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Take Control of Speeding Up Your Mac
Boost your Mac's performance and eliminate speed bumps!
Has your Mac lost its zip? Do you wish you could squeeze extra life out of an older but still functional Mac rather than investing in the latest model? Or are you a power user looking to put together the ultimate high-end Mac configuration for work or play? Nearly every Mac's speed can be boosted considerably and inexpensively if you know what you're doing. In this practical, hands-on book, best-selling author Joe Kissell offers you the results of his extensive research and experimentation in the area of Macintosh performance.
This book shows you how to identify the exact causes of slowdowns and measure your Mac's speed before and after making changes so you know exactly what their effect was. You'll systematically root out the gremlins that chew up CPU cycles, RAM, and disk space; discover numerous tricks to improve responsiveness; and learn how to speed up your email, Web browser, network, peripherals, and more. You'll also explore the benefits of hardware upgrades such as SSDs, faster hard drives, and extra RAM; discover techniques and utilities to boost your Mac's speed; and get to the bottom of some of the most common and pervasive performance myths.
Whether you're Mac is running 10.5 Leopard, 10.6 Snow Leopard, 10.7 Lion, or 10.8 Mountain Lion, with this 204-page book, you can:
You'll learn answers to questions like:
Interestingly, only the day after I’d finished reading this book, someone on a mailing list I participate in was complaining about how their Mac had slowed down. Helpful people suggested many of the things that Kissell had shown in his book to be ineffective. I found I was recommending this book even before I’d written my review. —Miraz Jordan, Mac Tips book review
iPad & Kindle
About the Author
Joe Kissell has written numerous books about the Macintosh, including many popular Take Control ebooks. He's also Senior Editor of TidBITS and a Senior Contributor to Macworld, and previously spent ten years in the Mac software industry.
Table of Contents
Read Me First
Don’t settle for a sluggish Mac! This comprehensive book teaches you how to find the exact causes of slow performance and take steps to make your Mac snappy and responsive. This book was written by Joe Kissell, edited by Adam Engst, and published by TidBITS Publishing Inc.
Tell me if this sounds familiar. You get a new Mac, and your initial impression is “Wow! So fast!” Everything seems so snappy compared to that old computer you were using before. Without even thinking about it, you find yourself opening more applications and documents than you ever could, and it all just works. Everything you do—playing games, running Photoshop filters, searching your massive email archive—seems to happen almost instantly.
But as time passes, a funny thing happens. You begin to notice, every now and then, that something takes a bit longer than it used to. Gradually, those occasions become more frequent. Then you become aware of other strange behavior. Video that used to play smoothly now stutters. Web pages seem to take forever to load. Opening applications and saving files is oddly time-consuming. That cursed spinning wait cursor (see the sidebar The Spinning Pizza of Death) may rear its ugly head from time to time. And you dread the thought of having to restart your Mac, because it takes an unbearably long time.
This sort of thing happens to just about everyone, although the severity and the rate at which these slowdowns occur vary from one situation to the next. Likewise, it’s not at all uncommon for a Mac to encounter spontaneous or intermittent performance problems rather than a slow degradation of speed. So you’re not alone, but that may be cold comfort; your Mac is still too slow! What to do?
Of course Apple would like you to hand them lots of money for a new Mac—and sooner or later that will indeed turn out to be necessary. But take heart: you can reverse the effects of time and return your Mac to its formerly zippy self. (And, if you have a newer Mac that’s still pretty fast, you can squeeze even more power out of it!)
But here’s the problem. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of books, articles, blog posts, Web pages, and utilities that purport to speed up your Mac. I’ve spent countless hours researching these claims, and I’m sorry to say the vast majority of them are wrong. By “wrong” I mean incomplete at best, dangerous at worst, and nearly always based on guesses, anecdotes, or outdated information rather than, you know, verifiable facts.
Many of these claims have a bit of truth to them, so it’s easy for even very smart people to be misled. For example, a friend told me her Mac had become terribly slow, and she’d done some research that led her to believe she needed a larger hard drive. Her disk was within a hair’s breadth of being full, and it’s true that a full disk can make your Mac very slow. So without any further experimentation I agreed with her analysis. She bought a new hard drive—a big expense in her case—and I installed it for her. But a week later my friend told me with great frustration that her Mac didn’t feel any faster, even if her new disk did have plenty of breathing space. She was enormously disappointed, and although she didn’t want to impose on me by asking me to do further troubleshooting, I later learned that her next computer was a PC.
