Install vs Archive & Install: Performance Testing


Recently, after Vista launched, I read one article about the way Vista installs over Windows XP. Microsoft took a different approach from the past and Vista actually copies its image onto the machine, and then goes through, weeding out the old operating system to make way for the new bling. In the article they ran benchmarks to test whether or not this process resulted in less bloat than a fully clean installation. The results showed that both resulted in pretty similar performance, post install.

I bring this up now, because as we get closer to Leopard (whenever it drops between March and June…) all those who jump on the newly released upgrade will have to decide whether to run an Archive & Install or a clean installation. Last time when Tiger came along, I discussed my migration plan and got quite a bit of feedback. The camp largely rested on clean installs it seemed.

But how does Apple stack up? Does the Archive & Install procedure create unnecessary bloat on the system? Or is it clean enough that benchmarks would be relatively the same (granted new systems would inevitably be a bit faster) in either case?

I’m all for the clean installation. I don’t mind that little bit of extra elbow grease to do it that way over an Archive & Install, and to me, it’s worth that piece of mind. But I can’t help but wonder if this practice is representative of my years on the Windows platform. With so many ‘Switchers’ in the past couple years, I’m betting many subscribe to the same practices that I do. So what say you? Is the clean installation method just a bad Windows-based habit, or good sense? Does anyone have any proof of performance boosts in one over the other?


Michael DiSefano


I completely agree with what you said. That’s the primary reason I like doing a clean install. I tend to install a lot of applications and make a lot of system changes and doing a clean install allows me forces me to re-evaluate what I really need.

Also, the geeky weekend thing is for me too :-P


Darn sorry it didn’t work. :( I had the same problem and that’s what did the trick for me. I wonder if getting your hands on some other disk utility like TechTools would do anything?



Thanks, but I’ve tried that. I guess my only solution now is a clean install and for that I’m going to wait for Leopard.


Chris, I may have the solution to your problem:

You need to use Apple’s Disk Utility to repair your hard drive. I don’t mean repair the permissions, but the drive itself, and to do that you need to boot Disk Utility from another drive or your install DVD. You’ll know you have it working if you see the epair Disk button selectable rather than ghosted out.


Clean install, definitely. Besides it forces you to sit down and get rid of a lot of accumulated junk from stuff once tried out but not kept. It’s an interesting but incredibly geeky way to kill part of a weekend. Painful, too, when I finally had to wave bye-bye to all my old OS 9 apps once I switched up to an Intel. :(

Kris Jones

As ‘weldon’ notes above, the options for upgrading to Tiger were “upgrade”, “archive and install” (with an option to preserve user accounts and settings) and “erase and install”. I did read advice somewhere that an “archive and install” had the advantage over “upgrade” because it replaced the whole system folder. With “upgrade” some of the “LaunchDaemons” from Panther remained, even though they had been deprecated.

As “archive and install” replaces everything in the system folder (and in the case of earlier versions of OSX to Tiger, changed the kernel), so I can see that it has an advantage over “upgrade”. However, I’m not sure there is much to be gained from doing an “erase and install” instead. I guess it’s possible that you might lose some of the defunct files on your machine. For example, my machine has carried reference to a Speedtouch modem in System Preferences/Network, which I abandoned using back in 2003. Getting rid of it would have required finding and editing the appropriate network .plist files. A clean install, forced upon me by a corrupted disk, finally got rid of it. It also freed up some more space, probably because I had other preference files etc, for applications I no longer use, littering my disk. If I balance that small advantage against the time and effort spent reloading and updating applications, and recovering data from my backup, I come down firmly on the side of “archive and install”.


One has to be careful, as mentioned already, one can bring old issues with you.

I recently reinstalled Tiger onto my DPP 1gig MDD PowerMac, and used Migration Manager to bring all my old stuff from the old disk into the new install.

My old install had an issue with sleep – it wouldn’t go to sleep at all, and I couldn’t find out why. So I figured the new install would solve the issue.

After the clean install on the new disk, that system went to sleep fine.

After the migration, which included all old apps, the sleep problem came back!

After much more experimentation, I found that a preferences file for Finder had been brought over from the old install that was the culprit. After trashing that file, my sleep issue went away, and it works fine.

