< The MacPaw How-tos

Why is my Mac Running Slow?

speed up slow mac

We've got a few reasons and fixes.

All Macs begin to slow down with age — MacBook Pro, iMac, it doesn’t matter. But don’t worry, there are many performance tips for you to fix it up. We’ve found the 6 best ways on how to make your Mac faster. Some work better than others (depending on your Mac) but we’ll show you all of them and you can decide for yourself how to make your slow Mac faster.

1. Your hard drive is getting full

Nothing slows down a Mac more than having too much on your hard drive. If you can lighten the load on your Mac, you’re sure to see an increase in speed.

Fix slow Macbook Pro | Hard drive clean up

How to fix it: Clean up your hard drive

Unfortunately, this isn’t as easy as it sounds. Cleaning up old movie files, organizing your Desktop, and searching your Mac for old files you don’t need is the easy part. However, the hard part is cleaning up your system, and figuring out all the stuff that can be safely removed for more space. The best option is to use a Mac cleanup tool, like CleanMyMac 3. It cleans up your entire Mac, the easy stuff and the hard stuff. It knows what to clean and where to clean, and is incredibly safe to use. It removes caches, logs, language packs, and more to help you speed up your Mac — Click here to download it free!

2. Outdated macOS

Your Mac’s OS X is extremely important to how it performs. An older OS X typically runs slower — that’s why Apple releases new OS X’s every year or so.

How to fix it: Update your macOS.

Having the latest version of macOS is good practice (the latest version right now is macOS High Sierra 10.13). Don’t think of it as adding more junk to your already slow Mac — think of it as new software that makes your Mac run more smoothly. So, update your Mac’s OS X to help speed up your Mac. Head to the Mac App Store and search for “macOS Sierra”. Install it and you’ll probably see a nice performance boot.

If for some reason your Mac is running slow after High Sierra update, don’t panic. It could happen that disk permissions are broken. You can repair them with CleanMyMac 3. Download the app and go to Maintenance tab, click “Repair Disk Permissions”.

3. Startup is slowing you down

When you start your Mac, a lot of things load up in the background. Not only do they slow down your startup, but they continue to do so the whole time you’re on your Mac.  

Startup Items | Fix a slow Mac

How to fix it: Manage your Startup Items

Give your Mac a clean start and make OS X run faster. When you don’t manage your Startup Items, it’s like making your Mac run a sprint with a gigantic, book-filled backpack — it’s going to take a bit longer for it to get moving, right? Lighten the load on your Mac.

You can do all routine action we'll discuss below yourself or just download CleanMyMac and get faster Mac in a couple of minutes.

Get a fast Mac startup by removing unnecessary apps. Go to your System Preferences > Users & Groups, and then click on your username. Now, click on Login Items, click on the name of an application you don't need to launch during startup, and then click the "-" symbol located below the list to the left; this will remove the application from the list — the fewer applications on the list, the better. This should help out a ton with speeding up your slow Mac.

4. Too much running in the background

This kind of piggy-backs Reason 3. When you’ve got too much running in the background, your Mac can’t even handle simple tasks.

Speed up slow MacBook | Clean up Mac activities

How to fix it: End processes with Activity Monitor

Activity Monitor will show you what processes are using up your system resources. Quitting an app that’s taking up a lot of processing power could make a huge difference in speeding up your slow Mac. Open up your Applications folder and then your Utilities folder. Here you’ll find the Activity Monitor, open it. Check out the list of apps and processes that happening on your Mac in real-time. Pretty complex, eh?

From here you can see what’s causing trouble with your Mac. Click on the Memory tab at the top, then the Memory filter at the top of the list; this sorts the programs by the amount of space they’re taking up on your Mac RAM. The higher the number, the more power they need. Stop an app from operating by clicking on the app in the list and then clicking the gray “x” icon located at the top-left corner of the window. Don’t remove anything you don’t know!

5. You’ve got old hardware

Sadly, your Mac may just be too old to fix. When your Mac hardware gets too old, your speed drops drastically and you can do little to fix it without taking some serious measures.

