The honest macOS guide to speeding up your Mac

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Online video tutorials, and most computer blogs, that claim to offer Mac Speedups to improve slow Mac performance mostly refer to completely out of date maintenance techniques that do not help any more, we have not needed to do them for several years now, yet on YouTube you can find dozens of videos with incorrect information posted by people who don’t know what they are talking about. The first group of people are folks that sweated from Windows and expect that macOS needs as much fusing and maintenance as does Windows, but no, macOS needs very little maintenance and Apple has been optimizing macOS continuously so in reality the average user does not need to perform any maintenance functions at all.

The second group of people are media employees that should know better. These are professionals that make YouTube videos for a living or work for commercial channels (many of whom once upon a time produced glossy magazines). These folks sound very authoritative and some of their other videos do contain some (rather obvious) facts but when it comes to Mac maintenance, these journalists are decades behind the times. Keep in mind that just because they are professional journalists does not mean that hey know anything about computers, most of them don’t. Most of them simply repeat what has been published a million times, simply to sound smart and to attract a new audience that has not heard these same old out of date tips. They might know how to act in front pot the camera or how to write a story so it sounds interesting but they do not have several advanced technology degrees nor have they worked on the technology (designing it, creating it and maintaining it for over four decades, as I have, so what I offer you hear is the true story of sipping up your Mac, as told by a Tre Silicon Valley insider.

Deleting apps or files does not speed up your Mac. It does not matter how much disk space is used on your Mac, these are not Windows machines and do not suffer from Windows problems). As long as you have at least 10% free it will work fine. macOS uses a feature called Hot Files that automatically moves the most used files to the fastest part of the drive and moves never used files to the slowest part of the drive. This gives you the best compromise between disk usage and speed, after all you purchased the disk drive to fill it not to empty it. If your Mac has a Fusion Drive then the Hot Files feature will move commonly used files to the SSD and unused files to the hard drive, again, giving you the best of both worlds. If your Mac has an SSD then it does not matter, the files are all accessed so quickly that it does not matter how full or empty the SSD is (just maintain at least 10% free for caching purposes). On systems with mechanical disk drives, the Operating System files are always automatically placed in the fastest part of the storage system so it will always have the best boot up time that storage volume can deliver.

Quitting or Force-Quitting an open app that you are not using does not make macOS run any faster, that is an old Windows problem that Macs do not have. macOS automatically put unused apps to sleep so they do not affect the user experience (i.e. they do not use up any CPU cycles). If the system detects that its about to run out of RAM then it will move all unused apps that are still open to the storage system. This frees up RAM for you so you will not see any slowdown.

The Cache files(s) is automatically rebuilt when each app is launched if the cache is missing, so deleting it does not speed anything up, in fact, it takes longer to launch the app because the cache has to be rebuilt from scratch. If its not broken then don’t try to fix it. In the extremely rare case that there actually is a corrupted cache file in your system, just start up your Mac buy holding down the Shift Key which will flush out the caches and stop extensions/plug-ins from loading so you can do your troubleshooting. Remember to reboot normally so the caches will get rebuilt. Safari rebuild its own caches, so there is no longer any need to delete or clear it out manually anymore.

NVRAM (reset SMC and Zapping the PRAM) resetting is an ancient technique, back before macOS (when were were still running System 1 through System 9) so its not likely to help anything now, don’t do it. Its only useful if it forgets a peripheral or the fan control has gone wonky, both of which is extremely rare now. It used to be told to everyone to do that because the ancient motherboards would corrupt their NVRAM settings, we now use flash memory on the motherboards so its extremely unlikely that this will get corrupted. I have not ever seen this reset ever help any of my clients, but if it makes you feel better then go for it, just make sure that you now your WiFi and any other needed passwords before you start resetting everything.

Upgrading RAM is unlikely to do anything for 99% of people out there. macOS was upgraded a few versions ago to not need anywhere need as much RAM as it used to. If you have at least 4GB of RAM then its probably running fin e(check Memory in Activity Monitor, if its green or yellow you are fine, if its Red too often then you need a RAM upgrade, generally only heavy duty/professional users running Photoshop pr Final Cut Pro every day need to worry about it).

Cleaner apps are useless because of all the above reasons, they are not worth using and are definitely not worth paying for them. Often they simply delete files that the operating system will simply rebuild immediately so you really didn’t change anything at all.

Deleting System Extensions (found in System Preferences) and Plug-Ins/Extensions to any apps you have will not save enough space to make any actual usable difference to you. Its not worth the time.

