Speed-Up, Clean-Up, Slim Down & Optimize Your Mac OSX Snow Leopard for Optimal Performance
40 things you can do to speed-up, clean-up, slim-down & optimize your Mac OSX for optimal performance. This post is a bit off topic but since most of us in the ad-industry are working on Macs, we figured we’ll share our secrets.
We tried to organized the list below in an order that will make more sense in terms of best optimization and easiness. Please note that while we’re here to help, we can’t be responsible in case something happens to your Mac or data. We strongly recommend you to backup your system before you apply any changes.
[p.s. If you want the shorter version, the steps that are most effective and will show the most immediate results are #1, #22, #23, #37 & #38]
1. Update all possible OSX system and software updates:
WHY: Every couple of weeks Apple releases patches, updates, etc, that are intended to fix bugs, increase performance, reduce security threats, etc. Just update them all.
HOW: Hit the little Apple icon on the top left menu/corner, then hit “Software Updates”. If updates are available, hit “Show Details”, make sure everything is checked, and hit “Install”.
NOTE: For some reason, after “Updates Installed Successfully”, it goes back to the Software Update window, giving you the impression that you there are more updates, but if there’s a green check mark next to all updates listed, you’re done. If it asks you to restart, you can restart later since we still have a lot to do.
WHY: Your web browser and email client (much like your OS) contain security holes and bugs that are constantly being fixed and improved. If you use Safari or Mac Mail, step #1 of this guide will take care of these updates but for the above browsers, email clients, etc, you’ll have to update them yourself.
HOW: Visit the above links, download, and install or you can check for updates from within each software.
3. Update / install addons / plugins / extensions for Firefox, Chrome and Thunderbird:
WHY: They make your browsing / emailing experience sooooo much better.
HOW: Here’s our list of must-have Firefox addons:
Here’s our list of must-have Thunderbird addons:
4. Update /install the latest versions of the following free software for better multimedia compatibility / video performance:
WHY: Older versions of multimedia plugins can use up your CPU and slow down your system (not to mention heat it up when playing videos). Adobe just recently released a 64bit version of their Flesh Player, which is also set to take advantage over Mac’s graphic acceleration (a feature that hasn’t been used in the past):
Perian – The swiss-army knife of QuickTime components
Windows Media player component for Mac (Flip4Mac WMV)
Microsoft Silverlight .NET Multimedia Plugin
Adobe Flash Player
Adobe Shockwave Player
DivX multimedia codec
Do yourself a favor – while DivX is a great codec for playing online videos / content, the DivX Player installed with it is no good. After installing the DivX Package, trash the DivX Player (from the Applications folder). Instead, we recommend:
VideoLAN (VLC) Media Player
5. Update Microsoft Office:
WHY: Every other day, a 15-year-old hacker finds some new security holes in Microsoft’s Office suite. Making sure you’ve got the latest patches, updates, etc is important.
HOW: From within either MS Word, Excel or PowerPoint, hit “Help” on the top-menu and then “Check for Updates”. This will run the Microsoft AutoUpdate.
6. Update all your 3rd party/other software:
WHY: Mac OS Software Update tool is great but it only covers Apple software.
HOW: For 3rd party or any other software, I use both AppFresh and LogicielMac Update (LogicielMac Update is a bit old but it’s still working). They each find updates the other one won’t. If you’re up for paying $20 a year for a better tool, check out MacUpdate Desktop.
7. Install AppTrap before you uninstall/remove any unwanted / unneeded software from your mac:
WHY: AppTrap deletes all associated files with trashed applications, allowing for a more complete clean-up of your Mac when you uninstall software.
HOW: Get the latest version of free AppTrap here.
NOTE: When you update software (rather than un-install it), an AppTrap popup might appear, asking you if you want to delete some extra files it finds, that are associated with that software. These are usually settings or preferences files for that software so I’d recommend not to delete them (MOVE to trash), but to LEAVE them as is.
8. Uninstall / remove any unneeded / unwanted / unused software from your Mac’s Application folder:
WHY: They take extra space you might need, they may use your memory and slow down your OS (if they are loaded at boot time), they can add clutter to your application folder, etc.
HOW: Simply drag any unwanted/unused software to the trash can. If you installed AppTrap as suggested above, an AppTrap popup will appear, asking you if you want to delete some extra files it finds, that are associated with the unwanted software. Sure you want.
9. Clean your dock’s unused icons/shortcuts:
WHY: Seems like everyone have a few shortcuts on their desktop’s doc they are not really using that often. Trashing them makes the doc cleaner and much more useful.
HOW: Simply drag your unused icons/shortcuts to the trash can.
