Is your Mac running slow, not what it used to be, starts to feel sluggish, slow and unresponsive? Sometimes when this happen people go out and buy a new computer or learns to live with it. Buying a new computer is probably not a smart move, especially if you can easily fix the issue yourself. You should at least exhaust all options before you decide to go that route. A lot of issues is tied into software, and that makes it possible for you to fix at home saving you some money.
With that said, the M1 MacBook Pro or Air is a great machine with a lot of performance. If you are looking to replace your machine anyway you can take a look at a quick video I made about it here: MacBook Pro M1 – Quick Look (The Best Allround Laptop?)
Or check out this sponsored link to Amazon, where you can get one for yourself: https://amzn.to/3qWuOnq. With that out of the way, lets get to the tips that should help you solve a slow running mac!
1. Shut down your Mac
Have you tried turning it off and on again? Ever heard this? Its not a joke… Your Mac can be turned on for weeks or months without any serious problems, but every now and then a shut down is recommended. It is often hanging applications and similar that in the end can make the computer feel slow and sluggish. So if you haven’t already: please start this guide with a shutdown of your computer. I promise this guide will be here when you come back online again. If you are lucky, maybe this is the only thing you have to do!
TIP: Bookmark this page, press CMD + D to add a bookmark in your browser.
- Choose Shut Down from the Apple () menu.
If your Mac won’t shut down it could be applications that prevents it from doing so. You may have to force-quit some of them.
Press the key-combination pictured below:
In the window that pops up, try to quit the application from there.
If none of these suggestions help you just have to hold the power button down on your Mac for about 5 seconds to force it to shut down.
If you are lucky, maybe this is the only thing you have to do! If not, go back to that bookmark when you have restarted and read on.
2. Check your Startup Items
When you install applications during the time you use your Mac some of them may add themselves in Startup Items. This causes them to start at every login and thus take up a little memory and a little CPU usage. If you do the following: Apple Menu > System Preferences > Users & Groups > Login Items. You will see how many startup items you have. If you want to remove some of them just click the name of the startup item and then hit the minus button. Just make sure you know what you remove so you do not remove any critical system component. Remove start up items you are sure isn’t needed because it can contribute to your Mac running slow.
3. Clean up in System Preferences
While we still have System Preferences open take a look under the section called Other (or at the bottom section). If you have a lot of items down there there is a chance that some of them is not in use by you. They might be left overs from some application you tried out, or something else. You should clean out these too. In most cases you can turn it off from the preference pane itself.
To remove, just right-click on an icon, and choose remove from the Preferance Page. Before you do that though, I recommend that you check if the Application you want to remove have an uninstall feature. Big software packages such as Adobe, and others usually have an uninstall utility hidden in Applications/Utilities
Poke around in those folders first.
4. Activity Monitor is Great for Frozen and Slow Mac Apps
Do a spotlight search for Activity Monitor and start it up. You will probably see a window looking like the one below (don’t mind the Norwegian language):
What you would like to do here is to click on CPU and then sort after highest % CPU. Let it sit for a while and you could see an app that takes up a significant amount of your Macs CPU cycles. This could be one reason your Mac is running slow. If you recognize the application try selecting it and click the X button located below the small red, yellow and green window buttons. If you don’t recognize the app do a quick google search for it and find out what it is. (You obviously know how to Google since you got here!).
In the bottom of activity monitor, in the middle you have a chart that shows how much CPU load you currently have. Make sure the chart is not at the top.
Hopefully its an application making your Mac slow, and it usually is. This way you can identify It and take necessary steps. Those steps should be checking for an update of the application causing troubles. Uninstalling it, or maybe check for some alternative? If not, then read on for more useful tips and applications that could help.
5. Make Time Machine backup when YOU want
Apple likes to hold your hand, and that is probably smart in 98% of all cases. Especially when we talk about backing up your critical data.
Time Machine is a good backup solution. But it backups every single hour and especially if you work on heavy files it will create some noticeable slow Mac performance when it starts the backup process. Time Machine doesn’t have a switch that enable you to start the backup off working hours but there are people that have solved this problem. The free app TimeMachineEditor will help you with that. I have tried it myself and it works just as advertised. Take care while messing with the backup though. Even though this app is working as it should and have done so for many years it is still third party. Meaning Apple could make some changes to Time Machine in the future that may break the settings and in worst case disable your backups. So make 100% sure that your backups are there.
You can also check: Time Machine Slow? Speed it up With This Terminal Hack!
Initial Backup Is Usually Slow and that is OK!
If you just started the backup, please realize that the initial time machine backup could slow down your Mac. This is in some cases expected behaviour and you should let it complete the initial backup. Just turn it on overnight. When its done the performance should get back to normal.
6. Clean up your hard drive
Eventually your hard drive will fill up, it doesn’t matter how big it is. Many people experience this and many also ask themselves where all the free space have gone? Maybe your Photos library starts to grow? Maybe you are editing videos that take up a lot of space. Or you might have a lot of downloaded stuff you never got around to delete. Your Mac works best with a little free space to work with. It use a part of that free space as virtual memory and that memory is important for your Mac to work optimally. Please make sure to delete unneeded files and also remember to empty your trash! If you forget to empty the trash you will still have the free space problem and possibly a Mac running slow.
Buy Clean My Mac to clean your Mac automatically in an very easy and safe way. Also read my extended article on how to reclaim more space on your mac. Where I also review the software I suggest you buy above. Its a free download so you can see how it works on your system before you buy anything. And, no. This is not one of those “bad” cleaners out there.
