18 tips for speeding up a slow Mac

12 min read

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 top18 issues users see

1. 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.

monitor Mac disk storage

To automate your Mac’s CPU problem completely, however, use App Tamer. 

App Tamer is a smart CPU manager that can slow down power-hungry apps based on the restrictions you specify. For example, you can slow down your browser if it uses more than 10% of your CPU. 

With App Tamer always in your menu bar, you can get the overall CPU load at a glance and then click to see the breakdown for all the apps as well as your CPU chart over time. 

smart CPU manager

2. 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 tools in its arsenal, but its malware scanning tool is really special.

Here’s how to use CleanMyMac X:

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

scan your Mac for malware

3. Update your Mac’s software

Apple releases a new operating system every year. The most recent release is macOS Monterey. 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. Note that Apple gives up support for a few old Macs with every new macOS release, so it’s important to ensure your Mac is compatible.

Read a full guide on how to update your macOS here.

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:

  • 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.
  • The app itself. From the menu bar, select the app name. There may be a direct method for updating the app in the dropdown menu, or it could be under Preferences.
  • 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 click Update on the bottom of the window. 

cmm updater macos

4. Manage your startup menu

Startup process 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.

manage startup items

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

  1. Access the Apple menu by clicking the Apple logo
  2. Select System Preferences
  3. Pick Users and Groups
  4. Go to Login Items
  5. Choose the items you no longer want to become active at login

5. 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!

The easiest way to get rid of those behind-the-scenes processes is to click one button in Quit All, the most effortless app-quitting tool for your menu bar. We love that Quit All ensures you save all the changes in your apps and browsers before you close them.  

To close background apps with Quit All: 

  1. Click the Quit All icon in the menu bar 
  2. Go to Preferences and enable ‘View background processes’
  3. Click Quit All. 

quit all macos

Quit All is not your thing? Then, you can force quit each app separately. From the menu bar, click the Apple logo on the top left, and choose Force Quit. Select an app you want to close down and then Force Quit on the bottom right of the window. Unfortunately, it won’t let you close background processes but it can help reduce the pressure.

6. 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.

Another way for you to drastically reduce the strain on your CPU is to use Mission Control Plus.

Mission Control Plus natively integrates with Mission Control on your Mac (four-finger swipe up to activate) but adds a few essential actions, such as the ability to close windows, as well as hide and quit apps. Now you can quickly get rid of all the windows you don’t use.

Mission Control Plus preferences

7. Fix visual overload

Visual effects look pretty, but they won’t help you get your work done if your Mac is running slowly. Under Systems Preferences > Dock & Menu Bar, there are two boxes you can untick to reduce visual effects:  

  • animate opening applications
  • automatically hide and show the Dock

Also, make sure you change Genie to Scale effect under ‘Minimize windows using.’

visual effects mac

8. Clear your photo library 

It’s not a secret that if you stock up photos on your Mac for a long time, they will be occupying a big chunk of your storage, and ultimately slowing down your Mac. The worst thing is that a part of that storage is wasted on duplicates and similar photos you don’t even need! Fix this with Gemini

  1. Open Gemini, a duplicate finder app for Mac
  2. Run a quick scan of your photo library 
  3. Review the duplicates and similar photos Gemini has found
  4. Remove them with one click. 

gemini macos

A few more tips to optimize your photo library: 

  • Move your photos to external storage — Dropshare is a great solution you’ll find in Setapp (just as Gemini). 
  • If you tend to take many screenshots, replace your default screen capturing tool with CleanShot X, an app that can save all your screen captures to its internal cloud instead of your local disk. 
  • Enable iCloud sync on your Apple devices so you can store most of your images in iCloud, and not locally on Mac. 

9. 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. 

Use Spotless to clean everything up in seconds.

desktop declutter

10. 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 are some quick tips to free up more disk space.

11. 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 dns cache

12. 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 purgeable storage. Learn more about what to do when photoshop scratch disk full.

Other 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 — but you’ll be able to re-download them from iCloud whenever you want. 

other storage macos

13. 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. Click Storage
  4. Pick 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 to Remove at the bottom of the window
remove data

14. Reset your SMC & PRAM

Two things to update before or after you’ve downloaded and installed the latest macOS are your System Management Controller (SMC) and your Parameter RAM (PRAM). Both are small cogs in a larger wheel and can be done by resetting your device for 5 to 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). 

Note: You can only reset the SMC and PRAM on Intel-based Macs. Don’t try to take these steps on an M1 Mac.  

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. So here’s what to do to fix iMac running slow: 

  1. Shut down your computer 
  2. Press the power button, then the Command + Option + P + R keys 
  3. Once your Mac restarts, release the keys. 

Although all of these processes aren’t straightforward, they can work wonders when trying to speed up a slow Mac.

15. 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.

16. Create a new Mac profile 

“Why is my Mac so slow?” you ask. Possibly, it’s your Mac profile. All those heavy preferences, as well as old and useless apps are making your Mac’s life more and more difficult. So how about a fresh start? Here’s how to set up a new user profile: 

  1. Click the Apple logo 
  2. Access System Preferences > Users & Groups
  3. Click the Lock and type your password 
  4. Click ‘plus’ to add a new user. 

new mac profile

17. Fix Mac overheating 

 “My Mac is running slow and overheating” — very often, these two things indeed happen at the same time. That’s because the two are tightly connected. Whether your CPU usage is too high or your vents are blocked, your Mac might instantly become very hot and slow down. 

There are many things that might help reduce your Mac’s heat — check out our blog post on Mac overheating if you want to know more — but one of the major things is to declutter your browser. Especially if you use Chrome, your CPU could be struggling under the pressure of multiple open tabs, so make sure you close the unnecessary ones. 

For efficient navigation between tabs, we recommend Tab Finder

tab finder mac

18. 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 X, Spotless, App Tamer, Mission Control Plus, Quit All, CleanShot X, and many more are available with a single subscription to Setapp. Now you can go on and make your Mac life a bit easier and a lot more productive.

240+ apps for $9.99
per month

Sign up to Setapp and try them for free.