Do you remember when you first got your MacBook Pro out of its shiny packaging? Starting it up, configuring it and inevitably updating the OS, then cracking your knuckles with the sheer pleasure of knowing that you would now approach the work ahead at warp speed? And so you did, but as time passed you gradually began working at limping pace. It got slower and slower. It used to take you to the stars, but now seems hardly capable of struggling to the corner shop. How and why did this happen?
The problem with computer sluggishness is that it quite often develops slowly over time, so we acclimatise ourselves to the gradual deceleration. Like that frog in gradually heating water, we don't notice until our sleek silvery super-laptop is crawling along with our new constant companion - the dreaded spinning beachball of doom.
The good news is that most of the time, you really don't need an 'Apple Genius' to ban the ball and speed up your MacBook Pro (MBP).
In my experience, 99% of all sluggishness problems stem from four general areas. Let's start by looking at the major causes and address some solutions.
Ball Spinner #1 - Bad housekeeping
If you never put your clothes away, you'll never find your socks. Yes, my mum used to say that to me, and like a lot of things mum's say - it's true. The first problem is you. Dear Reader, you are spinning the ball.
Space - the final frontier
How much space is on your disk? Go to applications/utilities/disk utility then highlight your HD to find out. I find it good practice to always have HD space displayed at the bottom of windows. To do so, open any window then go to view/show status bar in the MacOS Finder. Your storage status will now be permanently displayed at the bottom of every window.
Once you've found out how much HD space you've got - or more to the point, haven't got - you might want to free some up. Empty the trash. Empty the download folder of anything you no longer need (which will be most of it). Uninstall unused apps, delete old files. If your disk is still heaving, you'll 'need a bigger boat' (i.e. more HD space). Disks for archive/backup are now dirt cheap, so there's reason not to. Someone years ago told me that a disk should always be 20% empty. I stick to that, and it works. Besides, if your data isn't backed up....it doesn't really exist!
When it comes to deleting system files, proceed with caution! It's certainly more than possible, but so is turning that spinning beachball into a black screen. There are plenty of third party utilities out there (such as cleanmymac) which can be helpful for removing what can be bloated, space hungry redundant system files.
'Now tidy your desk'
Your desktop is not a filing system! Think of the desktop as the hall by your front door. No-one can get into the house if it's piled up with all your filing. Use your 'Documents' folder for that, and your MBP will thank you. While you're at it, remove unnecessary apps from the dock.
Fewer open apps
Get into the habit of having less apps open. Otherwise your MBP will be trying to have too many simultaneous conversations, and the poor love will get terribly slurry and slow. Simples.
Ball Spinner #2 - MacOS
Like...erm...Prime Ministers, some versions of MacOS are better than others. For instance, in my professional world of music production, 'Big Sur' had many nicknames, most of them very rude. Put simply, it sucked big time. You're often likely to be running third party (i.e. non Apple) software inside the OS, and sometimes a troublesome OS can play beachball, rather than ball, with third parties.
Whatever OS you're running, keep it updated. Apple are world class when it comes to bug and security updates, so take full advantage of it. I've had many occasions where an OS update has sped up both third party and native software.
Over the years, I've very occasionally had to take a software baseball bat to my computer in the form of the dreaded 'reinstall MacOS'. As long as you back up, it's not actually that bad beyond migrating your data back in and getting unimaginably bored inputting your passwords again. It doesn't happened that often, but sometimes the OS corrupts and it's the only way back.
Ball Spinner #3 - Software gone soft
Some of these tips really belong under housekeeping, but as they're software related, here they are.
MacOS has a list of 'login items' that launch on powering up and can result in very draggy startup times. In the finder, go to the top left Apple icon then system preferences/users and groups then click on the tab for 'login items'. From the list, disable or delete any unwanted/ unused items. You may well find some 'orphans' in this list - items left by legacy software that's no longer relevant. This can significantly speed up startup times.
Into the spotlight
'Spotlight' is your Mac's indexing system, and can create problems of its own. Like all of us, it can become confused or simply have too much on its plate. If you've recently updated your OS, or you've migrated your old system onto your new machine, Spotlight can be chuntering away for hours re-indexing, which can slow things up. It can also get stuck in the process, which can slow things, so it's sometimes worth manually restarting the indexing process.
Go to the top left Apple icon in the finder then system preferences/Spotlight. In the window that opens, click the privacy tab then drag your hard disk onto the window. Now remove it again by clicking the '-' symbol at the bottom left of the window. This will restart the indexing process.
Activity (inactivity?) monitor
If you look in applications/utilities you'll find 'activity monitor'. Running this app can show up particularly hungry CPU apps that may be slowing you down. Go to the 'CPU' tab then double click on any app with high CPU usage. You can then disable them from here to see if that's the culprit.
Dazed and confused
The SMC controls all the power functions on your Mac, while the NVRAM (PRAM on older machines) retains basic configuration information. It can sometimes be a good idea to reset these, as like all of us, they can get scrambled over time. These two resets have helped me many times.
To reset SMC, shut down your machine and hold the Shift + Control + Option and the power keys for twenty seconds. Older Macs use a different process detailed on the Apple website.
To reset NVRAM, reboot your machine holding the Command + Option + P + R keys until you see the Apple logo appear twice, then release.
Ball Spinner #4 - Hardware gone soft
Like all of us, computer hardware eventually gets old and doddery. If this happens with the logic board, likely as not you'll be left with a worthless but attractive doorstop. More commonly, though, slowing performance can be an indicator of impending hard disk failure. Without diagnostic software (more about which below), you won't know this for sure until you replace it. However, running an SSD as your system disk really boosts performance all around, so you might want to consider an upgrade.
RAM, likewise, can and does wear out and fail (ditto diagnostic software), but less common than HD failure in my experience. However, it's worth considering upgrading RAM to as much as you can afford to really give you a speed boost.
I think that you'll have gathered by now that prevention is the best cure when caring for your Mac. In addition to this, I think that it's well worth the ££ investing in some good all around diagnostic and maintenance software. I don't work for them (honest), but Micromat's excellent TechToolPro is my go to, and has gotten me out of trouble on countless occasions.
Look after your Mac and it'll look after you. Now go tidy your room.
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