Speed up slow iMac | Fix slow iMac hardware upgrade

How to fix it: Upgrade your hardware

You’ve done all the stuff above and your Mac is still running slowly. It’s time to look into upgrading your hardware. Unfortunately, this can be a bit pricey and some Macs are beyond help (kidding… some just can’t be upgraded). Check out this guide which shows you how to see what is available in terms of hardware upgrades for your Mac. It takes time, and might cost a pretty penny, but you’re sure to see an increase in speed on your slow Mac.

6. Cluttered desktop

If you use your desktop as a file dump, it’s high time for a cleanup. Not many people know this, but every desktop icon is, in fact, a little active window that your macOS has to render and process. If there are myriads of icons, no wonder your Mac is slow.

Speed up slow MacBook Pro | Clean up desktop

How to fix it: Plow through your desktop items

To make your Mac run faster, organize files on your desktop into separate folders. Then, you can move them to other location. Never hesitate to send to Trash things you rarely use, like apps you had downloaded months ago. Cleaning the desktop isn’t the funniest job in the world, but it does pay off in terms of adding speed to your Mac.

7. Browser is full of junk

Most of us use our Macs online 90% of the time. In other words, if your browser is slow, your Mac will be slow too. Even the fastest machine can be dragged down by hundreds of opened tabs and extensions. 

Why Mac is slow | Safari is slow

How to fix it: Remove extensions to make your Mac run faster

Hidden add-ons, plug-ins, and extensions often come disguised as a free software. You download something and the next moment see weird search bars, pop-ups, and torrents of advertisements on your screen. Of course, there are perfectly legit extensions that extend what your browser can do, but every extension weighs on your Mac’s speed. And lastly, such tools may stealthily collect your data.

How to remove Chrome extensions manually

  1. Launch Chrome.
  2. Click a three-dot icon in the top-right corner.
  3. Click More tools > Extensions.

Then you’ll have a nice overview of all Chrome add-ons you have installed. You can either disable extensions or delete them completely, which is preferable especially when you don’t recognize what it is.

How to remove Safari extensions manually

  1. Launch Safari.
  2. Click Safari > Preferences in the upper menu
  3. Choose Extensions tab.
  4. Remove the extensions you don’t need

Remove extensions, widgets, and add-ons using CleanMyMac

An extension is just a broad term which comprises of various add-ons and browser widgets. When deleted manually they don’t go away for good. Some parts and pieces are still left somewhere deep on your drive. That’s why it’s a good idea to use an automatic tool like CleanMyMac even after you’ve done a manual deletion. Download the app for free and delete the rest of browser junk.

Clean up and speed up a slow Mac

The rule of 9 tabs: 

To make your Mac run faster while in browser, minimize the number of opened tabs. Many IT consultants recommend to always have no more than 9 opened tabs at a time. This way you don’t overload the browser and the title for each tab is perfectly visible.

8. Lots of outdated cache files 

Cache files come in many flavors: system cache, user cache, app-generated caches and more. User caches (tied to your user account) make up for about 70% of junk on your Mac. Manual deletion method involves a bit of clicking and typing. So here you are.

Remove caches | MacBook running slow

How to fix it: Trim down caches on your slow Mac

  1. Open Finder and click “Go to Folder” in the Go menu.
  2. Type in ~/Library/Caches and press Enter
  3. Locate a cache folder tree
  4. Go into each folder and delete its contents
  5. Empty the Trash bin

Note:  It’s not recommended to remove the folders themselves, but only their insides.

Now it is time to delete System caches. The path is the same but this time you should type in:

/Library/Caches (without a ~ tilde sign)

Once again, the method is the same: you locate the main cache folder and drill down into its sub-folders removing all the content stored there. Before you start, you can preemptively back up the Caches folder as meddling with cache folders can be risky. For a bulletproof solution, you can clean out caches with CleanMyMac 3 - it was made just for this purpose, though has lots of other uses. Download CleanMyMac for free, install it and click Smart Cleanup. Follow the prompts from there and all system caches will be safely removed.

