Speed Up Your Mac - Tips from a former Mac Genius

Matcha Design - Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A few days ago, Matcha Design invited Dina Hunt, a former Apple Genius, to be our guest blogger and offer some practical tips to our fans and followers who use Mac. Enjoy.

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For the last year I've been enjoying my time away from retail. I've adopted a new role as a retired Apple Genius and yet my fan girl days are far from over. I still love rocking my Apple street gear (that which doesn't include those oh-so-flattering blue tees we had to wear at work). However, sporting Apple threads is taking a risk at being accosted with questions from "When will the new iPhone will be released?" to tech questions about any given product afflicted with undesirable glitches. Frankly my dears, retired or not, the other day was no different to the mental molestation I'm accustomed to as a non-retired Apple Genius.

The other day at lunch I ventured to a pizzeria near the office. At first, I was a little taken off guard when the counter girl asked if I had bought my shirt or if I actually worked for Apple. I immediately realized that I was wearing my purple Apple shirt and how this more than likely incited her inquiry. But before the words, "I used to be an Apple Genius" rolled off my tongue the small pizzeria counter girl was already picking at my brain like vultures to fresh road kill.

"So I have this 5 year old Macbook and it's running soooooo slow. Do you know what I can do to remedy this issue?" asked the gal.

Of course I did and without hesitation I gave her some quick tips on how to troubleshoot in a minimally invasive manner. Granted this young lady's White Macbook may not be the same year and model as most of you readers, but the troubleshooting steps are relatively the same for all desktops and portable machines. In reality, these questions are quite common among longtime Apple users; especially those users who keep their Macs for years before upgrading to a newer model. RAM, hard drive space, hidden processes, and even upgrading the operating system are all factors that can lead to a sluggishly-running computer.

So kids, without further ado, here is a list of some of the most common issues found to slow a Mac and how to rid the symptoms through the process of elimination:

Upgrade RAM

One of the best (and sometimes most annoying) things about Apple products is their constant updates. The lesser evil to this is the fact that these updates are designed to help your computer run at an optimum capability and help keep your machine guarded from viruses. Unfortunately, what happens more times than not is with every OS upgrade your machine begins to run slower and slower. This is partly because every new OS is designed to be better, faster, and more powerful than its predecessor.

One thing Apple doesn't really tell you is that just because your old Mac meets the minimum requirements for an upgrade doesn't mean it will always work out for the best. In the instance with the counter girl at the pizzeria, she was rocking the classic white Macbook. What this told me is that if she hasn't done any hardware upgrades to modify performance, then more than likely the young lady is sporting stock 4gb of RAM, a 160gb SATA hard drive, and she probably upgraded the OS a couple of times. I verified with the counter girl that all of this was true for her model and upon knowing that, knew what direction to send the young Padawan.

Testing and/or replacing RAM is easy and quick for earlier models. Theoretically, simply replacing any and all bad sticks of RAM will give you the breathing room needed for your computer to run efficiently. Unfortunately, this doesn't work for everyone.

Check hard drive for limited space

In the event that it's more than just RAM that needs a facelift or when RAM's not the issue at all, one must dive a little deeper. Another major speed killer is lack of writing space.

RAM acts as the short-term memory for a computer. The operating space for running programs to handle tasks exists in the RAM. The more programs you have running, even in the background, or the larger the files they're working with, the more RAM you'll use. In order to allow programs to run and effectively use the memory, OS implements something called Virtual Memory. This is a technique that uses part of the hard drive space to store some of the temporary data programs use, essentially simulating being able to use more RAM than is physically installed.

As the hard drive space gets more limited, the capability of the operating system to use Virtual Memory also becomes limited. This is where you will start seeing the rainbow wheel pop up more often than before and/or get a message that says your "storage drive is full".

One of the best resolves for this issue is storing big files such as music, videos, and/or pictures on an external hard drive and directing your machine to grab those files from that drive. Keep in mind that if you're using Time Machine, the external drive used for back ups needs to stay designated for ONLY TM backups.

Hidden processes

A couple of years back I was helping a customer at the Genius bar with a 2011 Macbook air. He explained to me that his older Macbook didn't have issues like the ones I listed in the paragraphs above, but his new Air had the known symptoms.

After running hardware diagnostics and eliminating peripherals and software bugs, I turned to the activity monitor to see what applications were running in the background. (Getting to the activity monitor is easier when utilizing the spotlight key in the top right corner.)

What I discovered is that Dropbox was constantly running. Seeking, searching, and syncing non-stop. This behavior was taxing the processor to almost 100% usage!

This is bad, mkay.
When the processor is being used to its full ability the processor won't have room to take on any other tasks. When this occurs, the processor will start and finish tasks in the order in which they were sent and received. The speed of your processor greatly determines how quickly or how slowly these tasks are completed.

Software upgrade

Ah, the timeless question when dealing with Apple products of all kinds: To upgrade or not?

In theory, updates are great. They allow for your device or machine to run better, be more protected, and sometimes upgrades will add beneficial features that an OS version previous may not have had or even improve on an existing feature from the version of OS before it.

Again, that's in theory. In a perfect world all upgrades and updates offer a seamlessly smooth transition. But as most Apple users have come to expect, most updates and/or upgrades have a bug or glitch somewhere in the coding, which in turn makes living in a tech-reliant age practically improbable.

Upgrade at your own risk. Make it a good practice to find any known issues that may be present in the field on user forums, Apple's tech support site, or by visiting your local Apple Store. In the event that tech support is needed outside of your scope of comprehension don't hesitate to make an appointment at the Genius bar. Diagnostic services are always free and if your machine is under warranty then any hardware repairs needed are covered under that warranty unless damages are found, in which case the warranty is voided.

So if you're having issues with your Macbook, keep in mind the year and model you have, what hardware that is currently within the model, and do your research before applying any changes. I don't want to scare anyone off from updating, upgrading, or keeping their old Mac. I want to keep the public educated on the varying factors that play a part in slowing down a Mac. Like a car, your computer needs upkeep and routine maintenance... Until the day comes where Macs run on love alone.

About Matcha Design
Matcha Design is a full-service creative agency specializing in web designprintidentitybrandinginterface designvideo productionstill photography and motion design. Using our passion for excellence, multi-cultural background, and award winning practices, we consistently provide high-quality, custom, innovative solutions to meet the diverse marketing needs of our clients. For more information, visit www.MatchaDesign.com.