Is your Mac slow? Do you see the spinning wheel of death every day? Don’t put up with it! Here’s how to diagnose the problem so you can fix it.
How to Diagnose a Sluggish Mac
There are many reasons why your Mac might be having performance issues. If you can figure out what’s wrong, you can take steps to fix it. You can fix the most common causes of a slow Mac on your own and relatively easily. Here are some simple tips you can try to speed up your Mac.
Hardware problems, however, are the exception. If your Mac has a problem with a particular component, the fix becomes more difficult. It’s common knowledge that even desktop computers like the iMac are hard to repair on your own — Apple uses a lot of glue and solder in the manufacturing process.
Worst case scenario, you can always ask Apple to take a look. If you book a free Genius appointment at the Apple Store, they will run a full set of diagnostics on your computer. From there, they should be able to recommend a solution to the problem. If you want Apple to fix your machine, you must pay out of pocket if the warranty has expired if you don’t have AppleCare.
Remember that you can make an appointment at an Apple Store to find out what’s wrong with your car and how much it would cost to fix it. The company charges you for repairs only after you agree to have them repaired.
RELATED:10 Quick Ways to Speed Up a Slow Mac
Application Crashes: How Software Can Slow Down Your Mac
If the software does not work properly, it may cause your machine to become unresponsive. Sometimes, only the app that crashed exhibits this behavior; In other cases, misbehaving software may try to destroy your entire machine.
If you suspect an app is down, right-click its icon in the Dock, hold down the Option key on your keyboard, and choose Force Exit. You can also use the keyboard shortcut Command + Option + Esc to force quit the current application.
If you’re not sure which application has crashed, or you think it crashed in the background, start Activity Monitor. Click the «CPU» tab and view the «% CPU» column in descending order. Thus, the applications that use the most computing power are displayed at the top. If you notice anything using more than its fair share, click on it and then press «X» to end the process.
Sometimes performance issues are caused by memory leaks, when a particular task or process devours all available memory. To see memory, go to the Memory tab and reorder the Memory columns in descending order to see similar results. You can kill processes in the same way as you can kill an application that is stuck.
Completely failed processes appear in red with the words «Not Responding» next to them in the Activity Monitor section. You can kill them and restart. If you’re having recurring issues with the same apps, you might want to consider using something else (or email the developer).
Disk Space: Your Mac Needs Room to Breathe
Not enough disk space is another common reason for macOS slowdown. Without enough free space on your startup drive, macOS cannot run the maintenance scripts and background processes that keep your computer running. Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t specify exactly how much free space it takes to keep your Mac happy.
A general rule of thumb is to always keep 15 percent of the boot drive free. This figure applies mainly to laptops with small drives. An iMac with a 3TB drive requires a much lower percentage to meet macOS requirements. But filling a 3TB iMac is much harder than a 128GB MacBook Air.
If you work with large files or create a lot of temporary files (for example, for editing videos or photos), you should have as much free space on your disk as the total size of these temporary files.
To see how much free space you have on your Mac, click the Apple icon in the top left corner, then click About This Mac. Click the Storage tab to see your current disk usage. You can then free up space on your Mac.
System Resources: Are you pushing your Mac too far?
Your Mac has a limited amount of resources available, limited by factors such as processor cores, available RAM, and the presence of a dedicated graphics card. Knowing how far you’re pushing your Mac will help you avoid future performance issues.
Here are some common tasks that can bring your Mac to a minimum:
Too many open tabs in your web browser.
Hungry programs like Photoshop open in the background.
Playing graphically intense 3D games.
Working with huge video and photo files or video rendering.
Running two or more of the above (or similarly intensive processes) at the same time.
If you have hundreds of tabs open in a browser like Chrome, don’t be surprised if you run into memory issues. Switching to a Mac-optimized browser such as Safari will help, but you may still need to curb tab dependency.
Browsers, in general, can be a source of poor performance. Too many extensions and plugins negatively impact your browser’s responsiveness. And some web apps can tax your machine just like native ones. One example of this would be using a web-based spreadsheet tool like Google Sheets to process a lot of data.
To see how your system is performing at any given moment, open Activity Monitor and check the «CPU Load» and «Memory Pressure» graphs on the CPU and Memory tabs, respectively.
Hardware problems: problems under the hood
Few computers have a resale value like a Mac. They are built to last and I can tell this because I am typing this on a 2012 MacBook Pro. But problems can arise, especially if your car shows its age. But there are some things you can check for yourself.
Your Mac includes a basic diagnostic tool that you can run yourself. To do this, follow these steps:
Turn off your Mac.