The lesser-known trick to fix Mac running slow

If you followed the tip from the previous section and downloaded CleanMyMac, you should be able to perform another trick which proved quite effective on most Macs. From our experience, it does boost up the performance of many applications.

  1. Launch CleanMyMac
  2. Click Maintenance tab
  3. Tick “Run Maintenance Scripts”

Fix MacBook running slow

Running this command helps to “polish up” the performance of the deep-level system services. What it does is rebuilds system logs and reorganizes select databases on your Mac. Try it and see how your Mac is doing. 

9.Finder uses too much memory

By default, your Finder is set to search for files within All My Files view. When files on your Mac are too many, the Finder slows down and opening each new window becomes a burden. 

How to fix it: Adjust Finder preferences

Mac is freezing

  1. Open Finder 
  2. Choose Preferences in the top menu
  3. Locate New Finder Window menu

Now you change the default settings from “All My Files” to other more specific location, like your Downloads folder. Next time you launch Finder it will automatically open to this new location. Voila! You just saved a bit of memory resources for your Mac.

10. Visual overload

Animations and rich graphics are extremely resource-hungry. We are not suggesting you should switch your Mac back to 1984-style simplicity. But in case of a slow Mac, the less is sometimes more.

How to fix it: Cut down on animations

Mac boots slowly | Speed up iMac

Open System Preferences > Dock

Disable the following items by unticking:

  • Magnification
  • Animate opening applications
  • Automatically hide and show the Dock

Click on Minimize windows using and change Genie effect to Scale. Scale is a much simpler zoom and less taxing on memory. 

11. SMC-settings are corrupted

MacBook Air is slow | How to fix it

SMC stands for System Management Controller and manages a whole range of low-level functions of your Mac: fans, lights, power, system volume, and other parameters. Quite often SMC preferences get broken and your Mac gets slow.

How to fix it: Reset SMC to factory settings

If your Mac’s battery is removable:

  1. Turn off your Mac.
  2. Take out the battery.
  3. Press and hold the Power button for a few seconds.
  4. Reinstall the battery.
  5. Press the Power button and start your Mac in a normal fashion.

For non-removable batteries:

Reset SMC | Slow MacBook

  1. Shut down the Mac.
  2. Press Shift + Control + Option keys and the Power button simultaneously.
  3. Hold down these keys for 10 seconds.
  4. Let go of the keys.
  5. Press the Power button to start your Mac.

How to reset SMC on iMac, Mac Pro and Mac Mini

  1. Shut down your Mac.
  2. Unplug a power cord.
  3. Wait for about 15 seconds.
  4. Plug the power cord back in.
  5. Wait a few seconds and turn on your Mac using the Power button.

12. Spotlight overload

Spotlight is your Mac’s internal search engine. Before it can search for anything it creates a “map” of all your files. If your Mac is old and you have more than one drive, re-indexing the large file tree becomes a problem. 

How to fix it: Tune up Spotlight

Make a slow MacBook fast

Just as we did with Finder, you can limit the search area for Spotlight. This should gain your Mac a few points in speed. Go to System Preferences > Spotlight. Now click the Privacy tab. Here you can exclude folders from Spotlight search and thus lighten its load. Just drag and drop folders onto the pane - starting from the most “heavy” ones.

As a result, the Spotlight will not be indexing the specified folders and volumes. The less time it spends indexing - the better the performance of your Mac.

13. Too much temporary files in memory

A fact which often escapes attention: each app launched on your Mac generates cache files and the longer an app is active, the more cache gradually piles up. The same goes for all temporary files.

How to fix it: Restart your Mac regularly

How to speed up Mac | Restart regularly

There’s always a heated debate between “sleep” and “restart” supporters. Without leaning to either camp, restarting has its benefits, though. To start with, restarting does free up your RAM. Normally, when your Mac is lacking RAM it would translate some space on your drive into “virtual memory”. Alas, it can’t borrow memory endlessly and soon your Mac stalls (hello, rainbow wheel!).

