Apple optimize

Five tips for improving Mac performance

These aren't the cheapest or the easiest ways, but these tips for improving your Mac's performance will have the most impact.

Conduct a Google search for improving Mac performance and you'll find all kinds of recommendations, some of which actually work. Spend all the time you want removing language packs, cleaning a Mac's chassis and removing icons from the Mac Dock (all actions I've seen other Internet sites recommend), but if you really want to speed up a slow Mac, consider the following five steps. Note, these aren't the "five easiest methods of speeding up a slow Mac" or even "the five cheapest methods of speeding up a slow Mac." No, these are five proven methods for improving Mac performance.

#1 Upgrade to a solid state disk

SSDs are fast, certainly enough faster than a traditional drive that you or the end user will notice the performance boost. If you're struggling to improve performance on a system, especially one running a 5400RPM drive or possessing a disk that's failing, consider upgrading to an SSD. In addition to faster read and write operations, SSDs consume less energy, thereby extending mobile laptop users battery life.

Just be sure to check and ensure the Mac will accommodate the new disk and that you're capable of performing the upgrade yourself. Newer Macs, especially iMacs and Mac laptops, are challenging to upgrade; there's no shame subcontracting the job to an authorized Apple agent. Also be sure to confirm the SSD you select boasts sufficient storage. SSDs are more expensive than HDDs and tend to prove better in situations where large storage capacities are not required.

#2 Add more memory

Most Macs ship with less physical memory than the machines accommodate. Upgrading a Mac's RAM helps OS X obtain more overhead for processing operating system and application tasks, processes and operations, typically drastically improving performance. With RAM chips proving cost-effective (compared to purchasing a new, more capable machine), the upgrade can help cash-strapped organizations leverage another year or two from an otherwise capable system.

As with SSDs, you can't just rush out and purchase RAM, however. Each Mac requires a specific type of memory running at a specific speed. Further, the machine's current configuration dictates whether some old chips might be removed to make room for the planned upgrade. Be sure to review a model's specifications and current configuration before placing new RAM orders.

#3 Eliminate automatic program loading

Over time, users install many applications that load automatically upon login. Or, users sometimes leave numerous applications open when they terminate their OS X sessions. Upon logging in, these applications automatically launch, which also automatically slows system performance.

Review applications that automatically load (check the Dock and close any applications whose icons possess the tell-tale underscore highlight) and confirm login items are minimized. Administrators and users can review automatic login items by opening System Preferences, choosing Users & Groups, highlighting the corresponding user account and selecting the Login items tab. Uncheck the box for any application that need not automatically start upon logging in.

#4 Minimize or eliminate widget use

Weather updates, sports scores, Twitter feeds, Facebook utilities, stock tickers and even dancing hula animations are cool and groovy. However, these widgets, whether the user is actively using them or not, suck system resources. Check a slow-performing Mac's Dashboard (reached from Mission Control, a hot corner or the Dashboard application itself) for unneeded widgets. Remove any unnecessary Dashboard program, as each requires system resources even when the Dashboard isn't active.

#5 Confirm sufficient free disk space

Exhaust available free disk space and a system slows. There's no getting around it. Mac OS X, like Windows, requires free disk space for accommodating paging operations, storing files, adjusting email and database storage, and performing numerous other tasks. Review a system's disk allocation to ensure sufficient free space exists. If insufficient space exists, either remove unnecessary files or upgrade to a larger disk.

How much free space is sufficient? There's no magic formula. Most Macs should possess at least 10GB of free space, however, as doing so enables maybe 5GB of space for paging files and another 5GB for storing new documents, spreadsheets, presentations, photos, videos and other files. That said, if a system's function is to edit video, the computer may require 20GB or more of free space, it just depends upon the model, user, applications in use, and tasks being performed.

About

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

25 comments
stuartbell
stuartbell

When I was facing a snailing Mac, I had 2 options - either to move to SSD or to create free space in my current drive. 

I selected the second one and deleted all unnecessary items with Stellar Speed Up Mac. The tool deleted all unnecessary applications, caches, duplicates files photos in just two clicks.

http://www.stellarspeedupmac.com/

SmartAceW0LF
SmartAceW0LF

a trick that has worked for me numerous times on my own machine as well as others, is to occasionally got to disk utilities and then choose to verify and repair permissions. Since installing a decent amount of memory, that is about the only thing I have had to do with mine on the 2 rare occasions it seemed to slow down considerably.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

Currently don't have any form of Windows running on any of my Macs.

Slayer_
Slayer_

..... I'm sorry, all my real posts get down voted and all my troll posts get up voted, so I am going to troll more :D

Gisabun
Gisabun

Good luck in speeding up your Mac when the memory is soddered to the mother board [like everything else] and so is the solid state drive [if you find the one you got too small. This follows Jobs' mentality even going back to when the first Mac came out [read the Isaacson book] where Jobs said he didn't want anyone tinkering in the hardware [to cut support calls as one reason]. So use special screws, glue or sodder parts, few or no card slots, etc.

rgromen
rgromen

This thread was about speeding up your Mac, not slowing it down. LOL

jon.kilcrease
jon.kilcrease

Actually, these steps would improve performance on most systems.

