MacMost Now 349: Fixing a Slow Mac

What to do when your Mac slows down. If you are experiencing a slowdown, there are several things you can check before having a pro take a look. Learn how to use Activity Monitor, Disk Utility and the System Preferences to look for obvious problems. There are also some other tips for clearing up trouble.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: MacMost Now 349: Fixing a Slow Mac.

Hi, this is Gary with MacMost Now. On today's episode, let's look at what to do when your Mac is running slow.
So this is a very common question that I get. A Mac that used to work really well, is now running very slow. What can somebody do to diagnose and perhaps fix the problem. Well, it's very hard to tell, there are a million different things that can slow down any computer. But, there are some steps you can take to maybe figure out what it is, and see if you can fix it on your own.
So first I check some basics, like hard drive space. See how much hard drive space you have free on the main hard drive. If you've got less than ten percent free, then consider getting rid of some files, archiving them off, or maybe using an external drive to store some things. You see, the Mac not only uses hard drive space to store files, but it also uses it to swap out bits of memory while you're running applications. So if you're running low on hard drive space, it's going to effect performance.
Next is to see how many applications you have running. If you've got a lot of apps running at the same time, that could be the cause. Try quitting most of them, maybe doing a restart and just launching the ones that you want to use at that moment. A lot of times Macs run slow when there's a ton of applications, especially when there's one that's a memory hog, like Adobe Reader.
Also, check your dashboard widgets. Some people like to install a whole bunch of dashboard widgets just to see what they do, and then they leave them running. This will also take up memory and processor power. So maybe quit or uninstall dashboard widgets you're not using.
Here's a program on your Mac in the Utilities folder called Activity Monitor. Activity Monitor will look at what is running on your mac, and how much processor power it's taking up. YOu can go and select, only show active processes or all processes, sort them by CPU, and take a look at what's taking up a lot of your CPU power. Now, you're going to see a lot of things on the left that are not applications, they're background processes running. YOu can find out what any of these are by simply searching the internet. So, if you're looking for something like directory service, you can go to the Internet, search for directory service, just like it appears there. Sometimes you can put Activity Monitor directory service, and it will come up with people talking about what that application does, and why it's appearing in Activity Monitor. So, it's always a way to find out what each of these are.
NOw a lot of people freak out when they first run activity monitor, because they see all these things running and they figure, 'There's gotta be something running there that shouldn't be.' But that's not the case, these are usually background processes that are part of Mac OS10, or part of an application they have installed. so just do the internet search on it and you'll find out what it is.
The next thing I would do, is take a look at your system preferences. Go into Accounts, and click on your current account, and go to Login Items. This will list items that run when you login or startup your computer. Now, if you've installed a whole bunch of different applications, you might find a whole bunch of different things in here. The check mark next to it means that it actually hides the application after it runs. Without the check mark means it should run and appear there. Now, if there are things there for applications you no longer use, you should consider uninstalling those applications. Don't just delete it out of here, but actually find the application and run it's installer to uninstall it, or go to the website and see the steps to uninstall that program.
Very commonly, slow Macs have a whole bunch of different items running during login that [?] the user is not using anymore. And that's a good practice if your Mac is running slow, is to take a look at all your applications, and uninstall the ones that you're no longer using. Just git rid of them, make sure they're not running login items, make sure they're uninstalled from the system preferences pane, and maybe you have menu bar items running...Try to streamline your Mac if it's not running quickly enough.
Disk Utilities is the next place you may want to look to see what's wrong. Click on to your hard drive, and you can go to the First Aid tab, and run a verify disk, and verify disk permissions. You can also repair disk permissions here. So, this may help in some cases, usually it doesn't, but it's a good idea to check to see what condition your disk and your files are in.
One thing you can do to help diagnose problems, is to create a new temporary user on your Mac. Give it the same permissions as an administrator as your main account. And try restarting and logging in on that account instead of the one you're using. See if applications run slowly under this account. If they don't, you know the problem is with things you have installed for your main account. If they do run slowly, you know it's things that are installed for your Mac in general.
Another thing you may want to do is clear out your caches. Caches are temporary files that are saved on your hard drive to speed things up, but if you fill up a cache area it can slow things down. In Safari, you can go to Safari, and Empty Cache. But also, you've got a whole bunch of different caches. If you look in your user folder, under Library and then there's a folder called Caches. In there, you can see tons of different programs that cache data. Now the interesting thing is you can select all of these and simply delete them. This will delete all the caches for these applications; they'll simply recreate the caches and start using them again at the next time you run them.
Also, while you're in here there's a preferences folder. In there, you're going to find the preferences for every application that you've got. SOmetimes, they'll be called by the application name, or even by the name of the company. other times they're going to be called things like com dot, and then the name of the company dot the name of the application. Now usually if an application is running slow, you can clean out it's preferences simply by selecting it and deleting it, or selecting it and moving it somewhere temporarily, then when you run the application it will reinstall the preference file with all the default preferences. You have that file there as a backup just in case it doesn't. In this case, you're going to lose some of your settings, but you may end up speeding things up if the preferences for that application have somehow gotten corrupt.
If it is an application that's slow, not your entire Mac, then you may want to check the website for that application, see if there's an update, and see if there's people talking about, perhaps, that application being slow on your particular version of Mac, or version of the operating system. You can always submit a request there for support if you think it's just that application causing trouble.
People commonly have problems with web browsers. And one thing you can do is trade off Safari for Firefox or vice versa to see if the problem is with the browser itself or perhaps your connection. So, for instance, if you do use Safari, try using firefox just for a little bit to see if that's just as slow. Also, if you do use Firefox, Firefox does tend to slow down quite a bit if you put a lot of add-ons in there. Sometimes people pile on the different Firefox add-ons, and then they see the performance degrade over time with all these add-ons. Try clearing them out if you're not using them.
And finally, you may want to consider that your Mac is simply getting old, and may have run fast when you got it years ago, but now you've installed updates of applications, applications that expect you to have a newer Mac, and use a lot more memory and a lot more processing power. So, one of the things you can do is add more memory to your Mac, that can sometimes speed things up, but other times you just have to realize that an old Mac isn't going to be able to run new applications very quickly.
So I hope you found these tips useful, and perhaps you can use them to diagnose a slow Mac on your own. If not, you can always take it into the genius bar, or find a Mac expert to help you out. 'Till next time, this is Gary Rosenzweig with MacMost Now.

