Ever wondered, “why is my Mac running slow?” Well, you’re not alone. This question gets googled exactly 1,700 times every month. A lot of people are having the same problems with their devices. Today, we shed some light on the topic and tell you how to speed up your Mac (valid for MacBook Pro, Air, iMac, Mac mini, the whole Mac lineup).
Here are the things we’ll cover:
- Why is my Mac running slow?
- How to speed up Mac
First, let’s answer the main question:
Why is my Mac running slow?
You’re going to be real happy to hear this, but the reasons can be aplenty. 🙄
Sometimes your apps are at fault, sometimes it can be a problem with the machine itself, but other times it’s you and your computer usage habits that are to blame. We’ll try to unmask all of those here.
Here are the most common reasons why your Mac is running slow and how to speed it up:
Full hard drive
Lack of disk space is probably the number one culprit your Mac feels slow. This is because of two reasons:
- Macs come with not a lot of disk space out the box, at least compared to Windows devices. This means that it’s easy to use that up quickly.
- The way Mac manages disk space in its default state is not always very clear. Deleting elements permanently isn’t always as straightforward.
“But isn’t the hard drive meant to just keep stuff on the computer? Why does the hard drive even matter in terms of Mac speed?” I hear you. The thing is that your hard drive also takes part in various operations required for getting the operating system (OS) running.
Fetching data from the hard drive takes time; saving new data takes time, etc. But that’s only part of the problem. The hard drive is also where the OS creates temporary files that are needed during the execution of common system functions. Quite simply, if you don’t have enough space on your hard drive, the OS will have to do a lot of work moving stuff around to be able to create those temporary files. This is what causes the slowness.
Later in this guide, we’ll tell you how to solve your hard drive pains in detail.
Your browser being the hog
The web browsers of today can be really blunt about how they do their work. Granted, most of what we call web interaction happens via the web browser these days. We use browsers to check email, watch YouTube, do Google Sheets, manage our to-dos, etc.
This is all great, but it also comes at a price; web browsers require significant system resources to operate.
Even though every major browser company will tell you that their creation uses close to zero memory, this is far from what we can observe in a real use scenario.
As I’m writing this very post, my Chrome browser has nine tabs open, with not much of anything going in each one. Yet still, in total, the browser consumes 1,300 MB (1.3 GB) of my Mac’s memory.
If your machine has only, say, 8 GB, then you’re in trouble. And it scales quite quickly from there. Want 15 tabs instead of nine? That will likely get the memory usage to 2 GB.
With that said, there’s also another issue with browsers:
In an ideal scenario, your browser uses your computer’s memory only when it executes some operations. Then, when the operation is done and the tab closes, that memory should be freed. For multiple reasons, that might not happen. This is what’s called a memory leak. In short, it’s when your browser should free up memory, but it doesn’t.
This keeps compounding for as long as you’re using your browser without shutting it down.
A simple solution is to close your browser permanently every once in a while – at least once a couple of hours – or whenever your Mac starts feeling like it’s slowed down.
⚡ Pro tip; To close your web browser completely, use the combination of CMD+Q on your keyboard instead of just clicking the red dot in the top left corner of the window.
Too many apps running at the same time
To see the current state of things, fire up Mac’s native Activity Monitor app. The easiest way to find it is to trigger Spotlight search and start typing “Activity Monitor” into it.
The main window of the app shows you what’s running on your device at this given moment. You’ll find a couple of main tabs up top: CPU, Memory, Energy, Disk, Network.
The main ones we’ll look at here are the first two: CPU and Memory.
The no.1 thing that has a visible impact on your Mac’s perceived speed is the current CPU usage.
This is where the Activity Monitor comes in to give you some context on what’s going on.
The CPU tab is where you can check which of your apps are consuming the most of your machine’s processing power.
Sort the list by highest usage by clicking on the % CPU column.
If any of your apps consumes more than 20% of the CPU, it means that it’s either performing some demanding operation at the moment (like rendering a video) or it’s faulty / has spun into a loop. You can shut any app down by clicking on its name and then on the X icon in the corner.
With the CPU tab handled, switch to the Memory tab and do the same thing. First, sort the list by memory usage and then potentially shut down any app that’s consuming a weirdly large amount of it.
Note; this is probably where you’ll find your web browser – the thing we discussed in the previous section of this article on how to speed up Mac.
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Photos running wild
Mac’s Photos app and the whole Photos ecosystem is one of the best things about Mac as a whole, but it’s not without its problems. The main ones deal with what’s going on with your machine, the disk space you have free (we talked about that one), and the settings you have selected for Photos.
For instance, if you’re running low on disk space, Photos might decide to upload your full-resolution photos to iCloud instead of keeping them on your Mac locally. This operation takes time, processing power, and also network bandwidth.
On the other hand, if you’ve recently selected to have all original versions of your photos stored locally, Photos will need to fetch them. This, again, consumes processing power and bandwidth.
You can see whether the Photos app is more active in the Activity Monitor. If so, rather than shutting it down, go into the settings of the Photos app and see what’s going on.
High network usage
Similarly to your disk space and memory, your network bandwidth is also a resource that, when heavily used, can make it feel like your Mac is slow.
For example, apps such as Dropbox, Backblaze, or some torrent apps might be sending a lot of data either to the web or fetching it from the web to your device. This activity doesn’t always result in your apps consuming more memory or CPU. The only thing that’s going on is the data transfer.
