WARNING: A slow or unresponsive MacBook could be the sign of a virus or malware infection. Check out our article on how to clean your computer and keep it safe from viruses and adware.
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 its usefulness for years! And none of the methods listed in this article are dangerous or voids your Mac's warranty.
Table of Contents
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 Mac's 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 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/un-needed files that are hidden in your computer and difficult to find yourself. CCleaner is one of the more basic ones while CleanMyMacX is a more comprehensive one.
Complete Software Updates
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.
Remove Pretty Effects In macOS
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.
The release of Mac OSX Yosemite 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).
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.
Use A Modern And Clean Web Browser
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 macOS's Software Updates) to the latest version. If you're using Firefox, it is suggested that you shift over to either a modern version of Safari or Google Chrome, as we think Firefox has become rather bloated and slow in its 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 Mac's 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 and freely download the latest version of it here.
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 startup or login to your Mac. The purpose of them is to save you from manually opening applications that you always want to 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:
- Open your Mac's System Preferences.
- Click on the "Users & Groups" pane.
- Select the "Login Items" tab.
- 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).
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.
Certain Macs allow you to 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 USD$40-$50, while 16GB costs USD$70-$80. When it comes to the unibody MacBook and 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 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 and 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. For instructions on how to install it, follow this video for a MacBook, this for an iMac (27") and this for a Mac Mini.
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:
- Go to spotlight (the magnifying glass in the upper-right-hand corner of the screen) and type "terminal".
- Select the top result, which should be the "terminal" application.
- Once the terminal window opens, either copy and paste or manually type in the following command, then press the enter key: 'defaults write com.apple.dashboard mcx-disabled -boolean YES'
- 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 com.apple.dashboard mcx-disabled -boolean NO
Upgrade To A SSD Drive
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 and 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 are subsequently 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 and 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 and 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 is the best SSD drive that we recommend based on its value for money and reliability when used with Mac 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.
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Perform A Full Restore Of macOS
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. 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.
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 'macOS Recovery'. For instructions on how to utilize macOS Recovery to restore your Mac, click here to visit Apple's official page on the subject.