Mac running slow? Top 16 ways to easily speed up a slow Mac

Mac running slow? Top 16 ways to easily speed up a slow Mac

Is your Mac suddenly running slow? You don't need to buy a new Mac. This in-depth article contains in-depth 16 ways without requiring 3rd party software to get your Mac up to speed again!

If you are using your Mac a lot for your work, then you may have noticed that your computer may have slowed down since you purchased it, which is very well expected. Over time, you will, install applications, programs, change the settings, stuff that make your Mac actually "work more" than it needs to.

Understanding the source of the problem of the slowdown, can be very difficult, as there can be hundreds of reasons of why your mac is sunning slow. However, you don't have to worry or send your Mac to a repair centre and pay hundreds to get it fixed for you. 98% of the times, the issue is software related and can be fixed from home. 

Today, I am excited to share you 10 in-depth tips which will contribute in speeding up your slow Mac. I highly encourage your to try every single tip. These tips do not require you to download any software. They tips can be done 100% for free.

What do I need?

  • Your Mac computer.
  • Time available. Some tips I am about to share you, may take some time to implement.
  • An external hard drive or any other external storage (USB Stick, SD Card). While not required, but it would certainly help a lot. If you are looking to purchase an external hard drive, here is a detailed guide I wrote for you!

Why is my Mac so slow?

The most important thing to do before we work through this problem out, is to understand why your Mac is running slow. As we mentioned above, there can be hundred of reasons why your Mac may be running slow. However, identifying every single problem, can be a long and boring process, but instead, we can go through a basic and easy investigation that doesn't require too much technical knowledge.

No enough space available

One of the leading causes of your Mac running slow, is when you don't have enough space available. When you are doing your work, you Mac is reading and writing data on the hard drive (or SSD nowadays) continuously and the less the available storage on your hard drive, the more time your Mac needs to find space to store the new data. This also applies when you are opening new applications or using programs. The less available space, the more time takes the OS to find where the programs or applications are stored in the hard drive.

Of course, if your Mac has an SSD, the time needed to launch the application is much faster than an HDD. Nowadays, all Macs sold by Apple, are sold with SSDs. If you want to learn more about SSDs and HDDs, you may head over to this guide I wrote

The problem is, that even if you have 20 GB of free space, as you use your Mac, the free space will decrease rapidly, and go back to 20GB of free space when you reboot your Mac. This can happen because of a number of reasons. One is due to temp backups or timestamps being stored on your hard drive, or your Mac simply doesn't have enough RAM to store all the applications you are using. Having too many tabs open with Google Chrome can eat up a lot of your RAM. 

Too many tasks running at the same time

Yes, although Macs are great for multi-tasking, having too many applications and programs open at the same time, makes the OS to allocate less resources to each task in order to balance all tasks at the same time (in reality, there's always a small delay when dealing with multiple tasks). This means that each application will run slower than it could, if there was no other program running in the background. To test this out, launch a game on your Mac and then hold down cmd and Tab ⇥ keys on your keyboard and switch to another application. You will notice that the other application is very laggy which is expected.

It's very common to work with multiple applications at the same time. You may use Photoshop, and have After Effects open at the same time. Also, Google Chrome with a few tabs looking for some tutorials. Maybe, Microsoft Word and PowerPoint will be also open at the same time. All of these programs, will run slower than they would and hence, bringing the whole computer down.

Using an older version of MacOS

You may say "I updated my Mac to the latest version and it's super slow", or "I won't update to the latest version because I am sure my Mac will get slower". Well, before skipping this part, I am also not too confident to update my Mac to the latest major MasOS release. However, say you are updated to MacOS Monterey, which is the latest version available, I always recommend your to update your Mac to every update for MacOS Monterey, before the next major MacOS release, which is expected in Autumn, 2022. This is because these updates may come with bug fixes, optimizations etc and you certainly don't want to miss any of these updates!

Of course you may be thinking whether there is a way to go back to the previous MacOS version, and the good news are, there is! I recently, wrote an article which shows you step-by-step on how to downgrade your MacOS Monterey back to MacOS Big Sur. I definitely encourage you to check it out!

