Mac Running Slow? 7 Performance Tips To Speed Things Up

Give your Mac a tuneup

Man fixing computer.
Speeding up your Mac is easier than you think.

 Anne Louise MacDonald of Hug a Horse/Moment/Getty Images

Keeping your Mac running in a spiffy manner is mostly about preventing the accumulation of power-robbing grunge. We're not talking about that dusty fan inside your Mac, although keeping your Mac clean is important, too.

No, what we're referring to is the extra data, applications, startup items, memory hogs, and lack of preventive maintenance that can cause your Mac to feel bloated and bogged down.

This list of Mac tuneup tips will help keep your Mac running like the elite system it is. Best of all, it only takes a few minutes of your time to run through them, and no money out of your pocket.

Mac Login Items
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Login items, also called startup items, are applications or helper code that is usually installed on your system when you install a new piece of software. Many of these items are needed for the proper performance of their related application, but what can happen over time is that you end up adding more and more startup items, each of which takes up CPU or memory resources, regardless of whether you're using them or not.

If you're not using an application anymore, you can gain back a few your Mac's resources by eliminating the software's associated startup item(s).

Mac Storage Space
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Don't let your startup drive get too full. By the time your Mac lets you know your startup drive is full, it's well past the time when you should have been paying back the bulk of junk you're keeping on your drive.

An overloaded startup drive affects your Mac's performance by robbing it of free space to store data; it also affects your Mac's ability to automatically defragment the drive.

A startup drive that is getting too full can cause your Mac to boot up slowly, cause applications to launch slowly, increase the time it takes to save or open files, and even prevent some applications from running at all.

Laptop + Rocket, speed up Safari by testing DNS
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Most browsers, including Safari, make use of a feature called DNS prefetching. This little feature allows the browser to appear to run faster by examining all of the links on a web page, and then in the background, as you're busy reading a page's content, loading the linked pages into memory.

This allows the linked pages to load in your browser exceptionally fast. The problem occurs when a number of requests for linked pages overwhelm your network, your ISP's network, or more likely, the DNS server, which responds to the link queries.

Under the right conditions, turning off DNS prefetching can actually speed up your browser.

Desktop & Screensaver preference pane
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While animated desktops are fun, they also use a good deal of Mac's CPU to power the desktop animation. The makers of animated desktops try to keep CPU usage low, but if you're trying to maximize your Mac's performance, you may want to avoid using these products.

Cat on desktop with MacBook
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Ever since Apple released OS X Tiger (10.4.x), the Mac has had the ability to use desktop widgets. Widgets are mini-applications designed to do just one or two things, such as keep track of the current weather, download stock updates, or provide quick access to airline schedules.

Widgets can be handy little apps, but they consume memory and CPU cycles even when you're not actively using them.

You can gain back the memory by turning off the Dashboard layer that the Mac OS uses to run widgets in.

Safari with the Develop menu
Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

The Safari browser generally performs well, but you can tweak a few settings to achieve even better performance. For example, if browser extensions are making performance drag, there are ways to manage the extensions so they don't drive you nuts. 

Cookies, too, can lead to poor performance by Safari. You can manage those cookies pretty easily, though, so it's worth tweaking a few of your settings.

Activity Monitor showing memory pressure.
Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

One of our most common suggestions for speeding up a Mac is to add RAM to increase Mac's memory size. This can indeed be helpful, at least for Macs that support user-installable RAM, but many times, adding RAM can be a waste of cash because your Mac was never memory bound, to begin with.

Thankfully, the Mac comes with an app that you can use to monitor how RAM is used, allowing you to gain some insight into memory utilization and whether your Mac would indeed benefit from more RAM. The Activity Monitor is simple to use, so give it a try.