10. Clean your cluttered desktop & reduce the number of icons:
WHY: For OSX, every icon on your desktop is like a little window. As such, it has a corresponding backing store allocation in the window server. Lots of these little windows apparently can put a strain on the server, especially when you’ve got lots of other (normal) windows open as well. It’s been reported numerous times that having a clear desktop will, in fact, increase the speed of your Mac.
HOW: Either put your junk in folders or delete stuff you don’t need.
WHY: Don’t get us wrong, we LOVE free backup/sync services like DropBox & SugerSync, but when loaded at startup, they have a tendency to suck bandwidth. Online backup/sync services constantly call home to check if there are any files to sync/backup, slowing down your internet connection.
NOTE: Backupping (is that a verb?) is important and if you’re the type of person who remembers to manually backup your data, skip this one.
HOW: In DropBox’s preferences menu, uncheck “Start DropBox on System Startup”. InSugerSync’s preferences menu, uncheck “Auto Start SugerSync Manager When My Computer Starts Up”.
12.Disable TimeMachine’s automatic backup and use TimeMachineEditor instead:
WHY: By default, time machine tries to backup every 3600 seconds (one hour). We do believe backup is important but every hour? really? Unless you’re working with extremely sensitive data that changes by the minute, once a day or every few hours is probably good enough. This will free up your CPU usage and over-use of the external hard-drive you’re backing up to.
HOW: Get free TimeMachineEditor here.
13. Access your NTFS Windows formated (external) hard-drive with Paragon NTFS for Mac:
WHY: If you’re using an external hard-drive which was formated using a Windows system as NTFS, and you need to access the files on your mac, this software is for you.
14. Download, install and enjoy the free BetterTouchTool:
WHY: Because once you use it, you wouldn’t want to stop using it. Click here to learn more.
15. Disable file sharing (if you’re not using it):
WHY: Did you know most Macs share their public folder’s files over the network? That means if you’re using your Mac at a coffee shop or any other public/open wifi hotspot, people might have access to some of your folders. Even if your public folders are empty and you think you have nothing to worry about, having access to your computer via the network will slow down your internet connection.
HOW: In Mac’s “System Preferences” click “Sharing” and make sure File Sharing is off.
16. Get rid of language files you don’t speak:
WHY: Mac OS X has always supported a wide range of world languages but to be honest with you, we only use English. Getting rid of all other languages will not affect your ability to see/read any of them online, using your browser, email, etc. These language files are only used for Mac’s actual OS, menus, interface, dialogs boxes, help files, etc.
HOW: Hit the little Apple icon on the top left menu/corner, then hit “System Preferences”. Hit “Language & Text”, then “Edit List” and remove all unneeded languages.
17. Disable Mac’s Bluetooth (if you’re not using it):
WHY: Most people do not use bloetooth on their Mac, yet it’s enabled by default and shortens your battery life.
HOW: Hit the little Apple icon on the top left menu/corner, then hit “System Preferences”. Hit “Bluetooth”, then uncheck the “On”.
18. Turn off Universal Access (if not used):
WHY: “Every Mac comes standard with a wide range of assistive technologies that help people with disabilities enjoy the power and simplicity of the Mac. We call this Universal Access” (Apple’s website). Assuming most people won’t use these features, why have them on?
HOW: Navigate to System Preferences / Universal Access, and turn off anything you’re not using.
19. Turn off Speech Recognition / Speakable Items (if not used):
WHY: Unless you’re using it, why have it on?
HOW: Navigate to System Preferences / Speech / Speech Recognition and turn off “Speakable Items”
20. Reorganize / clean the Spotlight search index:
WHY: We love Mac’s spotlight (the little search box on the top-right corner of your menu-bar) but it seems like it indexes and lists files we’re never going to look for.
HOW: Hit the little Apple icon on the top left menu/corner, then hit “System Preferences” then “Spotlight”. Uncheck all the elements you’re not using and/or re-order the list by dragging elements up/down. Since we’re using Thunderbird for emails, for example, we don’t need Spotlight to check “Mail Messages” in Mac’s Mail client. We also disabled: Fonts, Contacts (since we’re not using Mac’s Mail), Webpages, Events & To Do Items, and System Preferences. Then we re-order the list by the type of searches we use most:
NOTE: If you wish to delete Spotlight’s index all-together and have it re-index your hard-drive, use OnyX (mentioned in step #38 of this guide).
WHY: There are a lot of things you can do to improve your Mac’s performance / visual appeal that are usually hidden or unaccessible. For example, you can probably do without the fancy 3D effects and animation that may seem sluggish on some older Mac models.
HOW: Disable some or all of these effects with TinkerTool and Secrets, turn off the translucent menu bar using the Desktop & Screensaver pane in System Preferences, and display folders in the Dock as folders rather than Stacks (control-click on each folder in the Dock and choose Display as Folder).