So even a clean install can end up with old issues when using the Migration Manager!

Iestyn Lloyd

To Nathaniel.
Would this work for all programmes like Mail, Address Book & iCal as I don’t want to lose any information or the folders I’ve created in Mail. And what about drivers for my Wacom Tablet and such stuff.
If everything I need is stored on ~/library/preferences & ~/library/application support and that you can just drag the Applications folder in without re-instaling everything, I will definitely be going for a clean install and copying the folders over from my backup drive.


Forgive me for being picky, but the options are “upgrade install”, “archive and install” and “erase and install.” Even then, you have another option in “archive and install” to preserve network and user settings or not.

I personally like “archive and install” without preserving network and user settings. It gives you a clean system but keeps all your docs, apps, and prefs files intact for you to manually drop into your new install. It also avoids any cruft that has built up around your user accounts (login items, prefs, etc.).

This gives you all the benefits of “erase and install” without actually erasing any of your old stuff. It’s not in your new “clean” install, but it’s right there on disk for you to drag and drop over when you want to. I move things over and leave it for a few weeks before I delete the old system.


I did the Upgrade & Install for Tiger on my iBook and thought everything was fine. But after having the hard drive fail and doing a Clean Install of Tiger on the fresh HD a lot of small quirks that I had been putting up with went away. For one Spotlight went from unbearably slow to so-so. I also don’t have to nuke my font cache on a regular basis now. I also haven’t felt the need to run Tiger Cache Cleaner a single time (and I have been using the Clean Install longer than the Archive & Install) even though before my machine would get really sluggish running TCC about once a month would solve it (of course that could also be because I switched to Firefox from Safari which has a bad habit of beachballing the whole system once you get a few tabs open). The 10.3 to 10.4 upgrade was the first non-fresh install I have ever done and I think it may be the last.


To me there are several advantages to the clean install, and none of them are really about bloat.

For one, Apple has often made architectural changes with major releases that don’t take effect on upgrades installs, and you might as well be doing it the current way so that you stay current with documentation and new tips and tricks and utilities. Examples of this would be the change to bash as default shell, and the adoption of launchd for managing startup. In both cases, if you upgraded the system it would keep the old method of doing things rather than do it all the new way.

The other major reason is that because they usually make interface and utility changes, it’s almost always a good idea to reevaluate which of the many 3rd party addons and utilities you still need, instead of just bringing them along by default.

One of the big architectural advantages to the Mac is precisely that it’s so easy to transfer applications and preferences to a fresh install. Drag .apps to where you want them, copy preferences from the ~/library/preferences folder, and occasionally some other junk from ~/library/application support and you’re pretty much ready to go. Everything like codecs, fonts and application/system plug-ins should be transferred deliberately, because there might be changes in how things are handled that would be good to take advantage of (Font Book management, new Quicktime version, plugin features added to application, etc).

Grant (divigation)

Christian: your Tiger disc also acts as an installer disc for all bundled software, such as the iLife apps. Drop in the disc and double click the Bundled Software installer and it will let you install all bundled software or customize the install and add only the software that you are in need of. So you can install the iLife apps on Leopard with your system discs. Now you can get that clean install you are after. Also a nice way to restore a single app if you were to damage or corrupt it.


Well, the best argument for performing an A&I type of installation is the fact that iLife would not get installed if one were to install Leopard from scratch. That at least affects those who got Tiger or Panther with iLife preinstalled (or delivered on the OS X install disks). It will probably be possible to install the iLife apps after a clean installation of Leopard using Pacifist, but there’s still some hassle involved.

If it weren’t for iLife, I’d go for a clean install.


I just had to Archive & Install over an existing Tiger install and am now debating whether it’s worth doing a fresh wipe and install before Leopard arrives. I say this because my system simply doesn’t feel as snappy as before and I’ve noticed some little nuances. I do however think that Archive & Install does a better job than Windows XP’s ‘Repair Install’ feature.

A few of my programs no longer work despite their files still being scattered around my system which gives me nightmares.

I look forward to Leopard and wiping both my Macs so that they’ll be performing at their max. :)


I’d love to hear the answer to this.
Clean installs seem like a pain.
You have to put everything back afterwards.

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