Hardware issues

Overtime, the hardware in your Mac can degrade which can be a reason of why your Mac is slower. However, it's less likely that a sudden slowdown has been caused by a hardware problem and thinking that the problem could be hardware related instead of software, should always be the last reason to blame for. Not only because Apple has integrated almost all hardware parts into the logic board, but it's also very expensive to fix. Of course, if you have an Apple store near you, I definitely recommend you to take it for a checkup diagnosis in the Genius Bar. Usually, they would do a free checkup for your Mac and let you know of the results. If you are within the 1 year warranty, or you have purchased AppleCare, and there's an hardware issue with your Mac, then you can get it fixed for free.

Speeding up a slow Mac. How effective can it be?

It mainly depends on your computer and how you use it. If you have been using your Mac for years and haven't done any optimization to it before and you see a big difference in the performance compared to the day you purchased it, then you may see a big difference in the speed and responsiveness. The good news are, htat with the tips I am about to show you, you can definitely make your Mac to run faster immediately!

The thing is that you don't need to buy a new Mac. I always recommend to try and see if you can speed up your Mac computer. However, if you are looking to get a better processing speed on your Mac, or even get your Mac to be able to play the latest games, then these tips are unlikely to help you with this scenario. If you Mac was too slow at playing the latest games when it came out of the box, then the only choice you have is to buy a new Mac.

Can I speed up every slow Mac?

Yes, all of the tips I am about to share with you, will work on every Mac computer. Some improvements I am about to show you, may not be available if you have a Mac with a very old MacOS version.

However, if you are using a MacBook, you may also experience a longer battery life after following these steps. The goal is to make your computer to spend less resources for you to do your work with minimal interruptions which also contributes to spending less power.

So, how to optimize your Mac for top speed?

Here, I am listing you every tip I could possibly find and come across all the years I have been a Mac user. I will share with you all the secrets and every possible advice you can take advantage of to make most of your Mac computer. Be prepared, because this article will be long.

1. Free up space

Yes, storage plays a big role in slowing down your Mac, especially when you have only a few GB left in your hard drive. I recommend you to make sure you have always at least 25GB of free space. Freeing up space on your Mac can be a difficult task, because there isn't a single button you press and you magically get free space. We have to do this manually unfortunately. Here are some ideas where you can begin to free up space on your Mac:

1.1 Move photos to an external hard drive

If you take loads of photos and videos, then here you've got a huge potential to free up up to 100GB of storage by moving your photos and videos from the Photos app to your external hard drive. If you skipped to this section of the article and you are looking for advice for buying the best external hard drive, then this article I wrote guides you through on how to purchase an external hard drive.

To move your photos from the Photos app to your external hard drive:

  • Connect your external hard drive with your Mac
  • Open your hard drive from your desktop (named as SSD, or Mac or Main etc).
  • Go to Users > (your user name) > Pictures, and you should find the Photos library there.

This is where all of your photos are stored and this is the file Photos uses to show you all of your photos.

After this, drag the library file to your External hard drive. If your library folder is big, then it may take some time to transfer from your computer to the external hard drive.

Finally, delete the library folder from your computer, NOT from your external hard drive, and remember to delete it permanently from the bin.

This step should have released you many GB of free space. Of course, if you don't want to move your photos to your external hard drive, then no worries. We will explore more ways where you can release more space!

1.2 Move large applications/programs/games that you don't use that often to your external hard drive

We all have once downloaded our favorite games, played them for once or for a few days and then, never played them again! This may also apply to large applications you needed to install for your college, but now you no longer need them because you have graduated. It may sound that you need to do a long research to find these large apps, but there is a very easy way of doing it!

  • Click on the Apple symbol on the top left , and choose About This Mac.
  • Click on Storage and then click on Manage... to open System Information.

Here you can see all of the files your system has in categories. For example, if you choose Applications you will see all of the apps you have installed, either from the App Store, or certified developers. Make sure the apps are sorted by Size.

Here, I am sure you will have already identified apps that you rarely use.

