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speed up your mac computerThis is the common basic mentality: in order for your computer to perform better, it needs to be upgraded – that means spending money to buy better components. While that may be true, it is not always the case. A computer, be it a Mac or Windows PC can always be maintained or overhauled for better performance for zilch dollars. All it takes is some time and tender loving care. Below, you’ll find few solid suggestions on how to speed up your Mac computer without spending any cash.

I’ve recently adopted a DIY frame of mind, so from now on, I’m challenging myself to make whatever I need and want. And I invite you to do the same.

Let’s start with the basics and move on from there. Think, if you need to speed up your computer, what would be your first step? Spring Cleaning.

Remove Unnecessary Applications

As a Mac writer, I download a lot of applications and games to review them. Most of the time, I remember to rid myself of the ones which aren’t so good and probably keep some that are worth the space. After a while, I realised that my Applications folder is overfilled with stuff which I hardly ever use. Firstly, these applications take up valuable hard disk space (which I can use for something more important, like storing family photos, for example); and secondly, there is a noticeable delay and jerkiness while scrolling through my Apps folder because the operating system is caching all of the icons (this happens every time after a reboot).

Why on earth do you need to keep those games which you have completed and triumphed over years ago? Get rid of them – use AppCleaner to remove their associated preference files as well, leaving nothing behind.

While you’re at it, it is probably a good idea to look through other folders to find out what else is dispensable. For all you know, you may have lots of archaic documents lying around. This is a great time to organize them properly and throw away what you don’t need anymore.

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Restrict Apps Which Run On Login

If you find that your startup is taking longer than it used to, you probably have a lot of applications set to launch when you log in. Head into System Preferences->Accounts and click on your account in the left column to select it. Then hit the ‘Login Items’ tabs and sift through the applications. Whichever are unimportant or not essential, remove them. That could shave a few seconds off your startup time.

Clear Your Dashboard

Get over the widget craze. I know some Mac users who are running a ton of widgets in Dashboard. For every widget that is open, some memory is being eaten up – which leaves less for the system to play with. This affects Macs with insufficient RAM, in particular the Mac Mini. I say this for many reasons: One, because Mini’s are shipped with 1GB RAM and if you didn’t add more RAM while purchasing, upgrading is a pretty daunting DIY procedure.

speed up your mac os x

Two, Mini’s are more commonly given as gifts because they are so cheap (hear this, grandpa?) and are usually at the stock specifications. Less RAM results in more page ins and outs (virtual memory swaps) and sooner hard disk failure if continually stressed. So for heaven’s (and your hard disk’s) sake, use only the widgets you’ll need and try not to show off.

Run OnyX

In an earlier article Ten Tools To Keep Your Mac In Tip-Top Shape Ten Tools To Keep Your Mac In Tip-Top Shape Read More , I mentioned OnyX as a great system optimizer. It repairs disk permissions and performs various other actions i.e. clears cache, old logs and temporary items, just to name a few. Run it and try your best to clear what you can. It’s synonymous to detoxifying your body – leaving your and your computer rejuvenated.

A word of caution: OnyX has several different versions of the program for Leopard, Tiger, Panther and Jaguar – make sure you choose the right one.

Update Your Apps and OS X

Running an outdated build of an application could be one of the many reasons for your Mac slow-down. Newer builds are more stable and made to be more efficient and quicker. Have a look through to see if any of your applications need to be updated – oh wait, you don’t need to do that manually. AppFresh will scan through all of your applications and inform you of those with an impending update. From there, you can easily head to the developers’ websites to download the newer builds or simply click on the AppFresh ‘Update’ button.

appfresh - Mac updater

While you’re updating your applications, why not update your operating system as well? It’s a relatively painless process. Most of the time, your update will already have been downloaded automatically and just waiting to be installed. Run Software Update from the Apple Menu to see if you are on the latest and greatest version of Mac OS X.

Erase Free Space on Mac OS X

I’ve gone through several “Speed up your Mac” articles and most of them miss this one out. Yes, you may have removed the applications and files which you won’t need anymore, clearing up a lot of hard disk space. But did you know that there is still information on the parts of the hard disk where your recently-deleted applications and files used to be? The operating system is merely registering it as free space so that those sectors can be overwritten with new data.

erase free space mac os x

Think about it: writing on a fresh portion of the hard disk will be vastly quicker than overwriting any portions laden with data. Erasing the free space on your Mac hard disk will ensure that free space is really free space. You can do it by going over to Disk Utility (Applications->Utilities or just Spotlight for it), select on your Mac OS X partition in the left column and click on the ‘Erase’ tab on the right. The ‘Erase Free Space’ button should be unbricked as a result. A window with several options will drop down:

  • Zero Out Deleted Files
  • 7-Pass Erase of Deleted Files
  • 35-Pass Erase of Deleted Files
  • Zero-ing out basically means writing over the free space with zeros. The difference between a one-pass, 7-pass and 35-pass zero out is the number of times zeros are written on a particular sector of the hard disk. In other words, a 35-pass zero out means writing zero 35 times on a particular spot where data used to be. A logic would suggest, the process of a 35-pass zero out will take 35 more time than just one-pass. Be very careful when doing this because any data lost accidentally will not be able to be recovered unless you have a backup somewhere.