Most of what we do on our Macs these days involves an active internet connection. That’s why when some app is using most of the pipeline, all the other apps might seem like they’re running slow.
Consider the following example: just because Chrome seems to you like it’s running slow, doesn’t mean that it’s actually slow. Maybe there’s just a large file being downloaded in the background by another app.
To check if that’s the case, go into Activity Monitor again and see to the Network tab.
Sort the list by Sent Bytes and then by Rcvd Bytes. See if any of the numbers is growing rapidly.
Also, take a look at the bottom of the Activity Monitor window where it says Data received/sec and Data sent/sec. If these numbers are high, it’s likely caused by another app transferring all that data.
How to speed up Mac
With some probable reasons why your Mac is running slow out of the way, let’s now look at how to fix these issues:
Do a run with CleanMyMac X
I was thinking of where to put this one on our list of methods to speed up Mac, but, frankly, this is one of the simplest and fastest solutions available. It might just be all you need.
CleanMyMac X is an all-in-one app for removing all sorts of system junk from your Mac. It does a scan and searches through unneeded temporary files, photo junk, system leftover files, old attachments, and more. Then, it shows you the results of that scan and lets you choose what to do with it.
It also has a whole range of suggestions on how to speed up Mac in various areas such as auto startup apps, launch agents, and other.
Some seemingly complex system maintenance tasks are also only a couple of clicks away. For instance, you can free up RAM and purgeable space, flush DNS cache, reindex Spotlight, and do a number of other things. If these sound confusing, don’t worry about it. You really don’t have to understand what’s going on under the hood to use this app effectively.
CleanMyMac X is a paid app ($34.95), but it has a free trial version. That trial version lets you get a feel for the app and remove a limited amount of system junk.
Remove apps from Mac startup
📋 Note; CleanMyMac X lets you remove these easily. If you have CleanMyMac X already installed, you can skip reading this section.
A portion of all the apps you have running on your Mac is set to start up automatically on system boot. In other words, whenever you turn the computer on, those apps begin running as well.
But where do those autostart apps even come from? Basically, some new apps that you install will add themselves to the list automatically. Over time, that list builds up. This is easy to overlook.
It’s therefore good to keep your finger on the pulse and check that list every now and then.
To see the current settings, open up System Preferences and go into Users & Groups. Switch to the Login Items tab:
Some of the apps you need, some you don’t. From here, select any app that you want to remove from startup and click the “–” button underneath.
💡 Note; Removing the app from this list doesn’t remove it from your computer permanently – just from the autostart list. You can still use that app by launching it from the Mac Launchpad.
Free up some disk space
As we discussed above, having too much stuff on your hard drive will slow down your Mac.
The first step to take here is to remove all the files that you no longer need. Simple!
When you do that, also don’t forget to empty Trash.
If that’s not enough, you can also look for space savings in your photo library.
Open up Photos, go into settings, and then the iCloud tab.
From here, you can select Optimize Mac Storage. This will take the full-resolution versions of your photos and upload them to iCloud. Those photos will be replaced by what Mac calls “device-optimized” versions.
Don’t worry, the full-resolution versions can still be fetched at any time.
Still need more space? This is a good moment to start deleting apps you don’t need.
Now, the trick with this is that not all apps uninstall cleanly – meaning, some will leave data behind. To make sure you delete any app completely, use a specialized app for uninstalling other apps.
The top selection on the market is a free app called AppCleaner.
Lastly, if you have CleanMyMac X installed, do another run of disk space optimizations to get rid of other system and application junk from your disk.
Use your cloud drives as hard drives
This is a different aspect of the hard drive space issue, but it’s interesting enough, so I wanted to cover it separately.
One clever way you can extend your hard drive space without buying hardware is by using cloud storage as a hard drive. Here’s what this means and how to do it:
Basically, there’s an app called CloudMounter that will allow you to mount your cloud accounts and web servers and have them show up on your Mac desktop like any other drive.
With a cloud drive mounted like that, you can copy files in and out the way you’re used to doing it. This extra space is still in the cloud directly, so anything you move there frees the physical amount of space you’re consuming on your local hard drive.
The best part is that you can connect not just one additional cloud drive, but however many you have access to. Hook up your Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, even Amazon S3. This can easily extend your hard drive by another 20-50 GB or more.
CloudMounter is a paid app ($44.99), but there’s a 15-day free trial, so you can test if it’s something useful for you before committing.
Tame your apps
Every once in a while, some of your apps might run wild on your computer’s memory and CPU and consume basically as much as almost 100% of it. Web browsers are known culprits of this, as we’ve discussed above.
One way to tame such behaviors is to use an app aptly called App Tamer.
App Tamer monitors all the apps running on your machine and limits the amount of memory or CPU that they’re allowed to consume at any given moment.
You can set app exceptions and other settings to make sure that all the crucial apps for your workflow remain running normally. For the most part, though, this app will work great on its default settings.
App Tamer is a paid app ($14.95). There’s a 15-day free trial available with all features.
Conclusion on how to speed up Mac
As you can see, there might be many reasons why your Mac is running slow. Luckily, you can find good solutions to most of them relatively quickly.
Most of the time, the culprit is either lack of disk space 💾, memory hogs 🐗, your web browser 🖥️, or system junk 🗑️ lurking in the background. Solving these issues will likely get rid of 90% of your performance problems. That, of course, and the official Mac way, which is to just buy a newer Mac. 😉
Is there any other method to speed up Mac we’ve forgotten about? Let us know in the comments.
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