To free up RAM, reboot your Mac every now and again. This will erase all temporary files generated by macOS and all your applications. Additionally, it will close the apps you thought you closed, but are still working in the background. Now your Mac is refreshed and performs better.

14. FileVault weighs on memory

FileVault protects your files from being copied. Needless to say it’s a benefit, but here comes the But. For older Macs, enabling file encryption is reported to slow down the hard drive performance.

How to fix it: Turn off the FileVault encryption

FileVault | Make a slow Mac faster

  1. Go to Apple menu > System Preferences
  2. Choose Security & Privacy
  3. Click the Lock icon to unlock, then enter your user password
  4. Click Turn Off FileVault
  5. Click Turn Off Encryption

Now you should be able to make the Mac running faster because FileVault also weighs on processor cycles when it encrypts and decrypts your files.

15. Broken or conflicting permissions

Files on your Mac OS X have permissions that determine which applications and services are allowed to access these files. Over time, permission problems occur, causing your Mac OS X to lag, freeze and even crash.

Disk Permissions | Boost Mac performance

How to fix it: Repair disk permissions

macOS is able to address broken and conflicting permissions via the Disk Utility application (Applications/Utilities). Once in Disk Utility you need to highlight your startup disk and click on the First Aid tab. Now click on the Repair Disk Permissions button and your Mac will scour your drive, finding and fixing permissions so that next time an application needs that file, your Mac can find it immediately.

Note: Users with El Capitan OS X will notice that this option is not available anymore. This is because Apple have added SIP (System Integrity Protection), which automatically repairs disk permissions. However, not all apps receive these automatic repairs.

CleanMyMac 3 is able to repair all disk permissions thanks to its Maintenance Module. With CleanMyMac 3 you also gain the ability to run other powerful scripts that will optimize your Mac in a number of other areas as well.

To fix broken and conflicting permissions with CleanMyMac:

  • Open CleanMyMac 3 and click on the Maintenance tab
  • Choose Repair Disk Permissions and click Run

The utility will automatically take care of the rest. Fixing conflicting and broken permissions doesn’t get any easier than with CleanMyMac 3.

16. Piles of large and old files

There are two places that usually become “data dumps” on anybody’s Mac. That’s Downloads and Trash folders. As an outcome, your drive space shrinks and performance drops.

How to fix it: Clean up Downloads and Trash folders

Improve Mac performance

Right click on Trash bin and choose Empty the Trash. Now, go to your Downloads and sort files by size. There you’ll probably encounter things you hardly remember downloading, like old movies or photo albums.

  • Search for .DMG files in Downloads
  • Move your media files to iCloud
  • Transfer data to an external drive
  • Remove duplicate files and folders

The good solution to remove duplicate content is an app called Gemini 2. It can tell copies from originals and even locate look-alike files (not exactly identical). Give it a spin — the download is free.

17. Too many icons in Preference Panes

Some downloaded apps will additionally install their extra shortcuts to System Preferences. These icons may remain and occupy space, even if the app has long been deleted.

How to fix it: Clean up Preference Panes

Mac freezes up all the time

You’ll be able to speed up your Mac a bit by simply removing all the extras from Preference Panes. To do it, go to System Preferences. Examine the pane and if you find any app cons other than regular ones, right-click the app and then click Remove. Finally, empty the Trash to get rid of the item completely.

Final thoughts on how to fix Mac running slow

So we have run over the main methods to speed up a slow Mac. They all boil down to one simple idea: give your Mac some space to breathe. Eventually, any Mac is going to fill up with all kinds of garbage that's consuming resources, memory and disk space. You can speed up your Mac either manually or use an app like CleanMyMac (which does 80% of things we’ve described in this article). More realistically, you will devise your own mix of automatic and manual solutions that will bring your Mac back to speed again.

As a quick summary, check out this video tutorial:

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