Help! My Mac has slowed down

Is your Mac run­ning slowly? These tips grease its cogs and shift it up a gear


How to speed up a Mac is one of the most com­mon re­quests, not least with Macs which are more than a few years old.

Slow per­for­mance is one of the most ir­ri­tat­ing things to hap­pen to any user. The good news is that Ap­ple tests up­grades to OS X against older ma­chines and makes sure they’re ca­pa­ble of run­ning ev­ery­thing cor­rectly, so if you are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing slow­down it’s usu­ally fix­able.

Hav­ing said that, Yosemite was a sig­nif­i­cant op­er­at­ing sys­tem up­grade from Mavericks, with plenty of ad­di­tional fea­tures.

If you are en­coun­ter­ing slow per­for­mance, the very first stop should be to empty the Trash. OS X needs some free space to move files around, and typ­i­cally we ad­vise around 10 per­cent of your hard drive space, or at least 10GB.

Be­fore you even start to ex­am­ine your disk space, get rid of any un­wanted files. Items stored in Trash are tak­ing up valu­able disk space, so right-click it and choose Empty Trash Now to purge them from your Mac.

Check the avail­able disk space by click­ing Go > Com­puter from the Fin­der menu bar, se­lect­ing the icon for your main hard disk and choos­ing File > Get Info ( ç+I). Avail­able space is listed in the sta­tus bar (you might need to choose Show Sta­tus Bar). If you don’t have at least 10GB free, it’s time to delete or archive your old files. Good places to look are your Movies, Down­loads and Doc­u­ments fold­ers. DaisyDisk (£7.99, daisy­ can help you find space-hog­ging files. Ap­pli­ca­tions tend to take up a lot of space. You can drag apps you no longer use to the Trash or use an app like Ap­pZap­per ($12.95 – about £8, ap­pzap­ to get rid of them.

Cre­at­ing a backup with Time Ma­chine is a good idea be­fore you start to trash files. Con­nect an un­used or new ex­ter­nal drive with suf­fi­cient space, and go to Sys­tem Pref­er­ences > Time Ma­chine to use it for back­ups.

Back­ing up to a di­rectly con­nected hard drive is faster than us­ing a drive such as the Time Cap­sule, which backs up over Wi-Fi. If you do have a Time Cap­sule, it’s a good idea to con­nect to it us­ing an Eth­er­net ca­ble for the first backup.

Even so, back­ing up sev­eral gi­ga­bytes of data will take an hour or two and will im­pact your Mac’s abil­ity to per­form other tasks. Af­ter the ini­tial run, only in­cre­men­tal changes will need to be backed up, so it’s worth grit­ting your teeth and get­ting the first, full backup out the way. Then you can delete older, less crit­i­cal files and fold­ers, which should have the ef­fect of mak­ing your Mac a lit­tle more sprightly.

Turn off fea­tures

If you’ve freed up some hard drive space and are still ex­pe­ri­enc­ing slow per­for­mance, then it might be time to try dis­abling some fea­tures.

To be­gin, go to Sys­tem Pref­er­ences > Ex­ten­sions > All and de­s­e­lect any ex­ten­sions you aren’t us­ing.

Open Sys­tem Pref­er­ences > En­ergy Saver. On some older MacBooks, you may see a Bet­ter Bat­tery Life and Higher Per­for­mance op­tions. Choose the lat­ter, then restart your Mac. This turns on the dis­crete graph­ics card, but it will drain the bat­tery faster.

A good trick for older Macs is to unin­stall Flash. It’s a re­source hog and drains your bat­tery. Of course, you won’t be able to ac­cess Flash-based web con­tent, but many sites have moved to a more mod­ern HTM5 im­ple­men­ta­tion now. You can find a Flash unin­staller at http://adobe. ly/1P9s­dfw. In your web browser, re­mem­ber to close down tabs and win­dows you no longer need as these are a drain on re­sources.

Quit some apps

App Nap is a built-in fea­ture that slows down apps that are ob­scured by other win­dows and not cur­rently do­ing some­thing. If an in­ac­tive app is us­ing valu­able mem­ory, re­cent ver­sions of OS X will com­press the data it has in mem­ory. That isn’t al­ways pos­si­ble, in which case the OS will write in­com­press­ible data to disk to free up space for another app. You can tell OS X the mem­ory used by those apps can be used right away by other things by quit­ting them.

If you find it hard to know which apps are open, in Sys­tem Pref­er­ences > Dock make sure ‘Show indi­ca­tors…’ is en­abled. To pre­vent nap­ping apps reap­pear­ing af­ter a restart, go to > Log Out… and de­s­e­lect ‘Re­open win­dows when log­ging back in’.

Turn­ing off vis­ual ef­fects such as trans­parency, can de­liver in­cre­men­tal but im­por­tant per­for­mance gains. In Sys­tem Pref­er­ences > Ac­ces­si­bil­ity, turn on Re­duce trans­parency.

Even if text doesn’t seem blurry, go to Sys­tem Pref­er­ences > Gen­eral and tog­gle ‘Use LCD font smooth­ing’ to check its ap­pear­ance be­fore and af­ter.

MacBooks that start up slowly may not have been fully shut down the last time. This can hap­pen if you closed the lid of your MacBook be­fore the shut­down process fin­ished, so don’t be too hasty when pow­er­ing down for the day. Af­ter fol­low­ing these tips, you should find OS X runs much faster than be­fore.

On Macs of a very low spec­i­fi­ca­tion, dis­abling Yosemite’s ex­ten­sive use of trans­parency ef­fects should im­prove your ex­pe­ri­ence. It’s easy to check avail­able disk space in Fin­der, yet DaisyDisk does a much bet­ter job at help­ing you clear out old files.

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