Friday, April 8, 2011

Can you make my Mac go faster?

This is one of the questions I hear most often in my day. Even computers running at a pretty decent speed can seem slow after a while - especially if you've had a chance to use a newer, faster model. No doubt, technology changes so rapidly that there is always a faster machine out there. And most of us want that one!

However, budget constraints make it impossible to always buy the fastest machine. Or even the second fastest. And we certainly can't upgrade to newer machines nearly as often as we would like.

That being said, there are still some things you can do to help your computer run a bit faster. Some of them involve a bit of technical knowledge and/or confidence, so I won't even mention those. You can ask me about this if you want to know. For this list, I'm sticking with things everyone can do to give their  Mac a bit of a boost.

Restart your computer. Seems obvious, yet many of us don't restart our computers that often - especially at home. I know our Mac at home sometimes runs a week or more without ever being turned off or even restarted. That can start to slow things down. Even on incredibly heavy computing days at work, I've often restarted during my lunch break and found things to perk up a bit in the afternoon. So make sure you don't leave your computer running for days at a time without turning it off and back on.

Add RAM. Obviously you can't do this at work. We make our best effort to purchase extra RAM for machines now so that we don't face this problem. But at home, you may not have packed your machine with RAM when you made the initial purchase. And in my opinion, it is rare that a computer comes with enough RAM as the default setup. So if your computer at home feels sluggish and you are a bit on the low side for RAM, buy some extra and install it. RAM is inexpensive. And installing is a do-it-yourself task.

Clean up your hard drive. No, that doesn't mean running any sort of defragging program. It simply means, if your hard drive is getting pretty full, it might be time to throw away a few gigabytes of old stuff that you no longer need. And if you do need it, move it to a portable drive for archiving (make sure there is also a backup of that drive!) and you'll find your computer picking up a bit of speed.

Clean your desktop. While you are in the cleaning mode, focus on that desktop. In fact, even if you don't clean out your hard drive, you should still clean your desktop. There should not be dozens of folders and documents scattered all over your screen. Put them away! That is why you have a Documents folder. Items sitting on the desktop initiate some background processing on the Mac...and that is taking away processing power that could be used to help with your work. The cleaner your desktop, the faster your computer.

Check your applications. How many are open? And have you used all the open ones in the past few minutes? If there are several open that you haven't touched in an hour or so, close them! Applications sitting open are capturing RAM And processing power. All that can be freed up if you quit them. And pay special attention to any applications that you have set to automatically fire up when you log in each morning. Login items open up and then sit silently. Sometimes we forget they are even open. So narrow down the list of login items to only those things you absolutely use throughout the day every day.

One particular application that we all use a lot and can suffer from running a long time is our browser. If the internet seems slow, quit your browser and then start it up again. That often helps speed up use of the internet. If it still seems slow, make sure you've emptied the cache. To do so in Safari, pull down the Safari menu and choose Empty Cache. In Firefox, pull down the Firefox menu and choose Preferences; click the Advanced button on the top of the Preferences window; click the Network tab in the Advanced window, click the Clear Now button. And in Chrome, pull down the Chrome menu and choose Clear Browsing Date; Clear Cache will be an option in the window that appears.

As a final step for speeding up your machine if you are at home, you can buy a faster hard drive. The time it takes to read a file from the drive or to write a file to the drive can vary dramatically from drive to drive. The new solid state drives can do that as much as four or five times as fast as a spinning hard drive.

An older, slower machine will always be older and slower than the slickest new desktop or laptop on the market. But keeping an eye on these few things can help maximize the speed you get from your computer.

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