I bear much of the blame for her dashed expectations. I jumped to a conclusion, and I should have known better. We did indeed solve a problem by installing a larger disk, but that didn’t happen to be the major factor contributing to her Mac’s poor performance.
Maybe you’ve had a similar experience. Perhaps you tried something, or a dozen things, that should have worked—or that did indeed work for other people. But your Mac is still slow.
So let’s put all the conventional wisdom and guesswork behind us and turn to science. My aim in this book is to be systematic, factual, and testable. I explain the factors that affect a Mac’s speed and how they interact. I tell you what to check, and what steps you can take to solve various speed problems. But crucially, I also show you how to verify numerically if or how much a certain change speeds things up. You don’t have to take my word for it that some procedure may improve your performance—and you don’t have to rely on informal perceptions either. You can measure your Mac’s speed yourself, before and after making changes, and then you’ll know for sure whether it’s better. And if it’s not, you’ll have the tools and knowledge you need to try another technique, and another, until you’ve found and solved the problem.
I hope that little pep talk has inspired and encouraged you—you can and will make your Mac faster! At the same time, I want you to set your expectations correctly. You can make your Mac as fast as the day you bought it—and in many cases even push it well beyond that—without having to wipe your hard disk and start from scratch. But you’re not going to make a ten-year-old G4 run as fast as a brand-new Intel-based Mac.
In particular, I want to be sure you understand the following:
When I wrote the first edition of Take Control of Troubleshooting Your Mac, I treated slow performance as a minor problem and devoted a mere three pages to it. Similarly, although Take Control of Maintaining Your Mac overlaps a bit with what I discuss here, it focuses on preventing problems rather than curing them. The advice I give in those other books is useful, of course, but I realized after considerable feedback from readers that it didn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the speed issue. So my hope is that the book you’re now reading will do far more than that—it should give you, by the time you’re done with it, a much faster Mac with a new lease on life.
Most of the advice I give here should work regardless of which version of Mac OS X you’re running, but it’s mainly geared toward users with 10.5 Leopard or later. Readers with earlier versions of Mac OS X may notice a few differences in behavior from what I describe here.
Many factors can influence a Mac’s speed, including some that may not be obvious. So I encourage you to read and follow all the steps in this book. Although I’ve tried to present tasks in a logical progression for the most part, the order in which you do things is not critical. But please be sure to read Learn What Makes a Mac Fast (or Slow) first to get important background information; follow the steps in Try a Few Quick Fixes regardless of the problems you’re experiencing; and acquaint yourself with the test procedures in Diagnose Common Speed Problems, since I refer to them again and again in the remaining chapters.
Version 1.2 is a minor update intended mainly to bring the book up to date with OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion and recent changes to Apple’s hardware. Apart from clarifying that what was true in Lion is largely true in Mountain Lion, the only noteworthy changes are:
Version 1.1 contained numerous small changes throughout that brought this book up to date with information about Mac OS X 10.7 Lion, other recent software and hardware releases, and my two other Mac Fitness books. I also did the following:
Most of the advice in this ebook is geared toward users with Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, 10.6 Snow Leopard, 10.7 Lion, and 10.8 Mountain Lion.
There are lots of great ways to read our ebooks on these devices. For more details, please read our latest Device Advice.
Feel free to ask us if you have a question about this title!
How could we not publish such kind words? If you'd like to send us your comments (good or bad, though we hope they're all good), just click the Feedback link on the cover of your copy of the ebook. Be sure to let us know if we can publish your comment. Thanks!
September 20, 2012 -- Now that we've updated this ebook for Mountain Lion, we have no specific plans to update it in the near future.
January 25, 2013 --
On p. 83, in the sidebar "Should You Disable Spindump?", I explain how to disable the
spindump process, which has been implicated in slowdowns after a crash (as it collects data to send to Apple about the cause of the problem). I did this on my own Mac without any problems, but two readers have now reported to me that after trying this, their Macs froze and wouldn't restart, requiring them to restore their disks from a backup. I can't explain why that would happen, but to be on the safe side, I recommend just ignoring that sidebar and not disabling spindump. If you do feel the need to try it, be sure you have a recently updated bootable duplicate first—just in case!
May 31, 2011 --
On Chuck Joiner's popular Mac-oriented podcast, MacVoices, Chuck interviewed Joe Kissell about his latest book, Take Control of Speeding Up Your Mac. The 41-minute interview is available, in both audio and video versions, on the MacVoices site.
—Michael E. Cohen
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