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It’s well known that all computers, including Macs, slow down over time. This drop in performance can be frustrating, and it’s easy to think that you need to splash out on extra RAM—or even buy a new machine—sooner than you’d like.
But there are a number of easy tweaks that can boost your computer’s performance and speed up that slow Mac, and they won’t cost you a penny.
First: Mistakes That Make Your Mac Run Slow
We’ve previously covered some causes of a slow Mac when we looked at common mistakes that slow down your Mac. Before continuing, you should go through that guide so you know what not to do.
It covers quick fixes like closing demanding programs and clearing your caches which bring immediate performance improvements in your Mac. But if your computer still isn’t performing as you’d like, continue with the tips below.
1. Upgrade macOS
Many people still believe the myth that operating system upgrades always slow down your machine. And while they can sometimes have performance issues on really old computers, these updates usually do more good than harm. They include bug fixes, patches, and improvements that often increase the speed of your Mac.
These OS update files can be pretty large, though. So if you’re running low on hard drive space, you’ll likely want to free that up first (see step 2, below).
To update your OS, make sure your laptop is connected to a power outlet, and back up your Mac first in case anything goes wrong. Click the Apple menu in the top-left corner of your screen and go to About This Mac > Software Updates.
If a software upgrade is available, you’ll see an Upgrade Now button. Click that and the download will start.
After a while, your computer will restart itself, and you’ll walk through the installation process. This update process will update not just the operating system, but also many of the default apps from Apple.
2. Free Up Hard Disk Space
As your storage drive reaches its capacity, performance drops off rapidly. Large files have been shown to have more of a negative effect on your Mac’s speed than small files. It’s thus always wise to keep at least 25% of your disk space free if possible.
To check how much free space you have on your hard drive, go to Apple menu > About This Mac > Storage.
If you’re running low on space, as shown in the image above, it’s worth going through our guide on how to free up space on your Mac. That takes you through how to do each of the following step-by-step:
- Empty the trash
- Uninstall apps you don’t use
- Find and delete large files
- Delete iTunes files and iOS backups
- Take a look at cloud storage apps
- Optimize storage in the photos app
- Store your Desktop and Documents folders in the cloud
In addition, we’d also recommend moving your photos and music libraries over to an external hard drive, as they can take up a huge amount of space. Make at least two copies (or back up with a cloud provider) in case one of your drives fails.
After working through the steps in that guide, I freed up an additional 34GB of hard drive space.
3. Remove Startup Items
To help your Mac boot up faster, you should minimize the number of background processes that load each time you restart. To do this:
- Go to System Preferences > Users & Groups and select your account name on the left sidebar.
- Click Login Items.
- Select the items you no longer wish to load at startup.
- Remove these by clicking the minus button.
4. Delete Unnecessary Widgets
Having a bunch of widgets running in the background can also have an impact on your Mac’s speed. To remove some of these:
- Open the Notification Center by clicking the button at the top-right corner of the screen.
- Go to the Today tab.
- Click Edit at the bottom of the Notification Center.
- Click the red delete button to remove any widgets that are unnecessary.
5. Rebuild the Spotlight Index
If Spotlight has stopped returning the results you’d expect, or is running particularly slow, rebuilding the Spotlight index should help. Follow these steps to do so:
- Go to System Preferences > Spotlight > Privacy.
- Click the Plus button and select the drive or folders that you want to reindex.
- Confirm that you want to (temporarily) exclude these from Spotlight.
- Select the same drive or folder, and click the minus button to remove these again.
This will force Spotlight to reindex that drive or folder, which should make searching run more smoothly. This can take some time, so be patient if Spotlight seems finicky at first.
6. Turn Off Visual Effects
The barely-noticed visual effects of macOS can impact your computer performance more than you think. To disable these:
- Go to System Preferences > Dock.
- Untick Animate opening applications.
- Set the Minimize windows using option to Scale effect.
- Go to System Preferences > Accessibility > Display,
- Select Reduce Transparency.
7. Don’t Sync Too Much Cloud Data at Once
If you’re attempting to sync large folders to the cloud using services such as iCloud, Google Drive, or Dropbox, this will likely slow everything down. Be sure to routinely review which files and folders are uploading to the cloud to ensure you’re not sending too much at once.
You can review and adjust which data backs up to iCloud by going to System Preferences > Apple ID > iCloud.
To manage which folders sync with other cloud storage providers, you’ll generally need to go to the Preferences panel of the specific app that you use (like Dropbox or Google Drive). Try to avoid syncing folders that change frequently.
8. Set a Default Finder Folder
Each time you open Finder, it needs to load the folder set as its default. If this is a large folder, that can take more time than you’d like (such as if you have tons of items on your desktop). Instead, you should change this to a smaller, less demanding folder so that Finder can load faster:
- Open Finder.
- Go to the menu bar and click Finder > Preferences.
- In the General tab, go to the New Finder windows show dropdown, and select a new default folder.
9. Remove Browser Add-ons
Since so much of most people’s computer work these days is done within a browser, it can be easy to mistake a slow browser for a slow Mac. The easiest fix here is to remove unneeded and bulky add-ons/extensions from whichever browser you use.
We’ve shown how to clean up your browser extensions the easy way. If you need more specific info, check out these official help pages:
10. Keep Your Apps Up to Date
Outdated apps that haven’t been optimized for the latest macOS update can cause your Mac to feel slower than it really is. It’s therefore always worthwhile to keep the software on your computer up to date.
To do this, go to App Store > Updates. If any app updates are available, you’ll see them listed. Either click to update each app individually, or choose Update All in the top-right corner to install all available updates at once.
Mac Running Slow? Not Anymore!
With these simple tips, you should see a noticeable improvement in your Mac’s speed. However, if your machine still isn’t working at a speed that’s acceptable, there are a couple more extreme (or expensive) options.
If your computer is really old, you may be best off buying a refurbished Mac to save some cash. For a less expensive option, if your model is old enough, you might be able to upgrade the RAM in your Mac.
Failing either of these, you can completely reinstall macOS, without or without erasing your storage disk entirely. Doing so essentially restores your Mac to its factory settings. Hopefully it won’t come to this, though, and these tips will get you plenty more use out of your Mac.