9 Reasons Why Mac is Running Slow and What to Do About It

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The fact is in modern life: Macs can run slowly for no apparent reason, but chances are there is a reason why the Mac is working so poorly and we’ll discuss the most common reasons, how to know if every reason is causing the delay, and most importantly, how to Fix it. If your Mac is running slow and it feels like a snail could start a new app or load a web page faster than the computer could, read on.

1: Spotlight Search is indexing

Spotlight is the search engine built into OS X, and every time it indexes disk data it can slow down a Mac. This is usually worse after a reboot in between major file system changes when the index rebuild, a major system update, or when another hard drive full of stuff is connected to the Mac. Typically Macs with SSDs won’t feel the lag as bad, but for Mac models that still use spinning hard drives, it can feel really slow.

How to Know: It’s easy to check if Spotlight is causing the slowdowns, just click on the Spotlight menu in the top right corner. If you open the menu to see an indexing status bar, you know it’s active.

Spotlight spins

You can also search Activity Monitor for the “mds” or “mdworker” processes, both of which are related to Spotlight.

Solution: Wait for Spotlight to finish indexing, it usually won’t take long.

2: Software update is loading

Whether the Mac is newer and updated through the App Store, or older and going through Software Update, any of these processes can cause a temporary system slowdown while starting in the background, prompting for available updates, and

How to Know: After about a minute you will receive a notification about software update

Software update in progress

Solution: Preserve system software up so far is one of the best things you can do as part of a Mac maintenance routine. Let it run, install the updates and reboot.

3: Low on disk space

Any time a computer is very low on disk space, the computer will slow down dramatically, and Macs are no different. The reason is quite simple; Between the operating system and all your apps, lots of temporary cache files are generated and things are swapped in and out of memory and to disk as needed. If your disk is full, these actions will take longer because older cache files and swap files must be deleted before new ones can be generated, creating a block before further system process can be undertaken. This whole thing can be painfully slow, especially on traditional hard drives, and can make any Mac feel as slow as molasses.

How to Know: Checking the available hard drive space is a breeze, just go to the desktop and open a folder, pull down the “View” menu and select “Show Status Bar”. Now look at the bottom of the Finder window you opened, if the amount of space available is less than a few GBs then you need to take action. If the number is 0, then you must take immediate action!

Check the available disk space on a Mac

Solution: It is best to clean up files that you no longer need. First, go to your Downloads folder and delete things you don’t need as they can be filled up very fast if you don’t clean it up yourself. Then free up disk space by downloading a free app like OmniDiskSweeper to find out where all of your storage has gone. Delete unnecessary files. Once done, restart the Mac as restarting will clear temporary caches and that can often be released up space too.

4: No RAM

There is no greater delay you can encounter than when your available RAM is running out. When you run out of RAM, virtual memory takes over and virtual memory is slow because it relies on your hard drive to store information needed to run apps and OS X, instead of that information in super-fast RAM to preserve.

How to Know: Open “Activity Monitor” from the / Applications / Utilities / folder, click on the “System Memory” tab at the bottom and observe the colorful pie chart. If you don’t see green, you are low on “free” memory and you can check how low it is by looking at the “Free” item. “Idle” is another potentially valuable resource to look at.

Check for free RAM

Solution: Close apps that are no longer in use and try to restart the apps you are using. Web browsers, in particular, such as Safari, Chrome, and Firefox, often consume more RAM than necessary the longer they are open, as web pages from the past are stored in memory. Some websites also have memory leaks. Closing and reloading a web browser can often be free up a lot of RAM.

5: High processor utilization

If an app or process is consuming a lot of your processor, other things that happen to the Mac will slow down drastically. Many different things can take place up CPU, and while most are temporary as a process runs and completes, some errant processes go wild and continue to take up much more CPU than is appropriate.

How to Know: Open “Activity Monitor” again from the / Applications / Utilities / folder, but click the “CPU” tab at the bottom. Look at the “% Idle” for a few seconds, if that number is consistently below 60, you have something eating up your processor.

Check CPU usage

Solution: Still in Activity Monitor, click on the “CPU” item at the top to display the items by processor usage. The top item (s) are your culprit, if those apps or processes are not in use stop them to make them free up CPU.

6: Too many apps open at the same time

This is a simplified way of saying that you are either out of RAM, an app is a CPU hog, hitting the disk, or some other issues that can arise if you simply have way too many apps open And at the same time time is running.

How to Know: The easiest way to find out is if the OS X Dock is an abundance of every app installed on your Mac.

Solution: Close apps you’re not using, the more the better.

7: Not enough RAM for your needs

Speaking of insufficient RAM and too many apps open, you may simply not have enough RAM to make the most of your Mac for your usage patterns. Fortunately, this is very easy to determine, find out how to determine if your Mac needs a RAM upgrade by reading this great guide.

8: Your desktop is full of icons

Did you know that having a desktop full of a billion icons slows down a computer? This is because each icon is drawn as a window and OS X displays a preview of the icons and their contents, each taking up means of redrawing when things are moved.

How to Know: Your desktop is a disaster of files, documents, folders, with more icons than visible wallpaper.

a cluttered Mac desktop slows down Macs

Solution: Decently up your desktop, ideally down to just a few selected important things. If this sounds daunting, even creating a new folder called “Desktop Stuff” and throwing EVERYTHING in it from the desktop will speed things up dramatically up. There are also some great apps out there that will get you cleaned up up your desktop for you, try those out if you’re bad at managing the desktop clutter, or consider hiding the desktop icons completely.

9: The hard disk does not work

Faulty hard drives will not perform well, but possibly worse is the chance that you will lose all your important data and files. This may be the least likely reason for a Mac to run slowly, but it’s also the worst possibility.

How to Know: You hear unusual noises, clicks or bits from your computer and hard drive. Running Disk Utilities First Aid repeatedly fails or causes tons of errors that cannot be fixed with the “Verify” and “Repair Disk” functions.

Solution: First stop everything else and BACK UP YOUR DATA because you could lose it if you don’t. Start Time Machine, copy all your most important files to an external drive, whatever it takes. Then buy a new hard drive and consider an SSD as it’s faster and less prone to some of the problems that traditional spinning drives are. Finally, consider taking the Mac to an expert, such as the Genius Bar at your local Apple Store.

What else?

Has something been missed? Let us know in the comments. For some overall performance tipsespecially for older Macs, don’t miss these 8 simple ones tips that can speed up up Macs.

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