Apple's Laptops and desktops could see software performance gains with parallel programming tools built into the company's new operating system, Mac OS X 10.6, which was introduced by the company on Monday.

A number of enhancements allows the OS, code-named Snow Leopard, to tap into the processing power of multiple CPU and graphics processing cores to boost software performance. The OS builds in multiple programming and software tools that divide up tasks for simultaneous execution across the cores.

Snow Leopard is more intelligent than its predecessors in taking advantage of hardware resources available to drive system performance, observers said on Monday. The OS also is better at identifying resources available and can accordingly allocate threads across multiple cores and processors, observers said.

The new tools in Snow Leopard include Grand Central Dispatch, a programming environment that breaks up tasks into multiple threads based on the number of cores and threads available. It also builds in native support for OpenCL, a set of programming tools to develop and manage parallel task execution.

"A lot of Macs will have supercomputers sitting there for free," said Neil Trevett, president of The Khronos Group, the standards organization that defines the specifications for OpenCL.

Video processing in particular could see up to 50 times improved performance on Macs with the new OS, Trevett said. Video decoding could be a lot faster as pixel processing will be distributed across multiple CPU and graphics processing units in a system.

Snow Leopard's evolution is tied to challenges hardware and software makers have faced in the past. The traditional way of boosting application performance on PCs was by cranking up CPU clock speed, said Linley Gwennap, president and principal analyst at The Linley Group. That led to software being written in a sequential mode for execution on a single core, with an increase in clock speed providing the boost in software performance.

Ultimately, cranking up clock speed led to excessive heat dissipation and power consumption, and chip makers like Intel reverted to adding cores to boost performance. That brought a set of new issues to software developers, who faced the challenge of writing applications to take advantage of multiple cores to scale application performance.