12 Tips for Speeding up a Slow Mac

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Working on a slow Mac is infuriating.

All Macs slow down with age — no matter how much you spend on them or which model you choose, MacBook Pro, Air, iMac — they start to slow down and, often, overheat. A slow Mac can cause anxiety-bringing productivity issues, especially if you’ve got a deadline to meet.

Thankfully, there are a few things you can do. You don't need to rush out and buy a new Mac straight away. Macs slow down for multiple reasons, from heavy startup menus to applications running in the background, to disk drives filled with files, apps, images, and documents you don’t really need anymore. Aging hardware can also slow Macs down.

How to speed up a slow Mac

#1: Declutter a messy desktop

Desktop can seem like such a convenient place to store files you are working on. Great for things you need to remember and access quickly. With Stickies, Calendar, and numerous other apps in the Dock, it soon becomes a go-to place for everything you need most days.

Unfortunately, when you’ve got too much going on, it can slow your Mac down.  Even a few weeks of allowing documents, files, downloads and app shortcuts to pile up can leave anyone wondering where they last saw something they needed. It can seriously get in the way of productivity when you have to search all over your desktop or deeper in your Mac only to find a single file. Even a few weeks of allowing documents, files, downloads and app shortcuts to pile up can leave anyone wondering where they last saw something they needed. It can seriously get in the way of productivity when you have to search all over your desktop or deeper in your Mac only to find a single file. A solution is either sorting through every desktop file and document manually or using Declutter.

Declutter is a smart desktop organizer that your Mac will love. Declutter creates rules and colorful folders that make your desktop tidy and your life easy. You can try Declutter for free along with tons of other useful Mac apps in Setapp.

#2: Find and close resource-hungry applications

Some apps take up more processing power than others. We expect more and more from our apps, but when Macs get older they have to work much harder. So you end up with a Mac taking on more tasks with less memory and processing power.

To avoid working on a Mac that feels as though it’s running uphill with a heavy backpack, you need to find and close or remove resource-hungry applications, especially if they’re running in the background and aren't needed. One way to do so is with Activity Monitor, available in Applications.

Look out for CPU usage: pay attention to apps that are using a lot of processing power (normally shown as a percentage), then consider closing or uninstalling the ones you don’t need.

A quicker and better way to solve this problem is with iStat Menus, a handy monitoring app that will quickly identify what is absorbing so much CPU power. Besides regular CPU percentage, iStat Menus will also show you GPU, memory, network data, and disk usage.

Find resource-hungry processes with iStat Menus

Unlike Activity Menu, iStat Menus provides users with even more useful data, and is available through Setapp, along with hundreds of other apps for Mac customers.

Find which process is eating RAM and free up memory

When trying to figure out why a Mac is running slow, you need Activity Menu - within settings - or iStat Menus, a handy app that will quickly identify what is absorbing so much CPU processing power and advise those applications are closed. 

You can use Terminal app to free up the inactive RAM. 

  • Just open Terminal app and enter the following command: sudo purge
  • The system will ask you to enter a password, wait a minute or two to complete the process, and inactive memory will be cleared.

Also you can use a memory script to clear RAM. You don’t have to run it yourself,  you can use a memory freeing tool in CleanMyMac X. Perfect RAM cleaning will boost your Mac's performance.

#3: Simplify your startup menu

Startup menus can take up more processing power than we imagine, since they stay running in the background, quietly slowing down programs you are actually using.

CleanMyMac X easily identifies and lets you manage all the items that start at login. Try to keep the list to a minimum, removing the ones you don’t need and considering that every app requires additional resources.

#4: Switch off visual effects

Visual effects look pretty, but they won't help you get your work done if your Mac is running slowly. Under Systems Preferences, there is a short list of boxes you can untick: animate opening applications, automatically hide and show the Dock. Also, switch minimize effect from Genie to Scale. It may not make a huge difference, but every speed enhancement helps.

#5: Reindex Spotlight

Spotlight is the built-in Mac search feature. It can be handy, especially when looking for documents and files you need right at the moment. However, keeping it from reindexing can slow a Mac down. It takes a while for Spotlight to go through the process, but doing so should speed up your Mac. 

Here is how to reindex Spotlight:

  1. Open Systems Preferences
  2. Click Spotlight
  3. Click on the Privacy tab
  4. A window will appear. Now drag Macintosh HD (and other drives, as needed) into the window, then click OK when prompted.
  5. Now select the drives in that window and click on the minus to remove from the privacy list.

Or, use a one-button reindexing solution, already built in within CleanMyMac. It may take a few hours, but once complete the selected drives will be indexed within Spotlight. And your Mac will be flying.

#6: Update macOS

Apple releases a new operating system every year. The most recent release is macOS 10.15 Catalina. Providing you’ve backed up your files and are aware of any immediate issues (some Mac users prefer to wait until updates and patches have been published), it might be time to update.

Before upgrading, check compatibility. Apple says that the newest OS is available for Macs introduced in mid-2012 or later. Note that Apple gave up support for 2010 and 2012 Mac Pro models with recommended Metal-capable graphics cards with Catalina .

Hardware requirements have changed a bit, compared to the older versions:

  • Required memory: 2GB or more (macOS tends to run best with more memory)
  • Required disk storage: 15GB of free space to run an upgrade

#7: Uninstall apps

One of the best ways to speed up a Mac is to uninstall apps you aren't using. But no one wants to go through all the apps manually. Plus, when you delete an app from Applications, its remnants still clog your space all over the system.

