12 Tips for Speeding up a Slow Mac

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A slow Mac is never fun. Whatever the reason your computer is running slow, dealing with a Mac that doesn't react quickly to your inputs is frustrating.

All Macs slow down with age — no matter how much you spend on them, or which model you choose — they start to slow down, and may 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.

Why is your Mac running slow?

There are a variety of reasons your Mac may be slow. The most obvious reason can be hardware; if your Mac is older, its CPU, RAM, and other hardware components may simply be too old to run modern applications and websites. 

Another common issue is your Mac needs some tidying up. Apps can leave behind files long after you've deleted them, and even built-in tools like Spotlight search do better with a bit of reindexing now and then.

Here, we'll tell you how to speed up Mac performance on any Mac, covering the main issues users see.

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

Malware and viruses

Your Mac does a good job of blocking most malware and viruses that are known, but new threats pop up daily. A Mac running slow may have a few viruses that are causing issues.

One of the best tools for scanning your Mac for malware or viruses is CleanMyMac X. It has a ton of other tools in its arsenal, but CleanMyMac X's malware scanning tool is really special. Here's how to use it:

  1. Open CleanMyMac X on your Mac
  2. Select 'Malware Removal' from the side menu
  3. Select 'Scan' at the bottom of the window
    Malware Removal

Update your Mac's software

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

Another awesome method for ensuring your Mac performs at its best is updating the apps on your computer. You can do this one of three ways:

  • The Mac App Store. On your Mac, head to the menu bar. Select the Apple logo on the top left. Select 'App Store.' From the left-side menu, select 'Updates' and update all apps in the queue.
  • CleanMyMac X. In addition to Malware scans, CleanMyMac X can manage all of your app updates. On the left side of the CleanMyMac X window, select 'Updater' and select all the apps you'd like to update, then select 'Update' on the bottom of the window. 
  • The app itself. From the menu bar, select the app name. There may be a direct method for updating the app in the drop-down menu, or it could be under 'Preferences.'

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.


Check login items and disable unused

You can also do this directly on your Mac. Here's how:

  1. From the menu bar, select the Apple logo
  2. Select 'System Preferences'
  3. Select 'Users and Groups'
  4. Select 'Login Items'
  5. Select items you no longer want to become active at login

Close unnecessary apps

Your Mac may be suffering from apps running in the background which simply don't need to. Any open and running app takes up resources, and if you've got a lot of them running – well, there's simply less resources for you to do what you want!

One easy way to manage apps running on your computer is to force quit the ones you're not using. From the menu bar, select the Apple logo on the top left, and choose 'Force Quit.' Select an app you want to close down, and select 'Force Quit' on the bottom right of the window.

Force quit Mail app

Merge multiple open windows

Finder and Preview on your Mac can get overrun with multiple open windows. Each open window is its own process; it's like having the same app open multiple times. Modern macOS builds operate in a tabbed view for these apps, but you can still end up with multiple windows open.

To merge all of your open windows, select the 'window' menu from the menu bar, and choose 'merge all windows.' This will bring all open windows into one window, and the other instances of the app will become tabbed views! This is how to make Mac faster in a way you probably hadn't considered before.

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.

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.

choose icloud sync

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 numerous other apps in the Dock, it soon becomes a go-to place for everything you need.

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.

clean your desktop with declutter

Clean up Mac's hard drive

Your hard drive may be full of old files you no longer need. Like multiple instances of Finder or Preview, a full hard drive is using up valuable resources your Mac needs. Learn more about 

how to clone a hard drive on a mac

Instead, comb through your files and delete any you don't need. Those you're not using often should be stored on external drives; you can still access them any time, they just don't occupy the memory your Mac needs to run apps.

Here're quick tips to free up more disk space.

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.

clear cache files mac


Optimize storage

Another way to ensure your Mac operates at peak efficiency 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 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.purgeable space

You can't manually delete the files that are designated purgeable with CleanMyMac app, or macOS removes them as space is needed.

Delete large unused files

There are two ways to delete large, old, unused files. Here's how to do it from the macOS system menu:

  1. From the menu bar, select the Apple logo
  2. Select 'About this Mac'
  3. Select 'Storage'
  4. Select 'Manage'
  5. Choose the apps, files, or other large items you'd like to remove and select 'Delete…'

Here's a better way: use CleanMyMac X to remove useless data:

  1. Open CleanMyMac X on your Mac
  2. Choose 'Large & Old Files' from the left hand menu
  3. Select 'Scan' at the bottom of the window
  4. Choose the files you want to remove, and choose 'Remove' at the bottom of the window

Large and Old data removal

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.

Upgrade Mac hardware

As you can see, there are a lot of things you can do to speed 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.

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, and nearly 200 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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