22. Clear out useless login items:
WHY: Its good to check that unwanted programs are not starting up when you login to your Mac. Any software loaded during startup will slow down your OS and/or the internet if it’s using any bandwidth.
HOW: This can be done from System Preferences > Accounts > Login Items.
23. Eliminate unwanted background / startup processes:
WHY: Much like the mentioned above “login items”, background processes are applications or parts of them that run in OS X without telling you they are there. You won’t see them in the Dock but they can slow down your system.
HOW: Head to the root of your drive (Double-click Macintosh HD). Click on the folder called “Library”. There are three folders to look into inside the Library folder:
Macintosh HD / Library/ LaunchAgents
Macintosh HD / Library/ LaunchDaemons
Macintosh HD / Library/ StartupItems
Once you’ve identified something you don’t need or no longer use inside these three folders, drag it to the trash can. If you’re wondering what are those files inside these folders, you can always use google to identify what software installed them there.
Next, head to the “Library” folder inside your own user’s folder and look for the same three folders:
Macintosh HD / Users / (your username) / Library / LaunchAgents
Macintosh HD / Users / (your username) / Library / LaunchDaemons
Macintosh HD / Users / (your username) / Library /StartupItems
Again, once you’ve identified something you don’t need or no longer use inside these three folders, drag it to the trash can. Note that not all three must exist in this Library folder. It may be that you’ll only find one or two of them.
NOTE: Be careful not to delete any items you might need, for application you use regularly (like backup software for example). You’ll need to Restart your Mac for changes to take effect.
24. Clear out / delete unused user accounts:
WHY: Have you ever created user accounts for your roommate, boyfriend, girlfriend, etc which you’re not using anymore? Not a bad idea to login to those account one last time just to make sure there’s nothing you need in the Documents folder (copy/back up those files if there are), then logout, and simply delete those accounts.
HOW: This can be done from System Preferences > Accounts. You may need to unlock (click the lock to make changes), then chose any account you’re not using under “Other Accounts” and hit the minus (-) below to delete the selected account.
WHY: Mac OSX needs about 20% free space on your hard-drive to operate optimally. Not to say you can’t run it on a full hard-drive, but the more free space you have, the faster your system will run. That’s because when it’s idle, Mac OS runs its defragmentation scripts and the more free space it can use, the faster the defrag process will take.
HOW: If you have an external hard-drive, consider relocating your media library files to it (movies, audio files, etc). This will keep your media but free up lots of space on your internal hard drive.
26. Use smcFanControl to cool down your Mac:
WHY: Ever felt like your Mac is over heating? smcFanControl lets you set the minimum speed of the build in fans. So you can increase your minimum fan speed to make your Intel Mac run cooler.
27. Use TotalFinder as a replacement for the Mac OS’ default native Finder:
WHY: One of the coolest features of TotalFinder is that it adds tabbed browsing to the finder, similar to your Firefox, Explorer or Chrome’s tabbed browsing.
28. Remove fonts you don’t use, as well as defective and duplicate fonts:
WHY: Getting rid of unused fonts provides both a performance and disk space benefit. Obviously, every font file is a file that takes up space. However, Mac OS X must read the installed fonts as part of the start-up and log-in process, making a large number of fonts a performance issue. Perhaps even more importantly, all applications read available fonts at launch. This means that reducing the number of fonts can have speed up applications’ launch time.
HOW: You can remove or disable fonts using the Font Book application included with Mac OS X. Run.
To remove/delete defective fonts, in Font Book, click “All Fonts” under the “Collection” (left-menu). Then, on the Font column, select all fonts (Command +A). Right-click on your selection and hit “Validate Fonts”. A popup window will appear, validating all fonts. We recommend deleting/removing any font that can’t be validated (green check-mark).
To remove/delete duplicate fonts, use your Mac’s top menu-bar – hit “Edit”, then “Resolve Duplicates”.
29. Use Little Snitch to keep track of what software is using your bandwidth and sharing your private information.
WHY: A firewall protects your computer against unwanted guests from the Internet. But who protects your private data from being sent out?
30. Set up a firmware password for extra security & protection:
WHY: Even if you setup a username login password, it’s fairy easy to hack your mac (as this guide shows).
31. Evaluate your dashboard widgets (or even better, disable widgets all-together):
WHY: Widgets use a lot of ram. Each dashboard widget you enable consumes both processing power and valuable memory.
