Top 10 Ways to Speed Up Your Mac

Here’s a list I’ve compiled of the best ways to speed up and improve the performance of your Mac. Advanced Mac users will likely know most of these tips, but you learn something new every day, right? :)

1. Keep OS X Up To Date

It may seem like an obvious tip, but I’ve worked on too many Macs with “42 Software Updates Available”, and it’s arguably the best way to ensure your Mac is running as smoothly as possible. By default, OS X will check for updates automatically. Install them when they’re available. You can also manually check for updates by selecting the “Apple Button” from your Menu Bar, and then Software Update… from the list.

If you’re using OS X 10.7 (Lion) or earlier, you’ll see a window similar to the one below. If there are updates to install – install them.

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If you’re using OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion), the method to deliver updates has changed – it’s now done through the App Store.

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2. Use OnyX

Using OnyX (a free program) allows you to speed up and increase the stability of your Mac in dozens of ways. This is the “Swiss Army knife” of OS X troubleshooting tools. It will check the status of your hard drive(s), you can rebuild the Spotlight index if you’re having problems with Spotlight, clear System caches and much, much more.

3. Recover Disk Space / Delete Unused Files

One way to recover a lot of disk space on your Macs hard drive is to delete the unused language files on your Mac. Another outstanding way to determine how your disk space is being used is to run Disk Inventory X (a free program) to scan your drive. The results are displayed in a very easy-to-use manner and you may discover huge files on your Mac that you don’t need/forgot about etc.

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4. Minimize Widgets

Widgets in your Dashboard are kind of neat, but on the whole – mostly unnecessary. Having a very cluttered Dashboard means you’re running a bunch of programs that you don’t use very often and they take up system resources that could be allocated to programs you’re actually using. Having a few Widgets running generally won’t slow your Mac down – having a lot of them running, will. So disable those cool but not-really-needed Widgets in your Dashboard.

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5. Properly Uninstall Applications

While OS X makes it very simple to uninstall programs (just drag them to the Trash!) – many times there are actually files and folders that are not deleted and just ‘left behind’. Using AppTrap will ensure that those files and folders are deleted. You still uninstall Applications by dragging them to the Trash, but with AppTrap installed all of the files and folders associated with that App will be deleted.

6. Empty the iPhoto Trash

One way to speed up iPhoto (and save disk space) – is to regularly delete the photos in iPhotos Trash. That’s right – iPhoto has its own Trash. iPhoto stores all images in its own database. As that database becomes bigger and bigger, iPhoto can become slower (and more prone to crashing). When you ‘delete’ a photo from iPhoto it actually puts that file in a separate Trash, but it remains in the same database. To really delete those files you have to empty its Trash. Fortunately, it’s extremely easy. Just open iPhoto, select the iPhoto item from the Menu Bar, and then click Empty iPhoto Trash from the drop-down menu. That’s it!

7. Stop Less Used Apps From Starting Automatically

Assuming you have more than a few programs installed on your Mac, some of them are probably configured to start automatically each time your Mac boots up. It’s important to periodically check to see exactly which Apps are being automatically launched, and if they need to be. This tutorial will show you exactly how to locate and stop those unnecessary programs from starting up each time your Mac does.

8. Keep a Clean Desktop

As Lifehacker points out:

Because of the way OS X’s graphical system works, the icons on your desktop take up a lot more of your resources than you may realize.

The solution? Keep a clean desktop! If you’re really used to saving/storing files on your Desktop, you’ve got to change that habit. Once you become accustomed to not saving files on your desktop, it becomes second nature. Your Mac will thank you for it.

9. Use Time Machine

Another possible “well that’s obvious” tip – use Time Machine to make backups of your Mac. Never mind that having a backup is painfully important just to make sure you don’t lose files – it’s every bit as important so you can recover your Mac should it crash.

10. Repair Disk Permissions

Once again, this is where using OnyX is the easiest way to accomplish this task. If a file or folder has the wrong ‘permissions’ it can cause a wide variety of errors – from OS X not functioning as it should to a specific App not working. As an alternative to OnyX, you can also use the Disk Utility program that comes with your Mac to verify and then repair Disk Permissions. Note: repairing disk permissions technically will not speed up your Mac, but it will ensure Applications and the operating system are running properly. And it certainly speeds up the time it takes to troubleshoot problems.

11. Upgrading Hardware

Upgrading your hardware is the “#11” in this top 10 list. Depending on the type of Mac you have, you may not have many options when it comes to hardware upgrades. For example, if you own a MacBook Air, you can’t upgrade the RAM (memory) at all as it’s soldered to the motherboard. If you have a Mac Pro (Desktop) you have many hardware upgrades available – video cards, RAM, hard drives etc. Aside from the MacBook Air, you can upgrade the RAM on most other Macs (MacBooks, MacBook Pros, iMacs etc) and hard drives on many as well. Use the System Information App located in your Applications -> Utilities folder to determine the specific model of your Mac, and then use Google to determine what hardware upgrades your Mac is capable of.

If you’re able to add more RAM, that’s where you’ll get the most ‘bang for your buck’. I’ve consistently found that Crucial RAM works best (and you can always find great deals on Amazon). Again, use Google to research how much RAM your specific Mac can use, and make your purchase accordingly. If you have any issues getting your Mac to recognize newly installed RAM, see the tutorial on how to “zap the PRAM”. Another way to significantly speed up your Mac is to install an SSD (solid state drive) – if your Mac is capable of using one (and currently doesn’t have one installed). Upgrading from a traditional hard drive to an SSD drive will significantly speed up your Mac, though it’s not an inexpensive upgrade (SSD drives are still quite expensive). Upgrading the memory or hard drive on your Mac is also something you can do. There are dozens if not hundreds of great video tutorials on YouTube that will show you exactly how to do it yourself, step by step. Having Apple upgrade your hardware for you can be very costly – doing it yourself will save you a good deal of money.

If you have any tips on how to speed up your Mac – please share them in the comments!

User Submitted Tips

Here are some great user-submitted tips on speeding up your Mac –

  1. The folks over at OS X Daily have a great (and brief) tutorial on how to stop Time Machine from creating local backups (they’re created on your primary hard drive, not the drive you use for Time Machine). This can use up a fair bit of disk space on your primary drive – space you could be using for Applications or other files. It also uses a lot of CPU while the process is taking place, which will slow your Mac down considerably as it’s happening. Keep in mind – this is only something you want to disable if you make regular Time Machine backups – which you should be doing already :) – Thanks for the tip Nick!