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How to speed up your Mac

Are you struggling with subpar processing speed on your Mac? It can be frustrating when you’ve got work to do and your operating system is lagging. Luckily, there are a few steps you can take to optimize your Mac’s speed, some of which may surprise you.

Read on to find out how you can speed up your Mac quickly and easily, from updating your software to clearing caches. Before you know it, your Mac will be working at top speed again.

Update your Mac’s software

MacOS Check for Updates

First things first — make sure MacOS and all apps are current. The latest security patches are essential to keeping your Mac running well, and Apple is pretty good about optimizing new releases for better performance.

Remember, if you have a MacBook, plug it in. The process updates MacOS and most apps, ensuring they take advantage of the most recent security patches and optimizations.

To update MacOS, simply follow these steps:

Step 1: Click the Apple icon in the upper left corner, then select About This Mac.

Step 2: Click Software Update to see if there are any new versions of MacOS available.

To update software and apps from the App Store, do the following:

Step 1: Click the Apple icon located in the upper left corner and select App Store on the drop-down menu.

Step 2: Select Updates in the left-hand column and click Update All.

Use the Optimize function

MacOS Optimize Storage
Apple introduced Optimize Storage in MacOS Sierra that helps clear space and improve speed.

Step 1: Click the Apple icon located in the top left corner and select About This Mac on the drop-down menu.

Step 2: Click the Storage tab on the following pop-up window.

Step 3: Click Manage.

Here you’ll find many useful tools, including ways to store all files in iCloud and spot clutter you can delete. However, the most useful tool is Optimize Storage, which allows you to remove downloaded TV shows, recent attachments, and so on. Try it out if you consume loads of media on your Mac!

Do a quick malware scan

The whole “Macs don’t get viruses” claim is a myth. While it’s true that MacOS has certain security advantages because the vast majority of malware targets Windows, Macs are still prone to the occasional intruder. In fact, when we asked the experts, they recommended getting an antivirus app. Thankfully, there are tons of free options designed to keep you safe, from around-the-clock scanners to one-time tools.

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.

Disable login items


If your Mac takes forever to boot, you may have too many apps loading with your system. Disabling these login items not only speeds up the boot process, but potentially frees up system resources and speeds up your system as a whole.

Step 1: Click the Apple icon located in the top right corner and select System Preferences on the drop-down menu.

Step 2: Select Users & Groups in the following window.

Step 3: Click the Login Items tab.

Here you will see a list of apps that load when your Mac boots. If you see apps you don’t need, select them in the list and click the minus button at the bottom of the window.

Reduce transparency

MacOS Disable Transparency

The splash visual effects of MacOS first appeared in Yosemite, but some affect your Mac’s overall speed, like transparency: It’s the biggest culprit. Everything is transparent now, which is why the menu bar pulls colors from your wallpaper, among other things. While El Captain really reduced the impact of these effects on performance, there’s still a big performance gain simply by turning them off, even on the most recent update.

Step 1: Click the Apple icon located in the top left corner and select System Preferences on the drop-down menu.

Step 2: Click the Accessibility icon in the pop-up window.

Step 3: Select Display listed on the left and click the box next to Reduce Transparency.

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

Clear your caches

CCleaner Mac

Your Mac collects all sorts of cruft over time that consume space on your hard drive. Web browsers, with their backlog of history and massive caches, are famous for this, reducing their overall performance. That’s why you should clear their cache from time to time.

However, they’re not the only apps that build caches and other files over time. This is why we recommend you check out CCleaner for Mac.

This free app can simultaneously clear out your browsers’ caches and the caches your system collects over time. Keep in mind that the company also offers a premium version, 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 — this is especially true for older Macs without SSDs. An easy way to regain space is to delete apps you don’t use. If you typically install a load of apps and then forget about them, it’s time to purge.

Step 1: With Finder active, click Go on the menu bar and select Application on the drop-down menu.

Step 2: Right-click on all unwanted apps and select Move to Trash on the pop-up menu.

But don’t just drag your applications to the Trash icon that will leave behind a bunch of junk you don’t need. Instead, look into the free application AppCleaner. 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 isn’t leaving anything behind. You can also use Activity Monitor to look for software that’s consuming lots of RAM.

Find and delete unnecessary files


Apps probably aren’t taking up most of the space on your drive. Instead, that honor is likely held by your 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 deleted or moved to an external hard drive for long-term storage.

Clean up your desktop

Here’s a quick tip: If your desktop is a cluttered mess, 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 too given it must “draw” everything on the screen. Cramming it all into a desktop folder can help if you’re too overwhelmed to sort everything.

Disable the Dashboard


If you’re running an old version of MacOS, you can disable the Dashboard. It was fun back in 2005, but a collection of widgets that take up the entire screen just amounts to unnecessary clutter in 2020.

Step 1: Click the Apple icon located in the top left corner and select System Preferences on the drop-down menu.

Step 2: Select Mission Control in the pop-up window.

Step 3: Select Off on the drop-down menu next to Dashboard to disable this feature.

Note: The Dashboard is automatically disabled in MacOS Mojave. Apple removed it completely with the release of MacOS Catalina.

Actually close apps

MacOS Close App

This is Mac 101, but don’t be embarrassed if you don’t know how — lots of people don’t. When you click the red “X” circle in the top left corner, it doesn’t close the app, but merely hides the main window. The app itself still runs in the background, which is highlighted by a little dot below the app’s icon on the dock.

To properly close an app, right-click the icon and select Quit. Alternatively, you can close apps using the keyboard shortcut Command+Q, which shuts down any app.

A good rule of thumb would be to prioritize closing apps that aren’t in use because the more open apps you have open, the slower your system will operate.

Run OnyX if things are still slow

OnyX MacOS

If none of the other suggestions have worked so far, there’s one last thing to try. It might be worth downloading the free OnyX app if you’re comfortable with power tools. It lets you optimize various aspects of your Mac’s operation.

Onyx will first verify your hard drive, which is useful in itself. If everything checks out on that end, head over to the Scripts section under the Maintenance tab.

In the Scripts section, force the regular Mac maintenance script to run. Then go to Rebuilding, where you can force MacOS to rebuild many different caches. That often solves slowdowns. The Cleaning is also useful, but it handles much of what CCleaner outlined above does. Once you take care of your performance, you can experiment with the other configuration tools available.

Editors' Recommendations

Jayce Wagner
Former Digital Trends Contributor
A staff writer for the Computing section, Jayce covers a little bit of everything -- hardware, gaming, and occasionally VR.
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