With that said, we have free options as well, so continue to scroll down and check out those first if you want. 🙂
7. Download Onyx or CCleaner (it is free)
Onyx verifies the Startup Disk and the structure of its System files, it also allows you to run miscellaneous tasks of system maintenance. It can clean the cache, repair system permissions and also execute maintenance scripts. This tool is old and trusted among many Mac users and running it could help speed up your Mac.
Another good cleanup tool is CCleaner. I use this tool to clean up Windows computers and now its available for Mac users. These two tools may overlap some but you won’t do anything wrong if you try both.
8. Download Malwarebytes Anti-Malware for Mac (it is free)
Maybe you have clicked on something that you shouldn’t click on and your computer got some adware slowing it down? Malwarebytes Anti-Malware is a free (accepts donations) application that scans your computer for known adware and removes it.
9. Update software to prevent a slow Mac
Once in a while Apple releases software updates. It is wise to install these because they often contain improvements. It can be security improvements or performance enhancements that can solve slow Mac performance in some cases. Even firmware updates in some cases. Also check if you can download updates to your already installed third party applications, this can also improve performance and stability.
Updating software on your Mac is done through the App Store.
Click the icon and see if you have anything to update.
10. Move your Photos Library to an External Drive
If you have a lot of photos and videos, they can take up a lot of storage on your Mac. If you sync everything with your iPhone it could fill up fast. Many of us skimp on storage space in our macs. Because its expensive. Especially in newer models where you have no option of upgrading after buying.
Newer Macs have features that automatically optimize the internal storage, but doing that optimization also demands system resources. That is why moving your photo library to an external drive could be beneficial.
Its pretty easy, and here is the short version:
Make sure that photos is shut down. Then, copy the entire photo library to your external hard drive. This may take a while depending on size of library, speed of hard drive, etc..
- When the copy operation is done, you hold down the Alt/Option key and launch Photos.
- “Choose Another Library” and navigate to your external hard drive and select the library you just copied.
- In Photos, go to preferences and click Use as System Photo Library.
Use the Photos app for a bit, add some photos. Delete some photos that you dont like. Shut down the Photos app, open it again. Just to check that everything works.
When you have verified that the photos library on the external drive is operating correctly. You can delete the library on your main drive. Thus reclaiming a lot of storage space.
I recommend having backups, in case something goes wrong.
11. Turn off Visual Effects
Most macs are made so they are able to run their operating systems smoothly with the default visual effects. If you want, some visual effects can be turned off and it may give you a small increase in speed.
Go to: System Preferences > Dock and disable the following:
- Automatically hide and show the dock
- Animate opening applications
You can also change “minimize windows” to scale effect.
12. Try a PRAM / NVRAM and a SMC Reset
If you dont know what is wrong with your Mac and just want to try something. Do a PRAM reset. This will not damage your computer or remove anything from your hard drive. But it may solve strange problems. If you have issues regarding sound, display resolution, startup drive selection, time-zone and kernel issues a pram reset could help.
Turn your Mac off, then turn it on and immediately hold all keys pictured above down. That is option + command + P + R. Release the keys after about 20-30 seconds. Your Mac will probably restart during this. For older Macs that have the startup chime you can release the keys after the second chime.
For iMac Pro you can let go of the keys when the Apple logo shows and disappears for the second time.
Another thing you could try is an SMC reset. Especially if your laptop have problems accepting power or wont charge. Strange fan behavior or low performance.
- Shut down your Mac.
- Plug in the power adapter to a power source and to your Mac.
- On the built-in keyboard, press the (left side) Shift-Control-Option keys and the power button at the same time. (it should NOT boot) but the LED on your MagSafe adapter may change.
- Power on the computer.
13. Reinstall your OS / Install the newest OS X, its free!
If nothing of the above helps maybe a full format of your hard drive and a reinstall of the OS may be the only viable solution. If you have a fairly new Mac you should be able to start from the recovery partition if you hold CMD and R when you restart. From there you can reinstall.
- Install macOS Cleanly Can Solve Problems This guide instructs you on how to do a fresh & clean install of macOS more in depth.
The Quick Version:
Start up from Internet Recovery: hold Command + Option + R when you boot until spinning globe appears. Then let go of the keys. Let it load and reinstall OS X this way. When your computer and account is set up. Open App Store and update to the newest OS X available for you. Even if you have a old Mac it may be able to upgrade to a newer version of OS X.
14. Upgrade your Slow Mac with SSD & RAM
This tip mostly applies to older Macs you can upgrade. Mostly pre 2012 models.
If your computer is very slow it can be a symptom of a hard drive that is going bad especially if it makes strange noises. This applies to all types of computers not only Macs. Make sure to check the hard drive using Disk Utility and if it finds any errors make sure to backup what you can right away.
Max out the RAM in your computer, especially if you run a lot of apps at the same time. Another extremely recommended option is to replace the hard drive inside your older Mac to an SSD. If you havent experienced SSD storage you are in for a treat! It will blow your mind in terms of speed and it can breathe new life into older computers for sure. That is probably why the entire Mac lineup is SSD-based now.
Solving slow mac performance using money to buy new hardware is one option of course. But you should try the others first. (Although SSD is extremely nice to have, you never want to go back!).
I hope this guide helps you to get your Mac in shape. If you liked this guide, it will really help me and this site if you share it with others on Facebook, twitter etc. You will find the buttons for that below. Also check out Clean My Mac. It is a suite of tools that help with deep cleaning.
This article contains affiliate (ads) links to macpaw and amazon.com.