When you wake up your sleepy Mac, the last thing you want to see is the spinning rainbow beach ball of doom. But the dreaded pinwheel is easier to avoid than you might think. We've compiled a list of 10 simple ways to turn your sad, sluggish Mac into one happy machine. One caveat! Before following these tips, don't forget to back up your data to an external drive (a good habit before running any computer maintenance or update anyway).
These tried and true methods are almost too easy, and it's important to remember that executing just one of these tasks won't be enough. However, completing some (or, better yet, all) of them will dramatically improve computer performance. Eventually, you should take these measures before your computer starts to get sluggish. Perform routine weekly maintenance, and you will be well on your way to becoming a Mac(Book) pro.
- Run Software Update — In addition to updating your software when your computer prompts you, you can also combat a slow machine by manually making sure that the latest versions of Mac OS X and other Apple applications (e.g. Safari, iTunes, and iPhoto) are installed. Go to the Apple icon in your menu bar > Software Update and let the application check for new software.
- Restart every few days — Putting a computer to sleep means that applications are ready to go when you turn on your screen. But this slows down computer speed over time, while restarting the operating system allows the computer to run on a clean slate. Plus, it allows an overheated machine to cool down.
- Clean desktop clutter — What's the point of having awesome geeky wallpaper if you can't even see it? Those hundreds of icons take up precious memory (RAM), and moving the files into different folders or deleting them entirely will help your computer run faster. Tired of dragging and dropping? The amazing Trash keyboard shortcut (command + delete) will speed up the process.
- Empty the Downloads folder — Every day, email attachments, pictures, song files, and GIFs get dumped into the Downloads folder. Go to your Home folder > Downloads. Keep necessary files, but trash the ones you'll never open again. Many browsers will unzip compressed files automatically and keep the zipped files in the Downloads folder; you can delete these too.
- Sort through your applications — Honestly, when was the last time you used MSN Instant Messenger? Take a close look at the Applications folder, and get rid of unneeded software by dragging them into the Trash.
- Clear out browser cache — Browsers store information about every website you visit, and saving that extensive browsing history takes a toll. In Safari, select Safari > Reset Safari in the menu bar to clear all stored caches. Also uninstall unnecessary extensions.
- Limit "Startup Items" — These applications automatically open at every restart or login, and having too many applications open at once can cause computer performance to suffer. Go to System Preferences > Accounts > Login Items and remove items by clicking on the minus (-) button.
- Delete unused languages — These language packs, which range from Arabic to Vietnamese, can take up a lot of space, and since you're probably not using them all, eliminate the files using freeware like iClean Language. Click on Language List, and check unused languages. The most important thing to remember is to leave at least one language unchecked (or you'll have to install Mac OS X from scratch). Exclude Microsoft and Adobe applications by selecting the Exclude tab, because these applications may fail to update without the language packs.
- Delete duplicate or poor photos — For some, this may be the most daunting task of all. Massive photo libraries are a common predicament, but there are some quick solutions. Store the images in an external drive or using a cloud storage service like Snapjoy, which is made specifically for photos, or Dropbox, which accepts files of all types. You can also download PhotoSweeper ($10), an application that identifies image duplicates in iPhoto, Aperture, Adobe Lightroom, and elsewhere on your Mac's hard drive.
- Lastly, identify what's taking up so much space — This step won't speed up your computer right away, but it will help you get to the source of the problem. Disk Inventory X is a completely free disk utility for Mac OS X that visualizes how much disk space each file takes up. You can even move those files to Trash from the application.
Did we leave out any tips? Let us know in the comments below!