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slow mac

Why Is Your Mac Slow and How to Make It Faster

August 2023



Article by Elizabeth Bankston

Article by Elizabeth Bankston

Elizabeth Bankston is our staff blog contributor and the mastermind behind our content marketing efforts. Having spent 6 years at the University of Richmond, she now puts to practice her leadership skills and humanities knowledge to show students how to study more effectively and successfully.

Working on a difficult essay, it seems that everything is against you. Even your Mac is glitching and cannot open the darn pdf file with that research paper you need. And when it’s finally done with the file, your Word doc freezes. I’m 100% behind you if you want to just shut it all down and go vent your frustration somewhere, but this is not a problem that just goes away if you leave it at that. Here is an idea for productive procrastination: let’s make sure you’ve done everything to help your Mac run faster, shall we?

Like many essay writers, I know emotions are high when the topic seems challenging, or the project is critical, so you might be overreacting. Yet slow Mac is a real problem that might adversely impact your productivity, so it’s better to ensure everything is okay in that department. Of course, this happens more often to older Macs, but all models – MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, iMac, and Mac mini are prone to some of the issues we will discuss in this post.

What Can Slow Your Mac Down?

Some of the most common reasons include outdated operation system, insufficient disk space, too many background processes, and – although less probable – malware infection.

  • Outdated macOS

Older Macs used to run slower after a macOS update. These days, however, Apple is focused on optimizing Mac’s performance, so they usually make sure new releases of macOS are trimmed down and streamlined. That is why updating your operation system might actually speed up your machine.

  • Heavy-duty background processes

Although Macs usually notify users if a particular process is hogging too much CPU or memory, sometimes they fail to do that. This can also happen if you run an outdated version of an app, so checking background processes and regularly updating apps might solve the problem.

  • Demanding graphics

Apple used to go all in on visual effects and heavy graphics to attract digital artists and designers, so Mac’s capabilities are pretty impressive. Still, macOS is full of visual effects that might be too much to handle for older Macs.

  • Malware infection

Macs are pretty well-protected against viruses, Trojans, and spyware and usually don’t require additional scanners or anti-virus software. However, though it’s unlikely, Macs can get infected with malware. If your Mac suddenly got slow, you might want to scan it.

What You Can Do to Speed Up Mac Right Now

Let’s start with some quick fixes that you can implement right away. Maybe some of these steps will solve your problem, and your Mac will be fast again without any significant updates.

  1. Check your internet speed

The first thing you can do is to check whether your Mac is slow or the problem is on the outside. A slow internet connection might affect your experience dramatically. To see if the problem is Mac, browser, router, or faulty internet connection in general, you must test your internet speed. Plenty of free tools, like the Speedtest website, for example, allow you to test the speed of your internet connection for both data download and upload. If the results are low or inconsistent, the internet connection might be at fault. Restarting your router or moving your Mac closer to it might solve the problem. If that won’t help, try contacting your internet service provider – maybe the problem needs solving on their end.

  1. Get your internet browser in order

If your internet speed test shows good results, but tabs keep freezing, maybe your browser is the source of bother. Even if you don’t use it right now but have a window with multiple tabs open, it can drain your Mac’s resources and cause a slowdown. The first thing you should do is close all the tabs you are not using. I know how research looks when working on an essay or bigger academic project – you need to have it all at your fingertips so you never close a tab. As a result, your browser is a behemoth with 50+ websites open, most of them sitting idle just in case you need them. Overtaxed browser is a primary reason for system slowdowns, so instead of keeping the deadweight, bookmark pages you might need and organize them in folders. Leave open only a few tabs that are constantly in use.

Also, regularly clear your history and cookies to keep your browser lean – old cookies can take up gigabytes of disk space, which isn’t helping Mac to be fast.

  1. Detect resource hogs

If your Mac is slowing down and overheating, just one resource-consuming process might be causing it – and killing it will solve the problem in no time. To do that, click “Go” in your Mac menu bar, then select “Utilities” -> “Activity Monitor” -> “CPU.” Click “%CPU” to sort all the active processes by the amount of resources they use and look at what ends up on top of the list.

Disregard system processes crucial for macOS to run smoothly, such as kernel_task, WindowServer, and sysmond. Instead, focus on those marked with your name in the “User” tab, especially those that consume over 10% of CPU. You might want to quit the ones you don’t need or force quit and restart those that froze. To do that, select the process, click “X,” and choose “Quit” or “Force Quit” to kill it.

By switching between the tabs “Memory,” “Energy,” “Disk,” and “Network,” you can see which apps consume too much RAM, battery life, disk space, or internet speed and stop those that you don’t need.

