(Lack of) Speed Kills (the Soul)

Computers can sometimes be very frustrating, as we all know. One of the most aggravating conditions that can plague a computer is your machine's speed, or lack thereof.

The first, and arguably the most important piece of information to take a peek at is your computers System Information. It is found by clicking the  > About this Mac. You will next see a menu with some basic information about your machine. It will include your Serial Number, Operating System, Memory/RAM, and your Storage (see video below to find your System Information).

VIDEO: How to find your System Information on macOS 10.12.5. No audio included

First, and arguably most import, is the technical specifications of your computer, also referred to as System Information. I will give a quick breakdown of what I mentioned above.


The first piece to note it your computer's age. Although it seems relatively obvious, it plays a very large role in your computers performance. A 1995 Honda Accord most likely won't perform as well as a 2014 car, unless you're driving a 2014 Toyota Hybrid, but that's beside the point. Other limitations with older machines are their upgradeability. All of the items I mentioned earlier: operating system, memory, and storage are all specifications that are limited on older model machines. However, most machine more recent than 2010 are going to be "fully" upgradeable.

The second is your operating system. This ties in with our first note as well. The operating systems of the past three years, OS X 10.10 Yosemite, OS X 10.11 El Capitan, and macOS 10.12 Sierra are all operating systems that carry a lot of "weight." This meaning that they are fundamentally and functionally larger. They have more capabilities, sure, but this can cause problems for older machine that probably don't need the "latest and greatest" operating system. The toughest part is finding the delicate balance between a new operating system that is too heavy for your system, and an operating system that is so old, it is also having a negative effect on your machine. Older machines, ideally, should be updated to OS X 10.9 Mavericks. If your operating system still  has the name of a cat (Tiger, Leopard, Snow Leopard, Lion, Mountain Lion), then it could really use an update to Mavericks. I will make my operating system recommendations in the step three.

Often the most overlooked aspect of your computer's speed is the memory, also called RAM (Random Access Memory). Now this is not to be confused with your computer's storage. There is a HUGE difference between memory and storage, although the two words have been thrown around so much, many people don't know the difference. Memory, or RAM, I like to refer to it as your computer's horsepower. Apple machines produced pre-2010 usually come with 4GB of RAM, machines produced from 2011-2012 typically have 4GB, while newer machines seem to start at 8GB. Now, let's explore a little bit of what RAM is and how it functions. Without getting into too much technical jargon, RAM/Memory is your computer's short-term data memory, meaning that it  stores the information you are currently using. It helps boot your machine quicker, allows you to use multiple applications at once without seeing the spinning pinwheel, and allows for quicker response times. 

 Computer RAM - These two "sticks" of RAM are the same capacity. The  left  is from 1999; the  right  is current.

Computer RAM - These two "sticks" of RAM are the same capacity. The left is from 1999; the right is current.

One more note about RAM in regards to your operating system: some machines from 2009 are capable of handling the most recent operating systems - the three I touched on earlier. However, I do not recommend it. It is very difficult to run a machine with a newer operating system on only 2-4GB of RAM. That is why I ALWAYS recommend upgrading to at least 8GB of RAM if you are running OS X Yosemite 10.10 or higher. This can be done at most Apple Stores or Apple Authorized Service Providers (AASP) at no labor charge. If you would like it brought to your home and done for you, please contact me for further details.

VIDEO: Drive #1 is a 7200rpm 80GB Seagate that's mechanically OK but has many bad sectors. Drive #2 is a 10,000rpm 74GB WD Raptor that's in much worse shape.

The last primary issue that can cause slowness is your hard drive. Now this is a tough one, because if your machine is pinwheeling very often or if it is randomly turning off on you, it may be a sign of a failing hard drive. This doesn't necessarily mean that your data is lost, but I highly recommend taking your machine in to a Apple Retail Store or an AASP immediately. If it is just general slowness, keep in mind that your hard drive consists of moving parts. These are called SATA hard drives. If you open up a hard drive, you can see mechanical arm and spinning disk, much like a CD player. This is a common reason why hard drives can fail. There are new hard drives though, called Solid State Drives, or SSDs. These hard drives are built much like a USB thumb drive that you plug into your computer - no moving parts and lightning fast. A combination of an SSD and a RAM upgrade is one of the easiest ways to improve your machines speed. Your System Information also gives you a breakdown on how much free space you have on your drive. The less free space you have, the slower your machine will run, until it eventually cannot even turn on because there is enough hard drive space (there is a reason for this, but it is quite long and tech-jargon heavy, so I will exclude it).

Now I do understand that not everyone is at a point where they can afford to spend the money on a RAM or hard drive upgrade, so here are a few other ways to try and optimize your computers speed, taking into account its age and specifications.

One of the easiest things you can do is free up space. Find old files you have looked at or used in years, put them in your Trash, then empty your Trash.

Another idea, run First Aid on your hard drive. If you go into your folder Applications > Utilities > Disk Utility, it will open the program Disk Utility. WARNING: This is a program that is not to be taken lightly. If used improperly, it is possible to erase your computer. If you are running OS X 10.11 El Capitan or macOS 10.12 Sierra, your Disk Utility program will look like the photo below. Simply and only click First Aid, and the program will run a clean-up of your system (this includes repairing permissions and possibly verifying & repairing the disk).

 Disk Utility for OS X 10.11 El Capitan or macOS 10.12 Sierra

Disk Utility for OS X 10.11 El Capitan or macOS 10.12 Sierra

If you are using OS X 10.10 Yosemite or earlier, your Disk Utility looks like the next photo. For this one, click Repair Disk Permissions, and after it completes, Verify Disk. Once you verify the disk, the machine should tell you that "The Disk appears Ok." If it says it is corrupt, please contact Crash Security, and we can discuss exactly what that means.

The last thing I need to mention, and this is very important. This MAY NOT solve your problem. Could it? Maybe. But I cannot say with absolute certainty that it is the fault of your RAM or hard drive that is causing the machine to run slow. There are many other things that can cause general slowness which includes, but not limited to: directory damage, malware, faulty login items, spotlight indexing, corrupt or incompatible software, third-party applications, etc, etc. I only say that because what I described above is the best place to start. If you are still experiencing issues, please send me an email, and I will promptly get back to you, and we can attempt to resolve it. It is usually a surprise to users how often malware plays a part in their computer performance. Visit our Malware or our Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs) pages to learn more.

Causes of Computer Slowness

I know I just provided an ungodly amount of information, but if you are looking for more information, please let us know in the comments, and I can potentially make a "Part 2" to this blog about speeding up your machine. I'd love for you to share this with your friends, so everyone can benefit from a quicker Mac.

As always, if you have any questions feel free to let me know by navigating over to our Contact tab on the Navigation bar. Also, for free weekly tips about all things Apple, subscribe to our newsletter, which can be found on the Homepage! 

-Stuart Ashenbrenner