How to Speed up your Mac

Many people experience their Mac slowing down after only two or three years of use, resulting in frustration and loss in productivity - Not to mention the cost of purchasing a new computer sooner than needed.  Fortunately however, there are many ways to speed up an older Mac, extending it's usefulness for years!  And none of the methods listed in this article are dangerous or void your Mac's warranty.

One: Clear disk space (if needed)

If your Mac's drive is almost full this can cause speed and reliability issues as there may not be enough space to cache temporary data or store page-outs when your Mac runs out of RAM. Bear in mind that low drive space would only affect your Macs speed at the more extreme end of the scale -- if your drive is 50%, 75% or even 90% full then that should be okay. However if you get to the point where you have almost no space left at all then you should definitely clear some out.

Are you in a situation where there are no more applications or files that you want to delete but you still need to clear more drive space? In this case there are programs you can download to clear unused/unneeded files hidden in your computer that are difficult to find yourself. CCleaner is one of the more basic ones while CleanMyMac is a more comprehensive one.

Two: Make sure software updates are completed

Make sure to always keep your Mac's software up to date, because Apple releases patches that can improve performance and get rid of bugs that end up hogging resources. If your computer is new enough upgrading the operating system can also improve performance, as newer releases are focused on being less resource intensive rather than including hundreds of new features.

Three: Remove pretty effects in OSX

If you have masses of files on your desktop this can slow the computer down, especially if you have an older Mac or one with not much RAM. This is because the Finder has to generate a thumbnail for every single file on the desktop, and they all have to be stored in the RAM. It will also cause the computer to start up more slowly, as the thumbnails are copied to the RAM.

Mac OSX Yosemite has added in lots of nice transparency effects, and while these will be handled fine by modern Macs it may slow down older ones. To switch the transparency off simply go to the accessibility panel in the system preferences and tick the "reduce transparency" box (see the screenshot on the left). 

Another way to speed your Mac up is to change the scale effect when minimising windows to one that is less resource intensive. To do this go to the system preferences, open the dock panel and select the "Scale Effect" as seen on the right-hand screenshot. 

Four: Make sure your web browser is modern & clean

Since you probably do a lot of web browsing on your Mac, having a faster web browser can do a lot to better your browsing experience.  If you're using an old version of Safari, make sure you upgrade (via Mac OSX's Software Updates) to the latest version.  And if you're using FireFox, it is suggested that you shift over to either a modern version of Safari or Google Chrome, as FireFox has become rather bloated and slow in it's recent iterations.  A newer web browser will render webpages faster and more efficiently, speeding things up and also improving your Mac's battery life and heat issues.

If you're looking to upgrade your Safari browser, simply make sure all your OSX Software Updates are up to date, as they are the medium that Safari updates through.  Or if you're looking to get Google Chrome, you can easily & freely download the latest version of it here.  Note however that you must have Snow Leopard or later installed on your Mac to run Google Chrome.

After upgrading your web browser, another effective way to speed up browsing on your Mac is to install a Flashblocker plugin.  Flashblockers are browser extensions that block flash content (what is flash content?) in your Mac's browser.  Be assured that they do not block it entirely, but allow you to choose which flash content you would like to see, and which you would not.  The plugin works by replacing every flash applet with a blank box containing a "F" symbol in the middle of it, as depicted in the image on the right.  If you don't want to view the piece of content in question (if it's a banner ad, for example), simply leave it alone and it will not load, therefore not using your Mac's system resources and subsequently improving performance.  However if you do want to view it (if it's a video or online game, perhaps) simply click on the "F" symbol and the applet will load as normal.

Five: Remove startup items

If you restart your Mac regularly, it might be a good idea to check to see if there are any unnecessary startup items - Startup items are applications or utilities that automatically open after you start up or login to your Mac.  The purpose of them is to save you from manually opening applications that you always want open every time you boot up your computer.  For example, if you always want your email client running in the background, you could add it to the list of startup items to make sure it always opens by itself when you turn your Mac on.  However there may be applications on your startup items list that you don't want opening up every time you start your Mac.  If there are lots of unneeded startup items, not only do you have to go through the bother of closing them every time you boot up, but they consume systems resources and therefore slow your Mac down.  So to remove the clutter from your startup items list, simply follow the steps outlined below:

1. Open your Mac's System Preferences.

2. Click on the "Users & Groups" pane.

3. Select the "Login Items" tab.

4. From the list shown, un-tick all the applications that you don't want opening on startup. If you don't want ANYTHING opening on startup, simply un-tick everything (except the greyed out boxes).

Six: Upgrade RAM (if possible)

For those of you who multitask on your Mac, upgrading the RAM could significantly speed up the computer.  When you have many applications, browser tabs, documents, images etc open at once, the RAM can run out, forcing your Mac to page out to the hard drive - This means that some of the files you are using have to be saved to the hard drive instead of the RAM, resulting in much slower speeds when interacting with them.  In short, the more things you have open at once on your Mac, the more RAM gets used up.  If the RAM runs out, your Mac slows down significantly.  

