Mac Running Slow? 7 Performance Tips to Speed Things Up

Give your Mac a tuneup

Keeping your Mac running smoothly 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 also important.

No, the culprits are the extra data, applications, startup items, memory hogs, and lack of preventive maintenance that cause your Mac to feel bloated and bogged down.

Treat your Mac like the elite system it is with these tuneup tips. It only takes a few minutes of your time to run through them, and they are all free.

Information in this article applies to Macs running macOS Catalina (10.15) through OS X Tiger (10.4) except as indicated.

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Mac Login Items

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Login items, also called startup items, are applications and helper code that are 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 over time, as you add more and more startup items that takes up CPU or memory resources, they become a drain on your Mac's performance

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

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Keep Plenty of Free Disk Space

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 paring back the bulk of junk you keep 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 defragment the drive automatically.

A startup drive that is getting 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 prevent some applications from running at all.

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Speed Up Safari Page Loading

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 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 feature results in the linked pages loading in your browser quickly. The problem occurs when the number of requests for linked pages overwhelms your network, your ISP's network, or the DNS server that responds to the link queries.

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

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Avoid Animated Desktops

Desktop & Screensaver preference pane

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While animated desktops are fun, they use a substantial amount of Mac's CPU to power the desktop animation. The makers of animated desktops try to keep CPU usage low, but if you want to maximize your Mac's performance, avoid using these products entirely.

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Reduce or Eliminate Widgets

Widgets on a Mac

Apple introduced desktop widgets in OS X Tiger (10.4) and discontinued them in macOS Catalina (10.15). 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. Delete any of them you don't use.

If your Mac runs on OS X 10.4 through macOS 10.14, you can reclaim memory by turning off the Dashboard layer that the MacOS uses for widgets in the Mission Control system preferences.

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Tune Up Safari

Safari Develop menu showing Empty Caches option

The Safari browser usually performs well, but you can tweak a few settings to achieve even better performance. For example, if browser extensions are causing performance to drag, there are ways to manage the extensions so that 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.

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Use Activity Monitor to Track Mac Memory Usage

Activity Monitor showing memory pressure.

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

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.

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