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Kickstart your sluggish Mac with these 11 tips and tricks

Is your Mac slow? Are you tired of seeing that annoying, spinning beach ball? Here are a few tricks for speeding things up, without shelling out a fortune for additional RAM or a faster hard drive.

Related: New to make OS X? Here are 30 of the best apps available

Apple’s operating system is pretty good about optimizing itself, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to speed up a slow system. This tutorial is centered on a 2011 MacBook Pro running OS X 10.11.4, but you’ll find the general advice works on most recent-ish Macs. Let’s dive in!

Update your Mac’s software

First things first — make sure your Mac is up-to-date. The latest security patches are essential to keeping your Mac running well, and Apple is pretty good about optimizing new releases for better performance. Click the Apple icon in the upper-left corner of you display and select App Store to head to the App Store.

mac-update

Next, select Update at the top and click the Update All button. If you’re using a MacBook, plug it in before doing this. The process will update OS X and most of your apps, ensuring they take advantage of the most recent security patches and optimizations.

Do a quick malware scan

The whole “Macs don’t get viruses” thing is a myth. While it’s true that OS X has certain security advantages because of its design, and the vast majority of malware targets Windows users, Macs are still prone to the occasional intruder. Need an example? A piece of malware recently managed to spread with the help of a Bittorrent client.

Thankfully, there are tons of free options designed to keep you safe, from around-the-clock scanners to one-time tools.

RelatedYour Mac needs an anti-virus, and we’ve found five free options

If you don’t know what to pick, Malwarebytes for Mac offers a free one-time scan that catches and removes the most common malware found on the platform. It’s also quick at doing so.

malwarebytes-mac-anti-malware-free

Run it as part of your regular Mac cleanup habit and you’ll catch the most common malware designed for the platform. If you want ongoing protection, consider Sophos or Avira. Just know that constantly-running antivirus software could potentially slow down your system, which is the opposite of what we’re going for here.

Disable login items

If your Mac takes forever to start up, there’s a good chance you’ve got way too many apps starting up with your system. Disabling these login items will not only speed up the booting process, but potentially free up system resources and speed up your system as a whole.

To begin, open System Preferences, which you can find by clicking the Apple icon in the left-hand side of the menu bar. Once there, click Users & Groups and select the Login items tab to see a list of apps that start up when your Mac does.

disable-startup-items-mac

If you see any that you don’t need, select them in the list and click the minus button at the bottom of the screen.

Disable transparency

Yosemite added all sorts of visual effects to OS X, mainly transparency. Everything is transparent now, which is why the menubar takes on some of the colors from your wallpaper, among other things. While El Captain really reduced the impact of these effects on performance, there’s still a pretty big productivity gain to be had by turning them off.

The option to do so exists, but is slightly hidden. Head to System Preferences and select Accessibility. Under Display, click Reduce transparency so it’s checked.

reduce-transparency

User interfaces will stop using the transparency effect once deactivated, and run a lot quicker.

Clear out your caches

If you regularly use your computer, odds are that it’s building up all sorts of cruft over time. That’s taking up space on your hard drive, and could also be slowing down applications. Web browsers, with their backlog of history and massive caches, are famous for this, which is why it’s a good idea to clear your cache from time to time. But they’re not the only programs that build up caches and other files over time, which is why we recommend you check out CCleaner for Mac.

RelatedWant to clear your browser’s history from the beginning of time? Here’s how

ccleaner-mac

This free application can simultaneously clear out your browsers’ caches, and the caches your system builds up over time. Keep in mind that a company also offers a premium version of the software on its site, but the free version is more than adequate for most users.

Uninstall software you don’t use

Freeing up space on your boot drive can increase performance, particularly if your drive is nearly full. An easy way to save a bunch of space is to delete apps you don’t use anymore. So if you’re the kind of person who installs a bunch of apps and then forgets about them, it’s time for a journey. We need to head to your Applications folder and take out the trash. But don’t just drag your applications to the Trash icon -that will leave behind a bunch of stuff you don’t need. Instead, look into the free application AppCleaner.

app

Drag any app to this window and you can also delete all related files, including caches and configuration files. Or, if you prefer, you can browse a complete list of your apps and delete them from there. This is the best way to ensure an application you don’t want anymore isn’t leaving anything behind, so get to it and clean out that Applications folder.

Find and delete unnecessary files

Apps probably aren’t taking up most of the space on your drive — it’s files. But which ones? The free application Grand Perspective gives you a birds-eye view of your files, with the largest files taking the form of the biggest blocks. Explore this and see if there are any large files you want to delete or move to an external hard drive for long-term storage.

grand-perspective

Another quick way to free up storage space on your hard drive is to delete languages you don’t use. Your Mac speaks several languages, and offers a spell-check tool among other features that most users don’t need. The free app Monolingual automates this, letting you delete language files you know you don’t want. Uncheck anything you want to keep, then click Remove. You’ll be amazed how this adds up.

monolingual

Clean up your desktop

Here’s a quick tip: if your desktop is a cluttered mess of icons, clean it up. Your desktop is a window like any other, so if it’s so overwhelming you can’t find files, it’s also probably slowing down your system. Even putting everything on your desktop into a folder can help, if you’re too overwhelmed to actually sort everything. We get it.

Disable the Dashboard (or disable unused widgets)

When was the last time you used the Dashboard? Exactly. It was fun back in 2005, but in 2016, a collection of widgets that take up the entire screen just amounts to unnecessary clutter. Head to System Preferences, then click the Mission Control icon.

dashboard-off

If you still love the Dashboard, sorry for what I said earlier. Also, consider disabling any widgets you don’t actually use, because they’re slowing you down ever so slightly.

Actually close applications

This is kind of Mac 101, but don’t be embarrassed if you don’t know this (lots of users don’t). When you hit the red “X” circle in the upper-left corner, it doesn’t close the app. It actually keeps it running — you can tell because a glowing dot still rests beneath the application in the dock.

close-application

To properly close an app, right-click the icon and select Quit. Alternatively, you can close apps using the keyboard shortcut “CMD”+”Q,” which shuts down any app. Having too many apps open can seriously slow down your system, so make closing apps a priority.

Run OnyX if things are still slow

Did none of this work? Let’s get out the big guns, then. OnyX is a free application that runs all sorts of Mac-centric optimizations. Download the appropriate versions for your system, then install it and start it up. This is a power user’s tool, and probably shouldn’t be used by anyone who isn’t comfortable with that.

onyx

First, the application will verify your hard drive, which is already useful. Assuming everything is fine, head to the Maintenance tab and head to the Scripts section. From here, you can force the regular Mac maintance script to run. After that, head to Rebuilding to force OS X to rebuild a number of different caches — this can potentially solve slowdowns. The Cleaning section can also help, but largely overlaps with CClearner as outlined above. As for the other configuration tools, feel free to explore, but for the most part, they aren’t meant to help with performance.