Whether your Mac is running slow or you just want to squeeze some extra performance from your system, we have some quick solutions. Buying a shiny new Mac or upgrading your current Mac’s RAM aren’t the only options.
Quit Apps You’re No Longer Using
Clicking the red “X” in the corner of a window won’t always close a Mac app. In fact, most Mac apps will stay running in the background when you close their windows. You may have only closed the window, and the app is still open as signified by its presence in your dock.
Running apps appear in the dock with small dots next to them. You can right-click, Command-click, or two-finger tap an app icon in the dock and click Quit to end the process. You can also use File > Quit, or use the Command+Q keyboard shortcut while the app is focused.
Get into the habit of closing thirsty apps like Photoshop or Excel when you aren’t using them. Apps like Steam often run by default in the background, sapping resources. Close them until you need them. If the app has crashed or appears unresponsive, right-click its icon and hold Option, then click on Force Quit.
Identify and Remove Resource Hogs with Activity Monitor
If your Mac suddenly becomes unresponsive, slows down, or its fans spin up, you might want to find the offending software using Activity Monitor. You can launch this tool via Spotlight (Command+Spacebar, then search for it) or find it in the Applications > Utilities folder.
To find an app that is stressing your processor, click the CPU tab and then arrange the “% CPU” column in descending order. The higher the app appears in the list, the more CPU it is using. Select an app and click on the “X” in the top-left corner to quit the process. Be aware that many of the items in this list are system processes you won’t want to quit.
You can do the same thing on the Memory tab. Organize the “Memory” column by descending order to find out where all of your available physical memory has gone. If you aren’t using the app in question or notice a particular web page is sapping your memory, kill the process to free up resources.
Prevent Apps From Starting Up in the First Place
Disabling startup apps is a straightforward fix to a common complaint. When you sign into, many other applications start at the same time. Much of the time, these applications are not required. You’re often better off waiting until a time when you need these applications to start them manually instead.
Head to System Preferences > Users & Groups and click “Login Items” to see a list of applications that start when you log in to your account. Highlight one and click on the minus “-” icon to remove it. You can also add apps by clicking the plus “+” button if you like. Checking the box next to the app’s entry will hide it on startup.
Browse the Web with Safari
Your choice of browser can have a big impact on your machine’s performance. Safari is one of the best choices for Mac users since it is highly optimized for Apple hardware. You’ll get longer battery life on a MacBook and snappier performance on most machines compared to Chrome or Firefox, both of which are notorious memory hogs.
Limit Browser Extensions and Tabs
Whether you use Safari, Chrome, Firefox, or something else, consider removing any non-essential browser extensions to speed things up. Extensions make your browser use extra CPU and memory while browsing, and much of the time, the performance penalty isn’t worth it for the small amount of functionality they provide.
Your browsing habits can also slow down your system. Having 100 tabs open at once is going to slow down your Mac. Leaving thirsty web apps like Google Drive, Facebook, and Gmail open is also a bad idea. You can see the evidence for this by opening Activity Monitor and clicking on the Memory tab.
Reset SMC and PRAM/NVRAM
The System Management Controller or SMC for short controls low-level functions on your Mac, light LEDs, power buttons, and fans. From time to time, you may want to reset your SMC if you notice issues with your keyboard backlighting, strange fan behavior, or limited performance even under low load.
Instructions for resetting the SMC vary depending on which Mac you have. Learn how to reset the SMC on your particular Mac.
PRAM or NVRAM is responsible for storing settings like volume, screen resolution, time zone, and other settings that persist even when your Mac has been powered off. Slow performance (especially when shutting down) can also signal an issue with PRAM/NVRAM, so a reset might be worth a shot.
Resetting PRAM or NVRAM is pretty simple: Just hold Command+Option+P+R while your computer starts up.
Create More Free Space
If your computer has ground to a halt, one of the first things to check is whether or not you have enough free space. Your Mac needs around 5-10GB of free space for housekeeping purposes. Think of it as breathing room for your operating system.
Click on the Apple icon in the top-right corner of your screen, then click on About This Mac. Under the “Storage” tab, you should see a breakdown of your current hard drive usage, along with how much free space you have available. If your primary drive is full, then you will need to create more free space on your Mac as soon as possible.
Your Mac will use space to download updates, unpack large files, and when putting your computer to sleep. macOS may even refuse to boot if you run critically low on space, so it’s important to keep a buffer. If you want to solve this issue once and for all, you might need to consider adding more storage to your Mac.
Turn Off Fancy Animations
macOS looks and feels great to use, and much of that is down to its responsiveness. One thing that can hamper your experience is the feeling of lag or delayed response. You can try to minimize this feeling by turning off fancy visuals, particularly if your Mac is older or lacks a discrete GPU.
Head to System Preferences > Dock and disable “Animate opening applications” and “Automatically hide and show the dock.” You can also change “Genie effect” to “Scale effect” under the “Minimize windows using” setting. You can further reduce animations under System Preferences > Accessibility by enabling “Reduce Motion” under the Display tab.
Clean Up Your Desktop
Did you know every file on your desktop is rendered by macOS as a separate window? This is done so that you can quickly access a file using Quick Look. By leaving files littered across your desktop, you’re wasting system resources that could be put to better use elsewhere. Clean up your desktop and delete any files you don’t need.
Install Software Updates
Install software updates to get the latest bug fixes, features, and, most importantly, performance enhancements. Both macOS and third-party software updates can help improve your machine’s overall performance. How you update an app depends on the app and how you installed it. For example, apps you install from the Mac App Store will be updated by the App Store.
It’s also possible to squeeze more performance out of your Mac by upgrading the latest version of macOS. You can do this by opening the App Store and searching for “macOS” to reveal the most recent version.
While previous macOS updates were known to slow down older machines, most recent Apple updates have shifted focus towards improving performance on older models. You should still do your research and make sure the latest and greatest release is compatible with any mission-critical software you rely on. For example, macOS Catalina drops support for 32-bit apps.
Got More Time? Reinstall macOS
These quick steps may help rectify some of the issues that reduce your computer’s performance, but they can only go so far. To really improve performance, consider reinstalling macOS for a squeaky clean Mac.