    Use Your Mac Conservatively

    On a low-end Mac or an old one, there is just so much you can do to speed it up without forking out cash for new parts. If you’ve tried all of the above and it hasn’t improved much, then you’ll have to look within yourself. I know it sounds remarkable zen-like but it may just help.

    Try not to run too many applications concurrently. Keep an eye on your Activity Monitor (or iStat Menu, if you have it) and monitor your memory usage. If there are too many page ins/outs, you know that you’ve kind of overstepped the capabilities of your Mac.

    Run applications which are light on memory. We all know that Safari and Azureus are memory hogs. Try switching over to a lighter web browser like Firefox 3, Radon, Lightbrowser, Camino or Stainless Stainless - Google Chrome's Mac Twin [Mac Only] Stainless - Google Chrome's Mac Twin [Mac Only] Read More . Use uTorrent or Transmission Transmission vs uTorrent [Mac Only] Transmission vs uTorrent [Mac Only] Read More instead of Azureus.

    I hope that this article has helped you tweak your Mac back to shape and saved you a few hundred dollars from new parts and possibly professional charges. What other ways can you suggest to speed up a Mac besides the ones I just mentioned? Enlighten us with your knowledge! Share in the comments.

    1. Fred
      January 24, 2015 at 6:44 pm

      It did the trick to me on my late macbook 2008 aluminum and my early 2008 iMac. I erased free space and both systems 10.9.5 4GB RAM each run quite a bit more smoother. (Not a psychological effect, benchmarked both systems and numbers were different)

      Cheers.

    2. Uhh
      September 24, 2009 at 9:12 pm

      "Think about it: writing on a fresh portion of the hard disk will be vastly quicker than overwriting any portions laden with data."

      By what contorted logic? The write speed will be the same regardless of whether it's overwriting 1s or 0s.

    3. Pondini
      February 28, 2009 at 6:23 pm

      Erase Free Space to gain performance is absolutely ridiculous.

      The only thing it accomplishes is making it impossible to recover deleted files. Period.

    4. LeGaS
      January 1, 2009 at 7:55 am

      Instead of AppFresh I would recommend using the App Update widget. It worked better for me.

    5. Gary LaPointe
      December 31, 2008 at 2:34 pm

      >Think about it: writing on a fresh portion of the hard disk
      >will be vastly quicker than overwriting any portions laden with data.
      >Erasing the free space on your hard disk will ensure
      >that free space is really free space.

      Vastly quicker? I've never heard of such a thing. I'm not disagreeing but I've never head of it (and it sounds like it should be obvious they way you write it).

      I can see if the space were contiguous but we're not talking about defragmenting, we're just talking about deleting the old data, right?

      I did a few google searches and

      Gary

      • Jackson Chung
        January 1, 2009 at 5:25 am

        Imagine buying yourself a new hard drive and zero-ing it out and using it as your system disk. It would feel brand new, won't it? Now imagine that you've used it to the point until its totally full and you start deleting some stuff away. It will tend to feel sluggish and you'll most probably be hearing the hard disk working away because it needs to overwrite areas with new data instead of just plainly writing new data on a fresh empty disk. Comparatively and theoretically, erasing your free space should make your disk feel more responsive.

        • Richard
          January 1, 2009 at 6:21 am

          Erasing "free space" is unlikely to have any effect on system performance. Changing a '1' to a '0' will not speed up a hard drive's write performance. Erasing "free space" is done for security reasons, not performance purposes.

          I think this part of the tip should be deleted from your otherwise excellent blog post.

          • Jackson Chung
            January 1, 2009 at 7:16 am

            Let's have the pundits at Apple answer this.

            I started a thread on Apple's discussion board. We'll see what they say.

          • Gary LaPointe
            January 1, 2009 at 5:02 pm

            They seem to be saying only IF you are defragmenting (and then it seems as if it doesn't matter).

            One person mentions if it's contiguous, but I don't see the difference if it's contiguous or non-contiguous, it's either free or not (with or without 0s).

            I'm all for defragmenting but the last few times I've tried it I've seen some kinds of error (windows and mac) which then screws up the defrag so I've tended to leave it alone. Dragging all the files to another drive, deleting them on the source (and only having the one errored file goof up) and dragging them back has been a more successful way to defrag for me lately.

            But

            Gary

        • Gary LaPointe
          January 1, 2009 at 4:56 pm

          But I would expect a used full drive that I just did some form of quick format to just the table of contents to give me the same results as a zeroed-out drive.

          So I'm not sure why a used drive with sectors marked used or marked used and zeroed out would give a different performance.

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