferably Firewire) – Firewire is faster, and only Firewire drives are bootable, so get a Firewire drive if you want to make sure you can roll back to Leopard if anything goes wrong (or mission-critical software is incompatible with Snow Leopard). Otherwise, you can use a USB2 external drive.

The recipe:

Step 1 – Put your hard drive on a diet

More than saving space, you will ultimately save time during the upgrade process if you’ve removed most of the useless garbage from your drive first.


Start with Singular, drag your most likely suspect folders (Documents, Photos, Movies, Music) to its main window and start killing your duplicates

After you’ve cleaned up all your redundant files, now it’s time to ‘sweep’ your disk. Our hard drives always seem to be shrinking, and it’s often hard to tell where most of that space goes. Fortunately, our friends at Omni Group have a utility just for that.


Give it a whirl, and you may be just as surprised as we were to learn that your ‘Downloads’ directory is taking up half your hard drive.

Step 2. Create a Reliable backup

Update: Reader Ben G, advises us (and we’ve confirmed) that Intel Macs can indeed boot from USB 2 now.

If your Mac supports it, we recommend a Firewire external drive. Not only is the sustained transfer rate of Firewire MUCH faster than USB, but it’s the only kind of external drive that your Mac can boot from.

To create a bootable backup of your main drive there is only one choice, Carbon Copy Cloner, and it’s push one button simple. Just remember to make your backup drive bootable, you will have to completely wipe your destination drive.


Now, depending on the size of your hard drive, you’ve got a chance to watch either the standard, or extended version of Lord of the Rings.

Once CCC is done, reboot your Mac with your external drive still connected, holding down the option key to boot from the backup drive. Make sure everything boots up, poke around a bit, make sure everything seems to be working.

Pop the installer in, power down your Macintosh and unplug your backup drive, it would be a cryin’ shame if you accidentally installed over your backup.

Step 3. Install Snow Leopard

SnowLeo Install SS

Very straight forward, only remember you’ll need to wipe your hard drive first. This is easily accomplished from the installer, just select the erase and install option (remember to breathe, it’s okay, you booted from your backup right?), and follow the remaining onscreen prompts.

Time to watch that episode of House you tivo’d.

Step 4. Migrate settings

On booting Snow Leopard, your Mac will boot up just like it did when you first took it home from the Apple Store –heck that feeling alone is worth doing this every 6 months.

You’ll be presented with an option to migrate files and settings, select “Other Mac” and plug your external drive back in. Now if you select the default option of copying everything you’ll be back where you started, why not do what we do, don’t migrate anything you haven’t used in the past 6 months.

Time to watch The Two Towers, extended version with director’s commentary.

Now the reason we love this process is you loose a lot of the garbage that builds up in systems over time slowing them down. It also gives you an upgrade process that is completely non-destructive and reversible.

The disadvantage is that things that require “device drivers” like VMWare/Parallels, or Little Snitch, or what have you may need to be reinstalled to work properly (just as with any “Migrate me from my old mac” upgrade).

If you need more detail, the fantastic Take Control series has a pair of new PDF ebooks to guide you through the Snow Leopard installation: “Take Control of Upgrading to Snow Leopard” ($10) and “Take Control of Exploring & Customizing Snow Leopard.” ($15). Both highly recommended.

  • windows user for ever


  • A Guest

    ignore the guy who can’t do CMD+C to copy and CMD+V to paste… simpletons these days…

  • Catherine Chan

    Do we REALLY have to clean up our disks? I just got a new mac and imported everything from my old computer, and installed many programs -_____-;

  • RobbieM

    Absolute rubbish! (Mac user since 1992).

  • RobbieM

    Absolute rubbish! (Mac user since 1992).

  • Bernard Duckets

    as someone whos had 5 HDD’s crash on me (3 in my black one, then got sent new aluminum MB, and have had 2 die thus far, Ive had my logic board replaced, upper end piece repleaced ie, keyboard, and all that) FREE cuz I got applecare, PC brands would not do this for a customer, Ive also received a free 1TB external, as well as numerous other things, yes mac’s do break, just like everything else, I know that it’s me most likly doing this as I use my laptop litterally 24/7 for EVERYTHING, photoshop,ableton,web, movies, everything, all day every day, so sometimes shits gunna happen, but its what apple does to make up for it, that keeps me an apple user, I had a PC and got shown little to no respect and always got the same story, “sorry thats not covered”, applecare = “oh sorry to hear that, will fix that for you, and for the inconvience is there anything else we can do for you to make up for this?”
    and the people that dont get this service from apple, either dont have applecare(but most cases apple usually still helps but if not its cause) or are assholes to CS….

  • Tom Phillips

    Can’t find Singular.

  • Kent Regier


  • DD Thorburn

    What? Oh I get it, you are stupid. Can’t copy and paste? What a load of horse crap. People, see what happens when you use PC’s for too long! Your brain turns to liquid and you forget how to spell words like; because, very and everything. Oh, and you will also write in total CAPS.

  • Guest

    alright.. creating a reliable back up is easy, what happens to the apps though, do those get copied over as well?

    and making the backup drive bootable.. this worries me, because if that goes wrong there is no easy way to fix it.