Comments: 12 Responses to “MacMost Now 349: Fixing a Slow Mac”

    Peter Emery
    9 years ago

    Another way to speed up the initial performance of your internet connection is to change the DNS settings.

    If you don’t know how to do this, visit Google DNS for instructions for various different operating systems. Google DNS recommends using &, but a freeware app called namebench will make a thorough check of all available DNS connections in your area and supply a detailed report showing the fastest primary, secondary & tertiary DNS setups in your area.

    A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a speed increase when using the Google DNS settings: pages in Safari & messages in Mail were rendering considerably faster than with the standard setting. After running namebench, I found my own ISP had a DNS setup that was 354% faster than the Google DNS settings I had been using.

      9 years ago

      Excellent tip, Peter.

      7 years ago

      yeah you’re a smart man ! thanks

    9 years ago

    my macbook pro is less than 6 months old and getting a lot of beachballs, i installed the java update and that helped for a day but the day after that I powered on my computer and i got a beachball when the computer was turning on. my hard drive is ok and i have also defraged the drive and optimized it and repaired the permissions and verified the drive and the drive is ok. I am going to try and fix it for a another week and if it is not better I might have to take it into the apples store but only has a last resort.
    please help thanks shane

      9 years ago

      Why wait? If you are having trouble, take it in now. When you buy a Mac you are paying for support. Why not use it?

        Johan van der Spuy
        9 years ago

        My Macbook Pro is about 2 years old and I am also often getting these spinning beachballs. This even occurs just after startup with no apps running.
        Any idea why this is or anything I can or should do?

          9 years ago

          Watch the video for suggestions. It is probably something running in the background that is causing the issue. Impossible to tell without examining the machine, though.

    9 years ago

    Don’t advertise FireFox. Its not a fast and safe browser.
    If you do like firefox browsing try the lightweight Camino Browser.
    Or if You want a Powerful and fast browser, which is very easy to use try Opera. You can even directly download from newsgroups and .torrent files

      9 years ago

      Funny. Firefox isn’t safe, but “download from newsgroups and .torrent files” is? Really?

        8 years ago

        Now that is funny !

    Mr Anthony Cotton
    7 years ago

    Ernesto is right about Firefox it has an add on called Tampa Data. Most people are honest but hacker`s use this add on to get information while you are online. This made my hair stand up when you are purchasing something from the internet. They can alter items at the checkout,and prices. The rest is too technical for me to explain how they do it?

    7 years ago

    Manual tricks could fix the issue but upto some extent only. For more effective results one needs to switch to some speed up tools. These tools basically keep your drive clean and avail necessary resources for OS.

    The tools include Stellar speed up Mac, cleanmyMac etc

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