How to speed up a Mac

Apple Macs are usually pretty efficient, but a Mac can slow down over time just like any PC. Here are 14 tips to help you speed up a Mac and make it run faster.

How to speed up a Mac: Restart the machine

This sounds like an obvious suggestion, but many people will leave their office machine switched on for days or even weeks on end - it isn't them paying the electricity bill. Even Macs used in the home can be left switched on for a ridiculously long time, particularly when they're being used for all the family to get online, watch on-demand TV and movies, enjoy online gaming, get done some homework and so on. Give your Mac a break: give it a restart and let it wake up fresh. Also see: All Mac reviews.

How to speed up a Mac: Shutdown unused apps 

An older Mac might struggle if you try to do too much at once. Right-click any Dock icons for apps you aren't using and choose Quit. Alternatively, switch through your open apps using Command-Tab, then hit Command-Q to quit whatever is the currently selected app.

How to speed up a Mac: Activity Monitor 

Use the Activity Monitor (in the Utilities folder) to keep track of any running processes. Check the % CPU column for any that are using a large amount of resources, but ensure you know exactly what the process is for before you quit the process.

How to speed up a Mac: Reduce startup items

One of the things we're often told to do to speed up a Windows PC is to reduce the number of startup items. The same is true for a Mac. You'll find the option to prevent the apps you don't need launching at startup in System Preferences, Users & Groups, Login items.

How to speed up a Mac: Delete stuff you don't need 

A hard drive that is bursting at the seams with vast amounts of data is not a happy hard drive. Delete any files and applications you don't need (be sure to empty the Trash for a start), and move what you can on to an external hard drive. To uninstall a program you simply drag its icon from the Applications folder to the Trash.

If your Mac has a hard disk, we'd recommend ensuring that it has at least 20% unused space available. The HDD is by a large margin the biggest drag on your system performance. Don't make matters worse by filling the disk, as you'll then be using the slowest part of the disk platters too!

How to speed up a Mac: Install an SSD 

The previous point about HDDs leads us smoothly onto this point. The biggest speed-up tip of all time is to throw out the hard disk and fit an SSD. It really is the biggest performance upgrade for any personal computer.

Fitting an SSD to a Mac isn't the easiest job in the world, depending on your model of Mac, but it is possible. SSDs are much faster than HDDs in accessing data, plus they run cooler and quieter. However, pound-for-pound an SSD can store much less data than can a hard drive, so it may be worth using your hard drive as a back up drive. Note that write speeds can be faster with larger-capacity SSDs, although read speeds are unaffected by the drive's capacity.

If you want to install an SSD, check out our group test of the best SSD for Mac here.

How to speed up a Mac: Install more RAM 

If a RAM upgrade is possible, our testing has revealed that larger amounts of RAM can make a huge difference in speed-intensive applications, but for more general day-to-day tasks the difference is less pronounced. We advise Mac owners to ensure that they have at least 8GB of memory for a suitably speedy Mac.

How to speed up a Mac: Install a faster graphics card 

The other hardware change you might consider is to install a faster graphics card than that which came supplied with your Mac. However, it's important to note that not all Mac users will be able to upgrade their graphics card, as they are almost all soldered to the logic board aside from one or two very rare exceptions.

How to speed up a Mac: Keep it up to date 

By keeping the Mac OS X up to date you will ensure any patches and bug fixes, as well as OS enhancements, are applied. Click the Apple menu and choose Software Update. You can also check for software updates within any apps you've installed. Lastly, open System Preferences, App Store and tick the box for 'Automatically check for updates' to be notified when apps and the operating system needs updating. 

How to speed up a Mac: Clear the browser cache 

It's worth resetting whichever browser you use on the Mac to keep it clear of temporary files and other browsing data. In Safari, for example, you simply choose Safari, Reset Safari.

How to speed up a Mac: Make webpages run faster

In addition to clearing the browser cache, you can also make webpages run faster by using a spyware blocker such as Ghostery. This prevents trackers, bugs and other forms of browser spyware from loading on each page that you visit, meaning they'll load in next to no time. Ghostery also has the benefit of preventing many unwanted ads from loading in the page too, which also speeds up web browsing markedly. (Please bear in mind, though, that sites such as PC Advisor rely on advertising in order to provide free content for our readers).

How to speed up a Mac: Run a malware scan

It's well-worth running a malware scan on your Mac, just in case you've managed to install a Trojan on your system at some point. If you're one of the unlucky few to get infected by Mac malware, this can cause unexplained slowdowns of your computer.

The free open-source based ClamXav can be run once and will not nag to keep scanning thereafter. Beware that most commercial anti-virus products will pester you to run all the time in the background, which not only is not strictly necessary but is almost guaranteed to slow your Mac to a crawl, all the time.

If you're concered about Mac malware, you can significantly reduce the likelyhood of ever being infected by uninstalling Oracle Java and Adobe Flash plugin.

How to speed up a Mac: Turn off visual effects

If your Mac is struggling with some of Yosemite's graphics, open System Preferences, Dock and experiment with turning off Magnification, Animate opening applications, Automatically hide and show the Dock, and turn off accessibility. Lastly, change Genie Effect to Scale Effect under 'Minimize windows using'. 

How to speed up your Mac: Is it really your Mac that's slow?

Just because something you're attempting to do on the Mac is taking forever to complete, it doesn't necessarily mean it's the Mac that's to blame. Be sure to consider what you're doing whenever you notice it slowing down. Are you trying to get on a website and it's taking forever? Maybe the website is having problems, or your internet connection is slow, or you need to upgrade your router.