We’ve all been there. Every computer has this problem. Whether you use a Mac, PC or Linux; your system, at one point in time, will start feeling sluggish and less responsive. For Macs, the ever-popular symptom is the spinning wait cursor, also known as the spinning pinwheel or more ominously, the spinning beach ball of death! Usually, if you’re running a very old system, a simple hardware upgrade will solve the issue. Most of the time, this involves buying a larger, faster hard disk or by adding more memory.
More often than not, all your Mac probably needs is some maintenance. Here are some tips to optimize your Mac and keep the system running healthily.
1. Quit Inactive Applications
Probably one of the most overlooked causes of a slowdown is running an app in the background without knowing. Sometimes, this happens to me as well — I can’t tell you how many times I’ve left Photoshop running by accident.
Apps running in the background use memory even if they’re inactive, depriving the operating system. Hence, forcing it to use the available hard disk space as virtual memory; leading to an excessive amount of pagings and slowdowns. This also puts unnecessary strain on your hard disk, especially so if you’re running low on free space.
So, keep an eye on the Dock for apps that shouldn’t be running. Be frugal with your memory usage and you’ll notice a different in the system’s performance.
2. Disable The Dashboard
If you hardly use widgets, then you should disable the Dashboard in order to prevent the widgets from loading. The less memory you have to spare, the more reason you should do it.
Disabling the Dashboard requires the use to Terminal. Before you get all frightened, relax. It’s not that difficult.
Launch Terminal from Applications > Utilities > Terminal.app. Copy and paste this line of code into Terminal and hit Enter:
defaults write com.apple.dashboard mcx-disabled -boolean YES
Don’t quit Terminal just yet. The Dock has to be restarted in order for this hack to work. So copy and paste this line of code to restart the Dock then hit Enter:
You can quit Terminal now by pressing Command+Q. With Dashboard disabled, nothing will happen when you press on the dedicated Dashboard button (F4), hit F12 or click on the Dashboard dock icon; preventing the widgets from launching and hogging precious memory.
To re-enable the Dashboard, copy and paste this code into Terminal and hit Enter:
defaults write com.apple.dashboard mcx-disabled -boolean NO
Then, restart the Dock by using the code above.
3. Look Into Preferences
There is a lot you can do within System Preference to make sure that your Mac is running as smoothly as possible. For starters, you could take a look through your list of apps which automatically launch on login. You can find it under Accounts setting then hitting the ‘Login Items’ tab. I’ve listed this tip in a previous article but I can’t emphasize how important it is. Apps that launch when your Mac powers on prolong start-up time and take up memory. Keep this list lean and mean.
Then spend some time examining other options and evaluate if they’re absolutely essential to be running. For example, if you’re don’t use Bluetooth, then make sure to turn it off. Enabling File Sharing shows that you’re generous and kind but is taxing to your hard disk — especially if you’re sharing the Movies folder. Having someone stream movies from your Mac while trying to run Photoshop is well, for lack of a better word, hazardous. My advice is to disable File Sharing and other unnecessary Sharing options, and revert to using a pendrive to share files.
One last tip regarding System Preferences. After using your Mac for a while, there must be a load of preference panes installed. They are listed under the ‘Other’ section. Take a look at what’s installed and whether or not they’re needed. Preference panes are loaded during start-up and take up memory as well. If you find something that you deem not essential, right-click on it and remove it.
4. Make Room To Breathe
Hard disk space isn’t only meant for storing files. I’ve seen some people fill their hard disks to the brim. Mac OS X requires at least 20% of the hard disk drive to be free in order to perform smoothly. It uses this space to swap memory with the RAM (paging), write system files and other temporary files. By leaving OS X very little free space, you are choking the system, metaphorically speaking.
How can you free up used disk space? Run an inventory and remove applications that you hardly ever use. Take iDVD and Garageband for example, it uses up free space in the gigabytes. If you don’t frequently use these apps, remove them — you can always reinstall them from the OS X Install Disc.
Buy an external hard disk and store your large movie files over there instead of occupying the space on the primary (system) hard drive.
You can also use applications like Filelight (direct download link, Snow Leopard compatible), GrandPerspective or OmniDiskSweeper to display your hard disk usage in an easily-digestible graphical interface and find the culprit that’s hogging your valuable disk space.
5. Update Frequently
Updating your system may feel troublesome to certain users, especially when it involves restarting. It should be made known that Apple releases updates to fix bugs and potential errors which may harm the system. Occasionally, performance updates are issued to address issues regarding improper hardware operation like this one, for instance, which was developed to fix hard drive stalls on Macs running Leopard and Snow Leopard.
To scan your Mac for available updates, run Software Update from the Apple menu in the menubar.
So there we have it, five (frequently overlooked) tips to keep your Mac optimized and running smoothly. I hope that this helps solve the dreadful spinning beachball of death syndrome.
How often do you run maintenance on your Mac? Do you have any other tips to keep OS X running lean and mean? Jot them down in the comments, I’d love to hear your ideas.
Image credit: maczydeco
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