  • Click on the app, and then click on Show in Finder.
  • The app will be revealed on the Applications folder.
  • Drag and drop it to your external hard drive and wait until it's copied.

Of course, once the move is done, I recommend you to launch the app and see if it works properly. Although unlikely to occur, some apps may not work well on external hard drives. Once you do this, don't forget to delete the app from your computer.

The same method applies to other big files. For example, Documents take about 170GB of space in my case. If I click on Documents, it will show me all the largest files in there. You can also go on File Browser and look for any large files that you don't use. When you find files that you rarely use, then you know the drill! Click on Show in Finder, drag and drop the file on your external hard drive and delete the file from your computer!

On top of that, if you are more interested in cloud storage, you may subscribe to an iCloud plan to automatically store your files into iCloud. Given iCloud is a cloud storage based service by Apple, then it might be another option to look into.

1.3 Delete any files you no longer need

This may sound like a difficult step, but don't worry. I have broken it down further to help you with your exploration!

1.3.1 Optimize storage

You may have noticed that System Information has an option to optimize your Mac storage. If you are a big fan of TV shows and movies, then you might have purchased loads of movies from iTunes. The vast majority of us watch a movie once.

  • Same as earlier, go to the Apple Symbol on tope left () > About This Mac > Storage > Manage... 
  • From the 4 recommendation options in System Information, click on Optimize... .
  • From the prompt, choose Optimize.

Of course, you don't have to buy the movies again. If you wish to watch a movie you have deleted again, you can always go back to iTunes and download it again free of charge!

1.3.2 Downloads and Documents folder

When you install new programs on your computer, files ending with .dmg and .pkg are no longer needed, as the program has already been installed to your computer. Of course, if you in any case are looking to re-install an app, then you may keep some of them or back them up. Usually, these files are going to be located in Documents or the Downloads folder.

  • Open Finder and go to the Downloads folder
  • Search for files ending with .dmg and .pkg. It may be more helpful to search them by typing .dmg and .pkg on the search bar.
  • Locate any other files you don't need. Look for duplicated downloads etc.
  • Delete them and empty the bin.

Each file can be relative small in size, say about 50 or 100MB, but removing multiple of those, that can release more space for you!

1.3.3 Emails

If you receive a lot of emails, then after a while, you may end up having emails consuming a few GB out from your storage. In my case, my emails consume about 5GB of storage and I rarely subscribe to newsletters. If none of the above steps helped, then it may be time to start deleting your old emails.

  • Open the Mail app and then choose your inbox.
  • Find the emails that you wish to delete, for instance, remove all emails sent to you before 2018.
  • Scroll down until you find an email sent to you in 2018 and click on it.
  • Scroll all the way to the bottom and by holding the shift key, select the last email.
  • Right click and choose delete.

After this, your emails haven't actually been deleted. They instead have been moved to your bin. To remove them completely:

  • Go to the bin from the menu on the left which belongs to your email account
  • press the cmd (⌘) + A keys to select all emails.
  • Click on the bin icon on the top of the window to permanently delete all of the emails.

1.3.4 Delete any other files you no longer need

Overtime you may have taken too many screenshots, videos, notes etc which together can end up taking up a few gigs from your space. This can take a while but worthwhile in the end.

  • Same as earlier, go to the Apple Symbol on tope left () > About This Mac > Storage > Manage... 
  • From the System Information Windows, click on Documents.
  • Choose File Browser.
  • Open the folders and delete any files you no longer need.

1.4 If you are using Final Cut Pro X often, use an external hard drive

Final Cut Pro X is a BIG eater while you are editing your new video. I use FCPX when I edit my videos and yes, it consumes a lot of storage just for the render files. This is a strategy FCPX uses to avoid excess use of RAM and make 4K editing much smoother than Adobe Premiere Pro for instance.

  • Launch FCPX
  • Go to File, then New and choose Library... .
  • Name your library and save it to your external hard drive.

  • Click on Modify Settings, next to Storage Locations.
  • Make sure that Media, Motion Content and Cache is set to in Library.
  • Press on OK to save your changes.

Now, every future footage you import on FCPX, every project you create and all cache and render files, will be stored in your external hard drive.

