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How Long Will Lion Take to Download?

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In the fabled Good Old Days, figuring out how long it would take to get your hands on the discs containing the latest Mac OS X upgrade involved either determining how long it would take you to drive to the nearest retail outlet selling the package, or monitoring a delivery tracking page in your Web browser to see where the shipment you ordered containing the discs currently was on its journey to your eagerly awaiting Mac.

In these Good New Days, however, the latest upgrade to Mac OS X 10.7 Lion will be available only from the Mac App Store, which means you can get your hands on it instantly — where “instantly” means as fast as your Internet connection to Apple’s servers can download it.

For most of us, “instantly” will still mean a considerable wait, so you probably don’t want to purchase Lion if you have to walk out the door with your laptop a few minutes later. But how long will you have to wait as the rough beast slouches its way onto your hard disk? It’s not hard to come up with a reasonable estimate.

First, you need to find out how much throughput you get from your Internet connection — not how much throughput your service provider says you get, but how much you actually get, which may vary with time of day. (Early evening is often the worst time for residential Internet connections, as everyone heads to Netflix to stream videos.) Fortunately, there are a number of Web sites that can test your connection, such as Speedtest.net. You can run a quick test on that site (it only takes thirty seconds or so) to find out the throughput of your connection in Mbps (megabits per second).

Once you know that, you need to know how big the download is. Fortunately, that is not a big secret: the Mac OS X 10.7 Lion installer is known to be 3.76 GB. With that information, you can whip out a number 2 pencil and a pad of paper and do some quick ciphering — or you can go to another site that will do it for you, such as Derek Tsang’s Download Time Calculator. Simply plug in the size of the download, and the throughput of your connection, and hit the Get Download Time button. You’ll get a reasonable approximation of how long it will take for the Lion installer to make it onto your Mac. (For a sense of how long the download would take on various standard Internet connections, check out the Gaijin Download Time Calculator.)

Of course, the estimate you get is only provisional: The download speed also depends on the throughput of the Mac App Store servers and Internet connections, along with the route between you and the Mac App Store. As we all know, those variables can vary. But at least you’ll know the least amount of time it might take, and be able to plan your day accordingly.

Check out the Take Control ebooks that expand on the topic in this article:

Upgrade to Lion successfully with Joe Kissell's advice, gained through countless test installs. Learn what to do if you can't download from the App Store, avoid problems, and perform key post-upgrade tasks. Covers upgrading from Tiger or Leopard, Lion Server installation basics, migrating to a new Mac, and Recovery mode.

 

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Comments about How Long Will Lion Take to Download?

Michael Jordan  2011-07-05 16:40
A good point for those looking to get Lion immediately. But Lion isn't terribly different from downloading the Xcode install (clocking in at 4.44GB). But it's a good idea to go into the purchase forewarned that you're committing about an hour of your life just to the download process.

I remember being on the Apple support website team in 2000 when SW engineering informed us that the 9.1 update was going to be 91MB in size. We were astonished!

The largest update we'd shipped at that time was around 30MB. Broadband penetration was around 5-7%. We new from download stats that most customers were on a 33K-56K modem connection and the download would take 6.5 hours at best.

All things considered, I'm happy that the ability to download the entire OS has finally come. Even shipping DVDs seems pretty 20th century now.
Douglas A. Brace  2011-07-05 16:52
Give me a disc any day. The day Lion is released, I'm popping out the hard drive in my early 2008 MacBook Pro and installing a Seagate hybrid SSD. I'll then be using a different computer to download Lion from the Mac App Store, opening the contents of the installer/application and burning it to disc so I can do a clean install on. I never do upgrade installations, regardless of the operating system. Things get left behind. Things aren't compatible. Things aren't as snappy. I would pay an extra $20 to simply have a physical disc. I can understand downloading the installer for an app but not an entire operating system.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-07-05 17:04
Nope, not terribly different, except for WAY more people (and people who don't normally care about download times as much as developers) accessing the download. Apple isn't talking about this, but for a lot of people, that download, if it's possible at all, is going to be a bear.
Chris Kohuch  2011-07-05 18:06
It's a conundrum all right. Personally I have a 20 Mbps connection with no cap limit on my downloads so no problems here. But my brother is in Malaysia and has cellular internet at around 300 Kbps with a 5 GB per month cap limit. Another computer I help look after for a family member is in rural Canada (70 Mile House, BC) and they have a 1.5 Mbps connection with a 12 GB per month limit. I can't speak for the US market but here in British Columbia Canada, uncapped (or nearly uncapped), high speed internet isn't all that common once you get away from the major urban centres. Of course from Apples point of view, the major urban centres do account for probably 75% or more of the population.
Tonya Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-07-06 04:43
Here in upstate New York with a normal residential connection for the general Ithaca area (Time Warner cable), and based on some experience with downloading files of approximately that exact size, it looks like we are talking as fast as a half hour or as slow as 4 hours. If I were planning to install Lion on a Saturday morning, say, I'd want to start downloading on Friday evening...
I've never downloaded anything LARGE from the Mac App Store... I wonder if you can pause a download? Perhaps you could download a little bit every month until you've got it all?

I wonder also if you could go to an Apple Store and download it there? (Perhaps this is a way to get more people in the doors... )

No matter what, I'm afraid Apple's strict policies are going to make Lion a bigger mess for it than Final Cut X was.
John Cooper  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2011-07-12 04:38
There's a 4 GB monthly limit here in rural Wisconsin. Additional 2 GB blocks are about twenty bucks a pop in addition to the $80 for the 4 GB. Speed is capped at about 512 Kbps/sec.
Charles Reeves Jr  An apple icon for a TidBITS Supporter 2011-07-12 07:41
I haven't measured my download speed, but will do so. As a reference, it recently took about an hour to download the free pilot episode of Warehouse 13 from iTunes. I think this is way too long. I am on a fiber-to-the-home network, meaning the entire network is fiber, down to the interface box on the side of my house. Granted, there are a lot of things that determine download times, but my setup seems really fast to me, at least compared to other suppliers. I'd rather have disks.
Terry Lawrence  2011-07-13 02:11
Need deesks, mon.

How we gonna boot de compooter an do de deesk utility or password reset widout de CDs?
I am an hour and a half into it. Computer says 6 hours to go. 1Gig loaded 3 to go.
"As we all know, those variables can vary."

Yes. We all know. That's why they call them 'variables.'
Michael E. Cohen  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-07-26 14:39
Yes. It was a mild joke, and fully intended.
Reina Pennington  2011-07-28 05:34
How is this going to work for those of us in the boonies who do NOT have high-speed internet? I'm running on an AT&T cell modem with a max of 5 GB/month usage. Seems like it would take days off my life, and max my usage right out, to try to download this via cell modem.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-07-28 07:14
In August, you'll be able to buy Lion on USB thumb drive from Apple for $69. Pricey, but necessary unless you can get to a high speed connection somewhere, download the installer, and then burn that to DVD or put it on a thumb drive.
Well I did the speed test, and then put it in the download calculator - 12 hours plus? (0.67mbps). Can this possibly be right? I'm with BT Total Broadband who apparently are going to be upgrading my internet connection on August 4th, but I am on holiday today and thought I would go for it now. Been downloading for 2 and a half hours now and there is hardly a spot of blue on the download progress line. I pay a premium monthly fee for this service and don't understand that others say half an hour or an hour. Anyone got any tips to speed this up? Alex
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-08-01 11:10
Alas, 0.67 Mbps is pretty slow, so 12 hours doesn't seem entirely unreasonable. I'm getting about 20 Mbps right now, and I think it was about a 30-40 minute download for me.