McThePro
McThePro

Install Windows on your Mac with Boot Camp.

meski.oz
meski.oz

Look at what's running with the Activity monitor. THis has the advantage over looking at the icons on the dock that you can see how much of the CPU they're using. (the activity monitor app can be found hiding in the utilities folder under applications)

Slayer_
Slayer_

All operating systems are buggy pieces of junk. "Most software today is very much like an Egyptian pyramid with millions of bricks piled on top of each other, with no structural integrity, but just done by brute force and thousands of slaves."

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

However, Jobs was right about one thing; limit user access to the innards and the machine tends to work better--longer.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

If you're a Windows user, you're probably used to every one of these 'hints'. On the other hand, OS X tends to work so well that you don't begin to see any noticeable slow-down until the machine is years old--like my own 6-year-old iMac. Interestingly, the last three steps are second nature to me. I do know people who leave dozens of apps running in the background with multiple browser windows open each with dozens of tabs open; I'm sure you can imagine how that impacts a system--especially if it has to re-boot to that condition. Interestingly, I discovered that it is possible to actually over-stock RAM on my particular model--rated for only 4 Gigs--by an additional 2 Gigs which had a visible effect on the performance in multiple areas including disk transfers and disk-to-disk copy. I haven't heard that you can exceed any generic PC RAM limits. Finally, for me, while I'd love to use an SSD, even the internal drive I have isn't large enough; I have 3.5 terabytes attached externally to collect all my media files and copies of the installers for most of my software. Even so, when I eventually do replace this machine, I know I'm going to lose a lot of software. On the other hand, with Time Machine I'll have it up and running will almost everything the existing machine is using within about 30 minutes.

maj37
maj37

My thought exactly. Not that I really expected anything different MAC users like to think their systems are special but in the end they are still computers, running an OS, and these methods are much older than Microsoft or Apple.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

If you don't know what you're looking at (and many users won't) then the Activity Monitor is more confusing than helpful. Without experience, how do you know which is an app or which is a function of the OS? Activity Monitor lists what Processes are running with almost no indication of specific apps other than displaying an app icon on SOME of the processes. The only way to know what apps are currently running IS to look in the Launch Bar at the bottom of the screen (or wherever you have placed it) and find those apps that are highlighted. Of course, there is an easier way to prevent a Mac from re-launching all those apps; all you have to do is de-select the "Reopen all open windows on restart" button on manual shutdown via the Apple menu at the top-left corner of the screen.

wizard57m-cnet
wizard57m-cnet

rather were constructed by paid laborers, conscripts if you will. That's one reason some of the old Egyptian "dynasties" basically went bankrupt, paying for the stone and workers. For something built with "no structural integrity" to have lasted some 5000 years or so, I would say they were built quite well.

jon.kilcrease
jon.kilcrease

While he didn't say "Mac Specific", the title of the article is "Five Tips for Improving *Mac* Performance" which pretty much implies an article of benefit chiefly for Mac users. Truly, I'm not being pissy, it just may have been a more effective title to say Five Tips for Improving Your Computer's Performance. Appreciate your additional observations, though, Vulpinemac.

meski.oz
meski.oz

Because merely being highlighted is no indication of how much CPU time the app or service is using.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

I'm not saying any of the OSes are perfect, I'm saying that one is less reliable than it should be while another is simply not ready for prime time (consumer desktop/laptop use). Any OS that has to put yet another layer of patching on a 17-year-old vulnerability has too much obsolete legacy code still aboard.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

When you look at the people who made them and how they pulled out of Formal Education to play with their Toys. What worked well enough for then as they tinkered to make things better and not need as much tinkering is what we ended up with as so called Reliable. I can not help but wonder what would have happened if proper Engineers had of designed the OS's and accomping software for use on the new fangled PC's. Col

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

lying on top of an ancient foundation.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

However, the Zealots always have to find something "wrong" about Apple products to make themselves feel better about their own choice. I too have used Windows and simply choose not to any more than absolutely necessary. However, I really hope Apple finishes their own transition to touch-based computing soon because the potential is incredible. I fully understand the need for some separate IO capabilities, but I can also see very usable opportunities in touch-based PC gaming (imagine actually touching the buttons on-screen rather than dragging a pointer) and completely visual touch/pen based image editing. So many other places touch would be more functional than even Windows is acknowledging right now.

drcurvin
drcurvin

I'm sure that's true. However, a developer can install a MAMP stack on a Mac and develop a project which can be scaled to any size without re-write and without re-archetecturing the entire application. I suppose you imply most Mac users don't understand what this means - maybe so - I don't know. The cost to scale is primarily hardware and planning off an OSX architecture. Off of Windows it might not scale at all, and whether it does or not you're writing checks hand over fist. Plus windows is not stable (well-behaved) and backups remain a real issue. I have been there and I have done that. Not again.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

While I do fully understand your point, it was an article aimed at Mac users because there are those who believe that Mac users are dumber than Windows users. And if the truth be known, OS X does do things differently than Windows. Some of the most common Windows techniques for speeding up your machine are simply not valid on the Mac while others are. For instance, de-fragging the hard drive has a major effect on Windows app startup while it has almost no effect on OS X (because OS X simply isn't as affected by file fragmentation). The point still stands, even though the techniques suggested are viable for all machines.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

It not only gives a visual representation of CPU usage, it offers the apps that're using so much CPU AND a direct link to the Activity Monitor to help you kill the guilty process. Of course, if you've got the cycles available, hitting the Force Quit for the guilty app works, too.