1.5 Reduce System and Other files size

Overtime, your Mac will log and create files as you use your computer. These can be cache backup files, logs, system files etc which are stored under System and Other as seen in System Information. While Apple recommends to avoid touching those files, updating to the latest MacOS update, tends to reduce the overall size of these two categories. In my case, after updating to MacOS Big Sur from Catalina, the System size reduced from 150+ GB to just about 15GB. That's more than 100GB of free space!

1.6 Clean up app cache files

Overtime, cache is built up by applications for a long time. Cache are files that the OS is creating in order to make the apps run and open faster for you. Usually cache files are being created the first time you open that app, but they could be modified when you keep using that app. While that can be a good thing, but overtime, it can cause the apps to crash or freeze and cause errors due to complexity and data corruption. It's a good idea to frequently flush the cache which not only will free up space, but also helps the OS to launch the apps a bit faster and clear errors.

  • Open Finder, then go to Go from the menu on the top and choose Go to Folder.
  • In the input box, type ~/Library/Caches and then press enter.
  • Go to each folder and move all of its contents in the bin.
  • Empty the bin.

Please, do NOT delete the folders themselves under ~/Library/Caches, as this could cause some mess-ups.

2. How to speed up slow Mac startup?

If there's a slowdown on your Mac overall, your Mac will most likely take some time to reboot. While freeing up space on your hard drive can massively help with making your Mac boot faster, we can still make some improvements here.

2.1 Reduce Login Items

One another way to increase your Mac startup speed, is to reduce login items.

  • Open System preferences and go to Users & Groups and choose Login Items.
  • Deselect any items you do not wish to open as soon as you login.

This will prevent all deselected programs to launch as soon as you have logged in.

2.2 First Aid

One further way to speed up Mac startup time is to run a First Aid on you startup disk.

  • Launch Disk Utility by going to Applications, then Utilities.
  • Select your startup disk. Should be either Mac or SSD or related.
  • Choose First Aid at the top and form the prompt window, press on Run.

This should take some time and during this time, your Mac may be unresponsive, as your entire disk is being checked for any anomalies and errors. In case errors are found, Disk Utility will fix them for you.

3. Use alternative & less demanding apps

It's true that most of us tend to use Google Chrome for Web browsing and preferring to use Adobe products instead of the Apple alternative products. While the former applications may be more professional and offer greater power and flexibility, these developers have Windows users first in their mind, meaning that most of the times, these programs may not be fully optimized for Mac users.

For example, according to macprovideo, Final Cur Pro X can render the same project to about 5 times faster than Premiere Pro. This shows how much better optimized FCPX is for Mac users in comparison to Adobe Premiere Pro. This implies that if you are using a Mac, it's very well recommended to switch to FCPX to enjoy a smoother experience while creating the same project. 

This not only applies with video editing software, but with any other application which has an alternative built by Apple. Microsoft Office tends to run very well for Mac users, offering many more tools to use than Apple iWork.

On top of that, Google Chrome tends to eat up a lot of RAM when you open too many tabs. According to TomsGuide, Google Chrome uses to 10 times more RAM on average, compared to Safari. This shows that Safari is much more suitable for Mac users by keeping your RAM consumption levels low and be able to keep tabs open at the same time without too much of a worry.

4. Free up RAM

Nowadays, 8GB of RAM is the norm and we are slowly transitioning to 16GB. If you Mac runs on 4GB of RAM, try to seek for ways to increase it to at least 8GB. 4GB is very limited for MacOS to run smoothly, especially when about 2GB of RAM is free for any programs or apps you run.

If you have 8GB of RAM (and more), then the problem could lie here, if you are using a lot of apps at the same time. Having too many apps open in the background, they take up RAM and once your RAM is near to full, MacOS will begin swapping data from the Hard Drive to the RAM which can greatly degrade the performance.

4.1 Purge RAM

One way to fix this and you don't have a budget to spend on upgrading your RAM, or upgrading your RAM is not an option because it's soldered on the logic board, then here is what you need to do:

  • Go to Applications > Utilities and launch Terminal.
  • On Terminal, type the following command: sudo purge.
  • Enter your login password and then press enter.