  • Janeivy Hilario


  • dirkmcgee

    Just the spelling & grammar you would expect from a windows user, along with the attitude.  It’s funny how these people cannot figure out how to use the most user friendly operating system ever made, and after 2 days of trying they just rant about how crappy Macs are and how much they suck, etc.  Obviously, no matter how easy to use you make an operating system, there are still those unintelligent people who will never get it.  I GUESS WE SHOULDN’T EXPECT TOO MUCH FROM PEOPLE WHO CAN’T EVEN TURN OFF THEIR CAPS LOCK BUTTON!

  • Flownamaelove

    I have a PowerBook G4 OS 10.4.11  Can I upgrade directly to Snow Leopard? 

  • Randomscoter

    Snow Leopard requires an Intel machine.

  • Mac and Win user

    Obviously the Mac Heads are going to be a bit more prevalent at a Mac blog site.  Please don’t assume that our wonderful Macs are the be-all end-all of the computing world.  Doing so makes you sound as uninformed (ignorant) as the poor guy who is unhappy with his Mac.   I have been both a Mac and Windows user since they were both invented. (Probably more years than most on this blog are old)  As an engineer and heavy Mac user I was chosen by Apple to be a Beta tester for next generation Macs 6 months before they hit the market. 

    This was a while back but my point is that I know of what I speak.  Both Macs and Windows boxes have their limitations.  I will say that the hardware build quality of a Mac Pro is awesome.  More like a server than a desktop.  However, what I really hate about Apple is that they market “great” products, get real users, (by real I mean people that make a living from their Macs and applications that our Macs so wonderfully come loaded with, business users) and then when there is an OS or application upgrade there is always functionality that gets removed with the “upgrade”.  Little things like being able to export a Keynote presentation directly to QuickTime.  This was a critical feature in iLife ’08 that was removed in ’09.  There are many, many more examples of this.  Anyone here that is unaware of this is a rookie or uses their Mac as a toy.

    Windows has plenty of problems.  I hate Win 7 and reloaded a brand new box from Dell with XP Pro.  Much better for my needs, but I’m sure there are others who love Win 7.  (And yes I know that I can run windows on my Mac, and do, but it does not run flawlessly depending on the application.  And speaking of applications, there are many thousands more business applications made to run on windows than on a Mac.  And again for the uninformed, many of these will run better on a Dell box running XP Pro than on a Mac running native or virtual XP Pro. 

    And regarding service, Dell stands behind their products every bit, if not better than apple.  And I have yet to purchase a Dell box that became obsolete 2 months later. Unlike the G4 MacBook Pro I purchased two months prior to the release of Intel Macs, and now can’t even sync my iPhone to it.  My company still has Windows 2000 boxes that are 8 years old which run office programs perfectly.  Show me a single Mac on this planet that can do that.

    My lengthy point is, do not be so quick to jump to the conclusion that all “PC” users are “morons”. (BTW Macs are PC’s also.  PC is an acronym for “personal computer”.  You can look up acronym if your not sure what that means either.)  If you google “I Hate Macs” you will find that most people do.  And contrary to what the media and Apple marketing dept will try to convince you, Macs still only make up a tiny fraction of the “PC” market.  There is a reason for this.

  • joey gebbia

    sorry if this sounds like a stupid question. I have OSx 10.5.8 and I was told by Apple that I can go right to Snow Leopard. But then I read somewhere that I have to have Leopard first. Which is it?

    OR, duh, do I already have Leopard. Which is what I think I just read and edited this post…anyway, any help will be appreciated.

  • mak

    you certainly are a complete moron like any other pc user

  • Anke Tamer

    All very nice, except there is no erase and install option.  After sitting through 35 minutes of (flawless) install, I was able to go back and read that I should have used Utilities for the clean install. So back to square one…

  • jcqsxyz

    I downloaded Singular. Now they ask me to choose an application to open Singularize.action.
    Which application should I pick?

  • jcqsxyz

    I downloaded Singular. They ask me to choose an application to open singularize.action.
    Which application should I pick?

  • Sir_Kumfrenz

    THE RIGHT WAY??? Talk about getting into the GeekWeeds! Singular is mildly helpful unless you have tons and tons of pics vids memos etc. Go to… look thru… DONE! Disksweep seems to simply duplicate what the Finder does which, by the way, can sort by filesize… basically redundant and assumes you know 1) all about the several hundreds of thousands of files on your hard drives and 2) which ones you can SAFELY delete… pretty much the turf of professional administrators and big time geeks. I’m simply NOT that good. Didn’t seem to point out useless, hidden, or junk stuff either. You just have to know what and where it is. Bottom line: updating operating systems comes with the perils of loosing data with clean installs and/or putting up with the inevitable compatibility issues of “progress”. The more ‘manual’ you make things… the harder it is. Best advice here is to make a thorough and bootable back up BEFORE following the automated install procedures. Clean install if you wish… but prepare for a few things getting lost… even if you are a geek.

  • sh1z

    The fact that people are recommending all of these necessary precautions is possibly further evidence for just how liable Macs are to breaking, whether it’s hardware or software.

    Within the last few years on this end:
    broken Macbook HDD with one year of normal use.
    several broken iPods.
    broken batteries everywhere.
    broken Safari and Mail on my Mac.
    errors when attempting to upgrade various apps, errors that haven’t been resolved by Apple.
    more recently, a broken Mac OSX Install DVD.

    And for me, Mac is not more user-friendly than Windows. If Apple things stopped breaking, and the OS was made more intuitive in areas, it could be. But at the moment, it’s not.