Operating systems

Seven maintenance tips to optimize Mac performance

Vincent Danen offers his top seven tips to keep your Mac healthy and running optimally. Here are his recommended tools and best practices.

Mac systems are pretty trouble free, and OS X is a pretty solid system. However, as with all things, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure, and there are some things that you can do with OS X to keep it running in tip-top shape.

#1 Back it up

The first and most crucial  thing to do is to keep a backup of your important files, or even the entire system. To clone the entire system (great for backups and quick restoration in the case of hardware failure), an external hard drive and SuperDuper! are the best solution as far as I am concerned. SuperDuper! makes a bootable clone of your hard drive; a great thing to do before performing large system updates, or something to schedule routinely. Other options include buying an Apple Time Machine and scheduling backups that way.

#2 Keep software up to date

Keeping software current is another important thing. Software updates not only provide new functionality and correct bugs, they often correct security flaws as well. Keeping your system up to date via the OS X Software Update is important, but so is keeping the third-party applications installed current. Many applications "phone home" to check for updates and will alert you if updates are available. Otherwise, you can point your RSS feed reader to MacUpdate's web site to keep you alert of new software releases. You can also elect to pay MacUpdate's yearly subscription fee and be alerted via email or use their desktop application (which is quite useful as well, as it will inform you of what installed applications are out of date).

#3 Perform a Permissions Repair

This can be done by launching Disk Utility, selecting the boot drive, and clicking Repair Disk Permissions. It is a good habit to repair permissions before and after large system upgrades (i.e., when upgrading from OS X 10.6.3 to 10.6.4). As well, in Disk Utility you can use the "Verify Disk" button to scan the integrity of the filesystem on the hard drive. If it identifies problems, you will need to boot from the install disc or a cloned drive (another reason SuperDuper! is useful) and use Disk Utility to repair them.

#4 Get the right tools

Tools exist to keep an eye on your system, and free ones are even better. To be informed of the impending decline of hard drives, use the free SMARTReporter menu bar tool. This tool checks the S.M.A.R.T. output of your hard drive(s) and reports if there are any failures or inconsistencies; however, keep in mind that this only works with internal SATA/eSATA/IDE drives, and not external drives.

Another great monitoring tool is iStat Menus. This is another menu bar app that displays useful information such as a CPU usage meter, memory usage, disk usage, disk activity, temperature sensors, and more. If it feels like the system is slowing down, clicking on the menu bar icons will show you what applications are taking the most CPU or consuming the most memory.

#5 Beware of memory leaks

With the stability of OS X, some people may leave their systems running constantly, or put them to sleep without restarting the system. If any running software has memory leaks, even small ones, leaving them open constantly will start to consume more and more system memory. Some applications that use a lot of memory, such as Safari and other browsers, may not fully release that used memory when tabs are closed, and it isn't uncommon to see Safari using far more memory than a browser warrants.

I've seen Safari consume over 1GB of memory all on its own (granted I tend to have a whole lot of tabs open at any given time). Quitting and restarting these memory hogs will reduce memory consumption, at least for a time. Restarting the entire computer will reset OS X's virtual memory system and clean things up; after restarting, the system should typically feel snappier.

#6 Watch your hard drive

Another common sense tips include keeping an eye on hard drive space. Generally speaking, you should always ensure you have about 10% of your drive available as free space; if you find yourself filling the drive quickly or often, consider replacing it with a larger drive, delete some unused applications or files, off-loading some archive data to an external drive, or simply emptying the trash every once in a while will help.

#7 Check Login Items

Finally, a lot of programs like to run little helpers in the background, or think that if you run them once, you want to run them all the time. Firing up System Preferences and looking in the Accounts pane, then selecting the Login Items tab for your account can be a real eye opener. These programs start when you log in, so if there are applications here that you do not want running, here is where you can remove them. Simply highlight the application you no longer want starting at login and click the "-" button to remove it.

These are all fairly straightforward tips, but continuing to keep them in mind will keep your system running at an optimal level of performance.

About

Vincent Danen works on the Red Hat Security Response Team and lives in Canada. He has been writing about and developing on Linux for over 10 years and is a veteran Mac user.

12 comments
tim paul
tim paul

Really, you mentioned good points in your article. But, as a Mac user I would like to suggest a third party software Stellar Drive Defrag, which defrag your drive and thus increase its performance.

DaizyTech
DaizyTech

All described points regarding Mac performance are very genuine, keep backup, less login items, hard drive health, cleaning Mac etc. are very helpful to increase Mac performance. I would like to add some more points in this article, defrag Mac hard drive is also one of the necessary Mac maintenance activity however, new Mac file system HFS+ has the ability to reduce defragmentation of files up to 20 MB file size but It does not works properly with large files. So, It should be included here.

MeganSCA
MeganSCA

Those are very useful points, thanks! But Id like to notice that if a common user tries to follow this rules, he will most probably harm his Macs system. That's because changing system files to speed up a Mac is a hard thing to do, as in most cases you will get nothing except more troubles. So if you are not a super geek I would recommend using a third-party utility, which will do all the things mentioned above safely, easy and with only one click. My choice is CleanMyMac by MacPaw. I think it is a good one, as I've heard of lot of positive reviews about this company, especially on their [url=http://facebook.com/cleanmymac] Facebook fan page [/url]. And also MacPaw creates an interesting and useful apps. Hope this info will be helpful for someone :)

stuartbell
stuartbell

Repairing permissions and freeing drive space by removing unnecessary applications helped me a lot to optimize my Mac Lion. I had GBs of duplicate data in my Mac which I removed with Stellar speed up Mac. The tips given above are really very helpful and practical.

jamesjv
jamesjv

Some good tips, but as others have mentioned, the article implies that you have to buy Time Capsule (mistakenly referred to as Time Machine) in order to use Apple's free Time Machine backup software. Time machine will work with any external USB or Firewire drive (or an internal drive if you boot from an external). For those who don't want to mess with settings and backup schedules (or don't understand them), Time Machine is a great solution.

pcamusic
pcamusic

Please don't leave DiskWarrior's 'rebuild Directory' off the list! I'm in IT support at the Enterprise level at a University and manage/support hundreds of Macs. This tool is a god-send.

itzumang
itzumang

buying an Apple Time Machine? Who'd not want one..... Wait a min. When did they start making that?!!?? If you referring to Time Machine, its a feature which comes with Mac OS X 10.5 & + Here > http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1BOwL8MuE_Y

kward4242
kward4242

Just to clarify: "Time Machine" is the software included in later versions of Mac OS X which allows automated backups. "Time Capsule" is the name of Apple's network-enabled hard disk backup device. Thanks, Ken.

vdanen
vdanen

Sorry about that, you're right, I meant buying a Time Capsule, for use with Time Machine. Or just using Time Machine itself (without the need for buying it). Thanks for bringing that up.