Few things in life are more annoying than a slow computer. Mac owners count their machines among their prized possessions. And to suffer sluggish performance as time goes on, is a situation they never want to be in. For all the security of Apple’s tightly-controlled app ecosystem, macOS notebooks and desktops are not immune to performance slowdowns, which can be caused by a variety of reasons.
Your Mac encounters enough potential sources that can cause it to degrade in performance over the years. And they’re not limited to external sources like the internet and removable storage. Some of the most common root causes of your Mac slowing down are:
- Your memory (RAM) is not keeping up anymore
- You have space & optimization issues on your hard disk
- You have too many startup programs & desktop icons
- Your browser is behind the slowdown
- Your Mac has been infected by malware
- Your OS and applications are not up-to-date
- Your Mac is plagued by hardware issues
- You’re in need of a hardware upgrade
I’ll dive deep into possible solutions one by one. You can try them each in turn and see if it offers a visible performance boost. So let’s get to it then. Let’s make your Mac snappy again!
1. Free up RAM on your Mac
RAM is what keeps your system’s multiple applications running parallel without slowing everything down. At least in theory, that is. It is still possible to use up almost all the available memory and end up with the ‘Your system is out application memory’ message.
You can actually see which applications are using the most RAM in real-time, using the Activity Monitor. You can find it under Applications > Utilities. The Memory tab will show you the currently running programs with their respective RAM usage. There’s also a Memory Pressure bar at the bottom which should ideally be green. If it’s yellow or red, you can try quitting the apps you don’t need from the list itself.
Activity Monitor can also show you your CPU usage, indicating which apps are hogging the most of your processor power. Try quitting or force quitting the processes that you’re sure you didn’t launch and are not essential to the system. This can free up much-needed resources for your essential apps to make use of.
Over time, you can install and forget many applications and they end up occupying space and memory on the system. We’ll take a look at such apps in the next section.
2. Remove unwanted files & programs
Your Mac might have multiple unwanted and forgotten programs consuming hard disk space. Plus, many of them might also be running in the background and using CPU and RAM resources. Your storage might also be suffering from optimization issues. Lastly, there might be a lot of cache files present on the hard disk, having been accumulated by the system and the apps over time. Thankfully, there are native tools to help you out with most of these pesky problems.
For removing unwanted programs you no longer need, head over to the Finder and navigate to the Go menu. Select Applications from the list and sort them by size. You can now right-click on the apps you want to remove and select Move to Bin.
For optimizing your storage, select About This Mac from the Apple menu. Choose the Storage tab and select Manage. Here you’ll find several effective suggestions to improve system performance and free up some more hard disk space. You can use Store in iCloud to move some files to the cloud. Click on Optimize Storage to automatically move large files like iTunes movies and shows you’ve already watched to the cloud. You can also set up Empty Trash Automatically to ensure that junk from removed files doesn’t clutter your Mac for long.
Cache represents one of the most common sources of space hogs on Mac. Cache files are temporary files, generated by the system or by the user and applications, that are no longer needed. For removing cache files regularly, and also automating some of the other tasks detailed above, you can try free software like CleanMyMac X.
3. Clean your Startup programs and Desktop
Each time you boot up your Mac, the OS loads several essential system programs to the disk but it also loads several unnecessary ones. This might happen due to said programs automatically adding themselves to the startup list, whenever you install them. These unwanted programs get loaded to the disk on startup and end up slowing down the boot time and sitting in the background consuming system resources.
To reduce the number of such programs, go to System Preferences > Users & Groups and select your username. Select Login Items to see the complete list of programs. Now click on the program you want to remove from the startup list and select the ‘ – ‘ below the list. Once you’re done, restart your Mac and see it get snappier.
Something you might not realize is slowing down your Mac is your Desktop. The more icons you have sitting on your Desktop, it makes it that much more time-consuming for your Mac to render them all on the screen, increasing your boot time. You can use Stacks and group several icons into folders. Also, make sure to delete icons for things you rarely use.
4. Stop Your Browser from becoming a Drowser
Your browser is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to gobbling up system resources. Having tens of tabs open, with multiple browser extensions working simultaneously, all together contributing to tons of cache files as well. Google Chrome is notorious for being RAM-hungry, inspiring various hilarious and true-to-life memes. If you can, you should readily move to an alternate browser like Mozilla Firefox or Safari. If you can’t, then read on.
It’s recommended that you shouldn’t have more than 7-9 tabs open at once. This limits not only your RAM usage and keeps things snappy but also allows you to fully read each tab title.