Running Disc Utility to repair the file system is extremely unlikely to do anything . Likewise, Checking/Repairing Permissions is also unlikely to do anything and in fact, the last few versions of macOS do not have a way to check permissions because Apple feels that is has not be a problem for years. Every macOS update will scan your drive and check permissions (a smart thing for the installer to do because that’s when those permissions need to be set. It appears that Apple’s SIP (System Integrity Protection) feature is continuously monitoring permissions and will reset them if any of them are incorrect.

Apple’s file system has become far more robust over the decades and the need to run Disk Utility on a regular basis has disappeared. Its true that very old Macs (using very old versions of the OS) did have file system issues, as did all desktop personal computer systems back then because no one knew what was required to make these inexpensive computers reliable.

File System problems disappeared in the last several years of HFS+ (probably longer ago than that, we simply stopped noticing because these systems became so reliable). Newer Macs running APFS as their file system (as opposed to running the venerable HFS+ file system) have not experienced any file system issues at all, which is amazing considering that this is a brand new file system running on absolutely new file system software. Disk Utility is no longer needed for routine maintenance since macOS has been self-healing for many years now.

An interesting side-note: hard disk drives regularly get random bit errors, we can count them easily and manufacturers will routinely disclose the expected error rate of their drives. Random disk errors have mystified users for decades but manufacturers have long known that the drives they build are not perfect. Errors occur due to flawed disk drive firmware, flawed operating system (file system) software, electrical glitches on your AC power lines (which s why I recommend that all my clients use a UPS to protect their computers and finally there are indefensible errors due to cosmic radiation striking the disk drive’s read-write heads at the exact moment that its reading or writing. As unlikely as it seems, we are continuously bombarded by cosmic radiation and a small amount of it penetrates the Earth’s electro-magnetic shield and causes those errors.

Disk Utility has never removed “random junk” from the file system, anyone who claims otherwise is clueless or lying. The Filesystem repair that Disk Utility performs is the UNIX utility known as fsck, which doesn’t have a “junk removal” function.

Anti-Virus and Anti-Malware software generally slow you computer down because they have to constantly scan your drive as you work. They have been independently tested and been found to not be very effective on any computer platform, mush less so on Macs. All recent versions of macOS have Anti-Virus and Anti-Malware protection built right into macOS, it doesn’t slow down your Mac because its part of the operating system, its very effective and no virus nor malware has ever gotten past this built in protection. Apple does not give these features a name but in the media we call it Gatekeeper and X-Protect, these features are updated continuously (on the three latest versions of macOS) by Apple. 

Chrome Web Browser is heavily marketed by Google so many people use it but the reality I that its slower than Safari, its less secure and is still riddled with a log of bugs. The best, fastest, most reliable and most secure web browser (as proved by countless of independent tests) is Safari. If you want to have a second browser installed as a safety shield then install Firefox. What Google doesn’t tell you is that Chrome is actually based on Apple’s Webkit (Webkit is made by Apple) that they modified (for the worse) slightly.

What actually helps to speed up Macs is to:

Restart your Mac if it seems to be sluggish. Macs are so reliable that most people just put them to sleep and they run forever without problems. This is perfectly acceptable and harmless but if one of your apps has a memory leak or other glitch then it could waste resources which in turn causes a slowdown. Restarting flushes away that error temporarily and can help. If this does help then you need to figure out which app is the culprit then update it or replace it with an app that works correctly.

Getting rid of animations and reducing transparency in the macOS interface does help old Macs feel a little bit snappier when opening a new window because that hardware does not have built-in acceleration for those affects. The rest of the machine operates at the same exact speed but a handful of people feel better if their windows open a bit faster. 

For older Macs:

System Preferences>Accessibility>Reduce Transparency (make sure its on).

System Preferences>Dock>turn off Magnification Animate opening applications (turn this off) Change Minimize Windows from Genie to Scale

Have the latest version of macOS installed (it will handle caches and NVRAM more intelligently). Apple continuously improves the stability, reliability and functionality of macOS, you can even see some small speed increases with each version (which is opposite of what other operating systems behave. This will make your Mac work better and faster.

Deleting unneeded Login Items in System Preferences can improve performance, if that item was performing a lot of tasks in the background. This is usual and only likely if you are running anti-virus software, but its worth it to check, delete any Login Item that you no longer need or that you do not recognize.

Delete photos and especially videos that you no longer need nor want. These are the two largest files on your Mac and can take up massive amounts of storage space.

Upgrade the hard disk drive to an SSD, which will deliver very palpable speed gains. Even a modesty priced SSD like the Crucial BX300 SSD http://amzn.to/2iBsQqx will deliver huge speed gains that are very welcome.

 

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