  1. Reduce visual effects

High-quality visuals are part of what makes macOS attractive, but they might affect Mac’s performance, especially if that’s an older model. You might want to turn off the animations to make your machine a bit faster. To do that, open the Apple menu, and go to “System Preferences” -> “Accessibility” -> “Display.” In the list that appears, check the “Reduce motion” box. This will reduce animation effects that make using your Mac such an eye candy when it’s in good shape, but it can be taxing for an older and slower machine.

  1. Free up your disk space

To run smoothly, your Mac needs enough free disk space. When it’s scarce, Mac might react with slowdowns. You can do several things: remove unused apps, move large files to a cloud or external storage, and clean up your desktop. Putting your desktop in order not only frees up space and reduces RAM consumption that the system uses to load icons but also keeps you focused and organized, so it’s always a good idea.

  1. Revise startup programs

If your Mac’s speed is okay-ish, but the system takes ages to boot, the possible culprit might be hidden in the startup programs list. To check it, go to the Apple menu -> “System Preferences” -> “Users & Groups” -> “Login Items.” If you see anything on that list you don’t need immediately upon startup, select the app and click the minus below.

You should also check for any hidden startup items. To do that, press “Go” in the macOS menu and hold the “Option” key on the keyboard; then, in the items displayed, select “Library.” In the window that opens, scroll to find “LaunchDaemons” and “LaunchAgents” – these are pieces of software launching automatically. If there are too many of those, or some of them are buggy and cumbersome, they might hog resources without you even knowing. If you see anything you don’t need, move the item to the “Trash.”

To make any of the above changes work, restart your Mac. Actually, it’s a good idea to restart it once in a while to prevent any slowdowns since many unseen maintenance procedures, such as cache cleaning, happen when the system is restarted. As tempting as it is to resume your work from where you left off without shutting down all the applications, restarting your Mac every 2-3 days or at least once a week is strongly recommended.

What Else You Can Do to Make Your Mac Faster

However, sometimes the slowdowns are caused by outdated or insufficiently powerful hardware or system issues. In that case, more serious interventions might be in order than those described above. Here is what you can do to make your Mac faster.

  1. Upgrade RAM

One of the most effective and simple ways to speed up any computer is to add more RAM – its short-term memory for processing tasks. There are plenty of DIY guides online. However, it’s best to upgrade RAM in your Mac via the official Apple service.

You don’t have to go overboard and get the highest available capacity RAM unless you are a video editor, 3D engineer, or digital artist (graphics are very resource-demanding). Upgrading from 2 or 4GB to 8 or 16GB will give you a significant performance boost.

  1. Go from HDD to SSD

The disk is a built-in storage used in computers where everything is kept, from apps to files. HDD (hard disk drive) uses mechanical spinning platters that move when you write or access data. On the other hand, SSDs (solid-state drives) use memory chips and have no moving parts, allowing for more speed and higher performance – up to x35 higher, in fact!

HDDs are rarely used nowadays, but some older Macs and current MacBook models can still feature this rather outdated storage device. Upgrading from HDD to SSD is one of the most affordable and easy ways to improve your Mac.

  1. Check your hardware

Although hardware and software nowadays are prone to becoming obsolete before they can degrade over time, this sometimes happens. Slowdowns and glitches your Mac experiences can result from failing hardware components. That’s why it is crucial to regularly check your CPU temperature, the state of your hard drive, and the status of other critical components – even if you don’t experience any performance issues yet.

  1. Update your macOS

As mentioned earlier, macOS updates got the bad rap for slowing older Macs down because they used to be very resource-consuming. Since then, however, Apple has done its homework, so the new macOS is likely to improve the speed of your machine. That’s why it’s a good idea to check for updates if you experience performance issues – or better still, set system updates on automatic.

  1. Scan your Mac for malware

Although Apple is very good at protecting its products and restricting any unauthorized apps, you still might get malware infiltrating your system. Most often, it happens under the guise of harmless-looking apps, such as free VPNs, or when you download files from messengers and emails received from already infected accounts. It’s recommended to scan your Mac for viruses every week. You can use built-in Apple protection or choose one of the popular third-party options, such as Norton, Bitdefender, or McAfee.

Now you can work on your paper in peace and stay productive! Macs are reliable and durable devices, so if you care for them, they should last you many years. Instead of browsing the Apple website longingly, calculating when you will be able to afford a new machine (being a broke student), you can just implement some of the tips suggested in this post. Stay productive and write happily!

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