Next, you need to take a look at your browser extensions and see if you can get away with removing some of them. For Chrome, go to the Window tab and select Task Manager to locate the most memory-consuming extensions. You can then go to Window > Extensions and remove the ones you don’t need. For Safari, head to Safari > Preferences and select Extensions. You can uninstall the extensions you don’t need anymore or you can choose only to stop them temporarily by unchecking them.
Lastly, it’s advisable to regularly clear cache files from your browser to keep it running efficiently. In Safari, you can clear cache from the Develop menu and selecting Empty Cache. If you can’t see the Develop tab, go to Safari > Preferences and under the Advanced tab, select the Show Develop menu in menu bar checkbox.
5. Check for infections in your system
Browsing the internet might sometimes lead you to the dark and shady corners of the web, where your Mac can unintentionally catch a virus or malware. Harmful programs can also find access to your Mac through removable storage devices like flash drives, portable hard disks or CDs.
Lately, the most common sources of malware have been fishy emails and peer-to-peer file-sharing software like uTorrent, BitTorrent, etc. No matter how secure a Mac generally is or how cautious you are while using it, malware can still find its way to the system and slow down its performance or worse, infect your files permanently or corrupt your OS.
Malware typically slows down your Mac by using its resources in the background to mine cryptocurrency or send out spam emails. You can be sure of an infection if you suddenly start receiving unwanted ads & popups or your browser often redirects you without any actions from your side.
You can choose to allow apps to be installed only from the Mac App Store, to limit the chances of infection. Head over to the Security & Privacy settings in the System Settings. Click the lock icon at the bottom left, enter your credentials and once you’re in the General tab, select the App Store option button under Allow apps downloaded from.
What you can also do is schedule regular scans by XProtect, Apple’s native security software. If issues still persist, try out free antivirus software like Avast or MacKeeper or Malwarebytes. Make sure to keep these software up to date, to prevent any harmful programs from escaping the scan.
6. Bring your system up to date
Apple regularly releases a new version of macOS every year or so. This is meant to keep your system up to date with the latest performance and security features. Often, some updates are missed due to changes to the system settings. This can lead to you experiencing slowdowns and malware infections.
Updating your OS is pretty simple. Go to the Apple menu and click About This Mac. Click on Software Update to check for any OS updates. This will also search for updates to any out-of-date applications. If a new version is found, install it and restart your system.
7. Check your hardware components for issues
If you’ve tried all the above solutions and are still facing issues like sluggish performance and frequent greetings by the dreaded beachball, something deeper might be amiss. It’s possible your hard drive or RAM is faulty and needs to be repaired.
Your Mac has in-built tools to help you diagnose hardware issues. Disk Utility and Apple Diagnostics are two of them.
You can access Disk Utility by going to Applications > Utilities. Do remember that “Disk Utility can fix certain disk problems — for example, multiple apps quit unexpectedly, a file is corrupted, an external device doesn’t work properly, or your computer won’t startup. Disk Utility can’t detect or repair all problems that a disk may have.” – Apple Support
To check and repair a disk, you need to run First Aid on each volume and container on the storage device in turn, then run it on the storage device itself.
Disk Utility will let you know if your drive is failing and if you need to back up your data and get the drive replaced. Disk Utility can also fix broken permissions which might be causing freezing or crashing issues.
Apple Diagnostics helps you check other components of your Mac like its RAM or fan. You need to restart your Mac to access Apple Diagnostics. Power off, power back on, and hold the D key if you have an Intel processor or the power button in case of an Apple processor. Release the button when you see startup options or a progress bar. That’s it. As soon as the progress bar is full, you’ll see the test results.
If unfortunately, you diagnose a failing drive or RAM or any other hardware component, it’s best to contact Apple support for further resolution.
8. Upgrade your Mac
Sadly, this one will cost you a few bucks. Your Mac might just be too old to cope up with modern software and needs its drive replaced or its RAM upgraded. You should definitely consider getting an SSD to replace your current hard drive, at least for your main OS and the most frequently accessed programs. A 256 GB – 512 GB SSD will be more than enough and will give your system a fresh lease of life.
If your Mac came with 8GB of RAM or lower, it might be time to upgrade it. An additional 8GB RAM card will set you up for a few years at least.
Lastly, there are a few additional tips you can try out, like activating a new user profile from System Preferences > Users & Groups. This will give your Mac a fresh start and sidestep issues caused by too many user logs and cross-links. You can also try to reset your SMC (System Management Controller) to fix issues arising from SMC preferences. Refer to this Apple support link on how to do it easily.
These steps are sure to give your Mac a shot in the arm. If issues still persist, contact Apple Care or take your Mac to Apple’s Genius Bar for expert assistance.