A sure way to delete apps completely is using CleanMyMac Uninstaller module, which we think is the easiest, most efficient way to identify apps that cause your Mac to slow down. 

#8: Clear cache files

CleanMyMac X also allows you to clear cache files quickly and easily. Essentially everything you touch within your computer leaves cache files: system, browsers, apps, user preferences, etc. Over time, the accumulation of those files slows your Mac down. They are very difficult to identify manually and delete, so using CleanMyMac here is by far the easiest choice.

Need a faster Mac? - clean up your disk drive.

Here're quick tips to free up more disk space. But if you want to get a fast way - try CleanMyMac. It comes highly recommended, as the easiest, most efficient way to identify problems, applications and settings that slow Macs down, then clean them. Around the world, over 3 million people are using CleanMyMac to scan, dig up junk cluttering up Macs, delete unused apps the right way, tidy up email folders and attachments and remove plugins you don't need with one click. 

Did you know? A full cleaning done with CleanMyMac reduces Mac boot time by 4.5 times*.

*Testing conducted using MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2016) with 512 GB of storage.

What happens, when you are cleaning your Mac for an update - either OS Mojave or Catalina - and you delete something you later realize you need? Thankfully, an app already exists for that nightmare scenario. Disk Drill is the world’s premier data recovery software for macOS. Powerful enough to retrieve long-lost, mistakenly deleted files from Macs, external hard drives and USB drives and camera cards.

Retrieve mistakenly deleted files with Disk Drill

It’s always handy to have Disk Drill ready to retrieve something you may need. Nothing is gone forever, but of course, you don't want old files taking up too much space.

Additional tip: try to use Optimize storage

Another way to ensure your Mac operates at peak efficiency using Sierra is by deleting files you don't need and putting as much as you can into iCloud. Optimized storage - clearing out old, unused and idle items - comes part of the package with Sierra, but at the same time, storing files offline on a spare hard drive is equally useful since it avoids automatic syncs with iCloud, thereby potentially slowing your Mac down again. But.. you'll see a purgeable storage.

purgeable space

Purgeable storage space contains data that the system hasn't accessed in a long time. If you're running low on disk space, macOS can safely remove them, and then downloaded from iCloud or generated again when data are required again by you or your Mac.
You can’t manually delete the files that are designated purgeable with CleanMyMac app, or macOS removes them as space is needed.

#9: Manage device syncing

Everyone knows photos take up a lot of storage. When iCloud syncing is automatically setup (by default it is), deleting photos on one device would delete them on another, which can be inconvenient if you only want to remove photos from your Mac. To fix this, switch off iCloud syncing and use a third-party storage, sharing, and syncing apps, such as AnyTrans to keep your devices updated. The app works with all types of content and transfers your data across Android, iOS, and cloud drives.

Sync data between devices with AnyTrans app

#10: Reset your SMC & PRAM

Two applications to update before or after you’ve downloaded and installed High Sierra is your System Management Controller (SMC) and your Parameter RAM (PRAM) device. Both are small cogs in a larger wheel and can be done by resetting your device for 5 - 10 seconds, but it can make a big difference when it comes to speed.

There are times when a Mac will perform poorly for no apparent reason. Systems crash, a battery doesn't charge or takes longer than normal, Mac goes to sleep or even shuts down unexpectedly. If you’ve tried other fixes and these issues persist, you might need to reset your SMC (system management controller) and PRAM (parameter RAM).

Although most Mac batteries are no longer removable, you need to check first before proceeding down this road.

When a battery is removable, switch the Mac off, remove the battery, press the power button for 5 seconds, then put the battery back in and turn the Mac on.

For newer MacBooks, including Air and Pro, resetting the SMC and PRAM involves shutting the Mac down, then pressing Shift+Control+Option on your keyboard along with the power button for 10 seconds. Then, release all keys and press the power button to switch it on.

Other Macs, particularly the iMac, Mac Mini, Mac Pro, involve a slightly different process to reset the PRAM. Shut the Mac down, press the power button, then the Command+Option+P+R keys until it restarts, and release the keys. Although all of these processes aren't straightforward, they can work wonders when trying to speed up a slow Mac.

#11: Upgrade Mac hardware

As you can see, there are a lot of things you can do to speeding up your Mac. But what happens when you run out of space? There is only so much that can be done, even when you store files in the cloud and tidy up desktops and disk drives.

Once you’ve cleaned up and deleted everything you don't need, it’s time to take a look at upgrading your standard HDD with an SSD (solid-state drive). We would recommend backing up all your files and consulting a professional before doing this, or having a certified Apple expert do the work to ensure everything transitions smoothly. Besides SSD, increasing the amount of RAM is also an effective way to speed up a slow Mac.

#12: Shutdown or restart your Mac more often

We hardly take care of our Macs — closing them for the night, then opening the next day to push them even further and handle ever-increasing workloads. We forget that computers also need a break. Instead of simply closing and letting them sleep, we should shut down or restart more often, thereby reducing the strain on processors, software, apps, and hard drives.

Speedtest and tweak your Mac often

Following advice above will help you get your slow Mac to speed up again. All the apps mentioned in this article, such as iStat Menus, CleanMyMac, Declutter, Dropshare, and nearly 150 more are available with a single subscription to Setapp. Now you can go on and make your Mac life a bit more easier and a lot more productive.

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