HOW: Limit how many widgets you run. To disable widgets all-together follow these steps:
1. Applications > Utilities > Terminal
2. Type “defaults write com.apple.dashboard mcx-disabled -boolean YES” (without the quotes) and hit enter.
3. Type “killall Dock” and hit enter.
To re-enable desktop widgets just repeat above previous steps with “NO” insteadof “YES” in step #2.
32. Reset your Mac’s SMC (System Management Controller) chip:
WHY: The System Management Controller (SMC) is a chip on the logic board that controls all power functions for your computer. If your computer is experiencing any power issue, slow downs getting into sleep mode, idle, wake ups, noisy fans, charging issues, etc, resetting the SMC may resolve it.
HOW: If you can remove the battery from your Mac, follow these steps:
1. Shut down the computer.
2. Disconnect the power adapter from the computer, if it’s connected.
3. Remove the battery.
4. Press and hold the power button for 5 seconds.
5. Release the power button.
6. Reconnect the battery and the power adapter.
7. Press the power button to turn on the computer.
NOTE: If you can’t take the battery out, or for more detailed info, visit Apple’s guide on the topic here.
33. Reset your Mac’s PRAM and NVRAM:
WHY: PRAM Stands for Parameter Random Access Memory (used in in PowerPC based Macs) and NVRAM Stands for Nonvolatile Random Access Memory (used in Intel based Macs). They are both type of random access memory which does not lose its information when power is turned off. PRAM and NVRAM store certain system and device settings in a location that Mac OS X can access quickly but this exact cache memory data can cause slow downs.
HOW: Follow these steps:
1. Shut down your Mac.
2. Locate the following keys on the keyboard: Command, Option, P, and R. You will need to hold these keys down simultaneously in step 4.
3. Turn on the computer, and immediately,
4. Press and hold the Command-Option-P-R keys. You must press this key combination before the gray screen appears.
5. Hold the keys down until the computer restarts and you hear the startup chime sound for the second time.
6. Release the keys.
7. Your computer’s PRAM and the NVRAM are reset to the default values.
NOTE: For more info on this, visit Apple’s detailed instructions here.
34. Turn off Mac’s annoying startup chime using StartupSound.prefPane:
WHY: Cause if you’re in a meeting and you need to restart your mac, you really don’t want that annoying chime.
35. Install the “32- or 64-bit Kernel Startup Mode Selector” and switch to 64bit mode (if you can):
WHY: Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard is a 64-bit system but by default, it’s set up to work as 32-bit. Why? (you might ask) – at the time of releasing OSX 10.6 Snow Leopard, apple was worried about 3rd party drivers not working well on a 64-bit core. Now, It’s been a while since its release and we’ve been running on 64bit using this tool for over a year now without any problem.
NOTE: You might want to check if this tool is compatible with your system before you run it. Read more here.
HOW: Download the 32- or 64-bit Kernel Startup Mode Selector here, install and run it ONLY if you get the green check-mark, to verify that your system is compatible.
ALTERNATIVE: Snow Leopard System Mode Configurator Preference Pane – 32/64 bit boot selector (same thing basically, just allow you to access its preference panel via System Preferences instead of the Application folder).
36. Download free Caffeine to alow your Mac to stay awake when you’re using it:
WHY: Caffeine is a tiny program that puts an icon in the right side of your menu bar. Click it to prevent your Mac from automatically going to sleep, dimming the screen or starting screen savers. Click it again to go back.
37. Use CleanMyMac to, well, clean your Mac:
WHY: Out of all the tools we tested, CleanMyMac is the simply the best in cleaning your mac. We love the language removal feature, the universal binaries remover, and the many other features.
38. Use free OnyX to clean your system, repair permissions, run daily, weekly and monthly scripts, and more:
WHY: OnyX allows you to verify the Startup Disk and the structure of its System files, to run miscellaneous tasks of system maintenance, to configure the hidden parameters of the Finder, Dock and of some of Apple’s own applications, to delete caches, to remove a certain number of files and folders that may become cumbersome and more.
39. Use iDefrag to defrag your fragmented hard-drive:
WHY: The question whether you need to defrag seemed to be answered by Apple in their technical document that describes the capability of Mac OS X to defragment files itself. It turns out OS X only does this for files that are smaller than 20 MB. Since we all have files that are larger then 20MB, they are never being defragged and can slow down your system.
HOW: To the rescue, buy iDefrag and use it to optimize your system.
NOTE: We DO NOT recommend using the quick (online) defrag option. There have been reports it can mess up some files if used while running other software. To be safe, go with FULL defrag. It requires restart and may take all night but it’s the best defrag option.
40. Calibrate your Mac’s battery:
WHY: Calibrating your battery ensures you get the longest possible running time from it. Apple recommends calibrating your battery about once a month (really Apple?) We say, just do it now, and maybe next time you’re going over this guide in a few months.