Press the power button to turn on your Mac and then immediately press and hold D on your keyboard.
When you see a screen asking you to select a language, release the D key.
Select your language and wait for the diagnostic tool to launch.
Note. If Apple Diagnostics doesn’t launch, try holding Option + D instead. To do this, you need an Internet connection because your Mac downloads the Apple Diagnostics program before running it.
Apple Diagnostics can tell you a lot just in the form of a reference code. You can then check the referenced code against the Apple database, but don’t expect to learn too much. For example, you may find that there is a problem with the computer’s memory, but you won’t know which RAM card is bad or what’s wrong with it.
This tool is useful for ruling out hardware issues, but it’s pretty useless for troubleshooting. For a more detailed report, it’s best to book a free appointment at the Genius Bar. Of course, you also won’t get detailed feedback on how to fix your Mac.
You can test some components manually with the right tools. For example, MemTest86 is a free tool that you can use to test your computer’s memory. Install it on a USB stick, fire up your Mac and launch it. When you use a USB flash drive as a storage medium, you can properly test the RAM at no extra cost on macOS.
A failed drive can also cause problems. Most Macs have SSDs. They are not prone to sudden failures like conventional hard drives. Solid state drives usually fail only after prior warning. And when they eventually die, data recovery is impossible. Follow these steps to check the health of your SSD:
Click the Apple logo in the top right corner and choose About This Mac.
Click «System Report» and then select «Storage».
Select your primary drive (probably labeled «Macintosh HD»).
Scroll down to «SMART Status» and see what it says next to it. If it says «Tested», your drive is working fine with no issues. If it says «Failure», this may be the source of your problems. Eventually, the drive will become «Fatal» and you’ll have to replace it or your Mac.
For a more in-depth look at your drives, download DriveDx (it’s free to try). This utility should give you more information than Apple claims.
For complete peace of mind, don’t forget to back up your Mac regularly with Time Machine.
CPU & GPU
The processor is the brain of your computer. However, there is not much you can do to test this. If it doesn’t work properly, you may experience slowdowns, freezes, and sudden shutdowns. One way to get more information is to compare it to an app like Geekbench. You can then use Mac performance charts to see how they stack up.
If your Mac has a dedicated GPU, you can test it with tools like Heaven or Cinebench. If your GPU is having problems, you may notice poor performance in 3D applications, screen artifacts and crashes, system freezes or sudden shutdowns.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do to fix CPU or GPU issues. Any problems that arise will likely require your Mac’s logic board to be replaced. It usually makes more financial sense to just buy a new Mac rather than pay a premium to get your old one fixed.
Decline with age: Is your Mac just old?
Sometimes performance problems have a very simple reason: age. As your Mac ages, its performance will decrease. New software requires better hardware, while the hardware inside your Mac stays the same.
Most Mac owners shouldn’t experience performance issues during their first three years of use. After that, things start to go downhill. After you get past the five- or six-year milestone, you will have to constantly think about whether the software you use is working as efficiently as possible on your machine.
If you have an older Mac and want to squeeze as much life out of it as possible, here are a few things you can try:
Switch to a lightweight browser. Safari is optimized for Mac and has better performance and lower power consumption than its competitors.
Use your favorite Apple apps. Like Safari, many Apple apps are optimized for macOS and Apple hardware. One notable example of this is Final Cut Pro, which vastly outperforms Adobe Premiere on older machines. You can also opt out of Pages for Word, Lightroom for Aperture, or Evernote for Notes.
Be mindful of multitasking. Avoid excessive load on the CPU or GPU. If you’re filming a video, prepare a cup of coffee until you’re done. If you have 100 tabs open, close 50.
Beware of outdated or sluggish software. Legacy apps may perform worse on modern macOS systems because they lack optimization. Avoid using Java-based applications that require a Java runtime environment, as this may slow down the performance of your machine.
Keep macOS up to date. If possible, make sure your Mac is running the latest version of macOS. Apple has focused on improving macOS performance over the last few iterations of its desktop and mobile operating systems. If your system is not up to date, you may be missing settings that can enhance your experience.
When should you buy a new Mac?
The best time to buy a new computer is when you need it. If you’re experiencing performance bottlenecks that are preventing you from doing your job or doing the tasks you need your computer for, it’s time to upgrade.
If your machine is constantly breaking down or running slowly due to a hardware component malfunctioning, it’s time to consider buying a new one. If you’re tired of manipulating files and apps because your startup disk is too small, you can check out the Apple Store.
Remember that your old Mac can still have a good resale value. Even ancient machines with problems bring in more money than you expect. If you’re thinking about selling your old Mac, here are some tips that might help you.