Once you run this command, you should feel a temporary slowdown which will last for a few seconds. This is because this command clears up your RAM cache and any other cache accumulated over time. After this, you should feel your Mac is running a bit faster. I recommend you run this command every time you feel your Mac is slowing down.

4.2 Too many apps open at the same time

It's common to forget to close apps after you have used them. I tend to do this a lot of times. However, we need to avoid having too many apps in the background, especially when we don't use them to avoid slowing down the Mac.

  • Go to Applications > Utilities and launch Activity Monitor.
  • On Activity Monitor, click on Memory.
  • This will show you all programs running on the background sorted by how much space they consume in RAM.
  • Identify the apps and manually close them if you no longer need them by clicking on the task and pressing on the X button on top.
  • From the prompt window, press Quit.

Once you identify all open apps that you don't use and quit them, you should see a bigger difference now. Of course, avoid quitting programs which are run by the OS (Operating System). These programs are usually the ones which don't have an icon to the left of their labels.

4.3 Too many open browser tabs

If your browser looks something like this:

Then you are just killing your RAM! Although you may not notice it, but open tabs consume a lot of RAM, especially when using Google Chrome. However, if you have just switched to Safari from the previous steps, the impact would be less but still significant.

  • Go to Applications > Utilities and launch Activity Monitor (if you just closed it).
  • Identify open tabs:
    • For Google Chrome, they should be labelled as Google Chrome Helper (Renderer).
    • For Safari, they should be labelled as the URL (address) of the visited website.
  • Select the tabs you wish to close.
  • Press on the X button on the top.
  • From the prompt window, press on Quit.

It's very important to create a habit of closing down tabs you are no longer using. A single tab can consume as much as 500MB of RAM. Imagine having 10 of those open at the same time!

5. Do a hardware checkup

Unfortunately overtime, your Mac hardware will degrade and become less and less responsive. The more you use your Mac, the faster the hardware will degrade. While hardware checkups have to be done in person, Apple always recommends to do an SMC reset. This can also fix other related problems such as, your keyboard not being very responsive.

5.1 SMC Reset on Mac with T2 chip

  • Turn off your Mac.
  • Press and hold Shift + Control + Option keys for 7 seconds.
  • After 7 seconds, while holding all three keys, press and hold the power button.
  • Hold all four keys for another 7 seconds.
  • Release all keys and wait for a few seconds.
  • Press the power button to start your Mac.

5.2 SMC Reset on MacBook (battery removable)

  • Turn off your Mac.
  • Remove the battery.
  • Press and hold the Power button for five seconds.
  • Reinstall the battery.
  • Press the power button and start your Mac.

5.3 SMC Reset on Mac (non battery removable)

  • Shut down your Mac.
  • Hold Shift + Control + Option keys and the Power button at the same time for 10 seconds.
  • Release all the keys
  • Press the power button to boot your Mac.

5.4 SMC Reset on iMac, Mac Pro and Mac Mini

  • Turn off the Mac.
  • Disconnect from power source.
  • Wait for about 15 seconds.
  • Plug the power cord back in.
  • Wait a few seconds and turn on your Mac using the Power button.

If the problem is still there, and you are confident that there is a hardware issue, then I highly encourage you to take it to your local Apple store, or to a certified repair store which is able to do a free (or at a very low cost) hardware checkup with your Mac and see what's up. Please only do this if and only if nothing else works.

Conclusion

And that was it! Every tip I could find which would make a difference to your Mac is written here. Of course, I am editing this article on-the-go, so when I find more tips which could be beneficial to you, I will be updating this article. This is your guide and I will ensure that it stays up to date for as long as possible.

Of course, if you have any advice which I didn't include, please let me know in the comments below! I would love to hear from your perspective and include your tip if it can be beneficial to the readers. 

Furthermore, I am a big fan of hearing your feedback! If you have a few minutes to spare to share your feedback of these tips, don't hesitate to leave your comment below! 

Stay safe and healthy!

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George K.

Admin of TechLunar

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