Despite your best efforts, your Mac is running a bit slow. Hard disk space is filling up fast and applications are getting sluggish. Don’t worry too much, it happens to everyone.
While there is no definitive cure-all for making your machine as good (and as fast) as day one, there are some basic things you can do that might help reclaim disk space, remove some clutter and generally speed up your Mac.
Take Stock of Your Hardware
Before you get started, keep in mind that none of these tips will change your aging G4 iMac into an Intel Quad-core speed machine. One of the best ways to speed up any aging computer is upgrade the hardware, so invest in a larger hard drive or more RAM if you want to make an old machine feel younger and more agile.
In the past, the case design of many Macs made it very complicated to upgrade the hard drive. Most of the more recent models are much easier to upgrade, particularly with regards to memory. Some machines, such as the Mac Mini, adding memory or a new hard drive amounts to performing the equivalent of open-heart surgery. Best to have a pro do it. Replacing the hard drive is also quite easy in the G4 and G5 iMacs without the iSight built-in, on the regular Macbooks, and on the tower Macs (Power Mac and Mac Pro) For most new Apple computers, you should be able to add more RAM or a hard drive without too much trouble.
Consult your user manual or a trusted supplier to make sure you’re buying the right parts for the job. Most web shops have a browser-based tool for determining the RAM modules and hard drives that will work with your machine.
Another essential step before we get down to specifics is to run Software Update and make sure that you have the latest version of OS X and other Apple-supplied applications installed.
Recover Hard Disk space
When your hard drive gets too full drive (and by full, we mean past the 90% mark) it can slow down your Mac considerably. But don’t start deleting your precious family photo albums — here are a few things you may not know about that eat up space on your Mac drive.
- Take a hard look at your applications folder. Do you really need all those shareware apps you aren’t using? If not, get rid of them and free up a little space.
- Delete unused language packs. You probably aren’t using the Farsi language localizations on your machine. Even if you are, then you can probably still get rid of French or German. Check out the freeware app Monolingual which makes getting rid of unused language files a snap.
- Know what you’re storing. Download Where’s The Free Space, which will give you a nice graphical overview of what is using space on your drive. If it is indeed those precious family photos, consider moving them off to a USB or Firewire external drive. Or burn them to DVDs.
Speed Up Slow Applications
When most people complain about their Mac being slow, they’re usually referring to the applications running on their Mac. Here are a few common culprits.
- Safari — Safari is fast and lightweight, but it can get bogged down if your browsing history is excessively large or if Safari is storing a ton of Autofill entries. One easy way to reset nearly everything at once is to select Safari > Reset Safari in the application menu, which will clear all your caches.
- Dashboard — Dashboard widgets are handy tools, but they eat up RAM — sometimes even when you aren’t using them. This leaves less RAM available for the applications you actually are using. Head into your Applications Folder, select the Utilities Folder and look for Activity Monitor. Activity monitor is a great way to see what applications are using the most memory. If you see a lot of Dashboard widgets high up on the list, consider disabling them.
- Firefox — If you’re using versions 2.x or 1.x of Mozilla Firefox, you’ve probably noticed that the browser tends to take it’s sweet time after it’s been running for a while. Try uninstalling any unnecessary extensions. Reducing the add-ons you’re running to about 3 or 4 will speed up most installations. If that fails, consider switching to the latest beta of Firefox 3, which is showing substantial speed improvements over its predecessors. It’s pretty stable, but Firefox 3 is still pre-release, so consider yourself warned.
- Universal binaries — If you’re using an Intel Mac, make sure that all your applications are universal binaries. Older software compiled to run on PowerPC machines will be noticeably slower on Intel machines. If there’s an upgrade available, download it and run it instead.
General System Tips
- Clean Out Your Startup Items — If you Mac is slow starting up, open your System Preferences and click accounts. Select your username and see what’s listed in the startup items. Sometime applications will inject themselves here without asking (or even if they asked, you may not want them anymore). Getting rid of some startup items can speed up your boot time.
- Clean Up Your Desktop — If your desktop is covered with dozens or even hundreds of icons, you may see your performance suffer. Mac OS X treats each desktop icon as its own window, which incurs a small memory hit. For most people this won’t be an issue, but if you have hundreds of icons, it might help to move them off to another location.
- Fonts — although they won’t produce a huge performance gain, getting rid of any corrupt fonts will make your Mac more stable. Open up Font Book, select all the fonts in the Font list and choose File >> Validate Fonts. Font Book will open a new window with icons to show font’s status. If a font is corrupt, select it and click on the Remove Checked button. Font Book can’t actually repair corrupt fonts, for that you’ll need a commercial utility like FontAgent Pro ($100).
Things that Won’t Help No Matter What the ‘Pros’ in Forums Tell You
- Repairing File Permissions — The uneducated Mac users favorite cure-all, which in fact does next to nothing. Unless you’re having problems logging in or using certain system files, this won’t do anything for you. It certainly won’t speed up your Mac.
- Speed up Safari by reducing the “page load delay” — Lead Safari programmer David Hyatt says, “the preference in question is dead and does absolutely nothing in Safari.” Trust him, he created it.
- Updating Prebinding — Prebinding is updated when apps are launched (and when new ones are installed), there’s no need to do it by hand.