If you own a non-retina MacBook Pro, a white polycarbonate (plastic) MacBook, a pre-2013 21.5" iMac, a 27" iMac or a Mac Mini you can upgrade the RAM.  RAM upgrades for Macs are cheap and good value-for-money when it comes to performance gains - A pair of RAM sticks making up 8GB generally costs $40-$50 USD, while 16GB costs $70-$80 USD.  When it comes to the unibody MacBook & MacBook Pro (non retina) RAM is extremely easy to install, even within the grasp of the most technologically illiterate.  The rest of the Mac family with upgradable RAM (listed above) is a little harder when it comes to installation, however it is still doable by the average user.

Below are two RAM kits, designed for use in Apple's MacBooks & iMacs, made by reputable manufactures and which can be purchased via Amazon.  On the left is a 8GB kit (2x4 sticks), while on the right is a 16GB kit (2x8 sticks).  Before you buy, you must determine which you'll need - To do so, follow the steps outlined in this article.  And for instructions on how to install it, follow these for a MacBook, these for an iMac (27") and these for a Mac Mini.

Apple-Certified 8GB RAM Kit
Apple-Certified 16GB RAM Kit
Seven: Disable the dashboard

If you never use your Mac's dashboard, it might pay to eliminate it, as the dashboard widgets can consume RAM and processing power.  There's a terminal command to disable the dashboard, however you don't have to go that far to get rid of it - Simply visit your Mac's dash and delete every widget on it.  Without any widget on it, the dashboard can't use up much of your Mac's system resources, so it may as well be gone.  However if you still want to go all the way in disabling it, follow the steps outlined below:

1.  Go to spotlight (the magnifying glass in the upper-right-hand corner of the screen) and type "terminal".

2.  Select the top result, which should be the "terminal" application.

3.  Once the terminal window opens, either copy & paste or manually type in the following command, then press the enter key:  defaults write mcx-disabled -boolean YES

4.  Type killall Dock then press enter.  Your dashboard is now disabled.

Note:  If you want to enable your Mac's dashboard again, simply follow the steps above, but instead of entering the code listed in step three, enter this:  defaults write mcx-disabled -boolean NO

Eight: Upgrade to a SSD

If you've got a bit of money to spend, and don't store large amounts of media on your Mac's internal hard drive, a SSD is a very effective way to speed the computer up.  For those of you unaware, SSDs (Solid State Drives) are drives that, unlike HDDs (Hard Disk Drives), contain no moving parts, and therefore have much faster read & write speeds.  They work in much the same way that a SD card or a USB thumb drive works, only on a larger scale - And subsequently are more expensive.  However SSD technology has come a long way in the last few years, and prices have dropped significantly.    

So when will you notice the speed improvements of a SSD?  Well, since a SSD reads & writes data much faster than a traditional hard disk, you will notice significant speed improvements when doing things like opening applications, working with documents, loading games and media and copying files.  Subsequently, if you notice that your Mac is sluggish with those sort of tasks, getting a SSD might be a worthwhile investment to speed up your Mac.

You can install a SSD in any Mac that has a removable hard drive, which includes the non-retina MacBook Pro family, the Mac Mini and some models of the iMac.  Installation is fairly easy on the iMac & the Mini, and is very easy on the MacBook Pros - The process does not void the warranty and is well within the capabilities of most users.  Below are some SSD models, made by Crucial, that MacInfo recommends based on their value for money and their reliability when used with Macintosh computers.  If you end up getting one, and are not familiar with installing hard drives, follow this tutorial for MacBook Pros, this tutorial for iMacs and this tutorial for Mac Minis.

Crucial 64GB SSD
Crucial 128GB SSD
Crucial 256GB SSD
Crucial 512GB SSD
Nine: Perform a full restore of OSX

Although you've probably heard this one many times before, and although it's a pain to carry out, doing a full restore is one of the most effective ways to speed up your Mac.  A restore won't make a difference if you've done one in the last few months or so, however if you haven't restored your Mac in the last year (or ever) then it's probably worth a shot.  Restoring is relatively straightforward and safe, however the inconvenience of it will depend on how many important applications, files, and how much media you have stored on your Mac.  

Before you restore your Mac, you must obviously backup all your important data.  The best way to do this is via an external hard drive, as you can simply plug it in and proceed to drag n' drop the files you want to keep over to it.  If you have a lot of files on your Mac that you want to keep, this may take quite some time, so be patient.  And once you're sure you've left nothing important behind, you are ready to restore your Mac.

Do you have an older Mac with an optical drive that came with a grey restore disk?  If so, you can easily restore by inserting the grey restore disk into your Mac, opening the installer once the disk mounts on your desktop, and following the instructions it gives you.  Now, if you have a newer Mac that doesn't have an optical drive, and therefore comes with no grey restore disk, you can restore using a system built into your Mac's firmware, called 'OSX Recovery' - For instructions on how to utilize OSX Recovery to restore your Mac, click here to visit Apple's official page about it.

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