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12 Steps to Improving Your Mac's Performance
Pages: 1, 2

7. Install Upgrades Automatically

With Software Update, you can enhance performance and security by configuring your Mac to automatically download and install updates both for the operating system and for critical system components such as AirPort, iPod, and iSight. Of course, not all updates apply to all computers, and Apple will tailor its suggested updates around what you have installed. For the most part, you should always install what Apple suggests for your particular setup because those updates will generally enhance performance and increase security. Updates and upgrades will solve known problems too, such as glitches in a software program or bugs in prior updates, and may even contain updates to drivers or firmware, which are necessary to keep your computer running smoothly.

8. Secure Your Mac

Securing your Mac is just as important as enhancing its performance. It doesn't do any good to clean up, maintain, and organize your Mac if you're going to leave it unlocked for anyone and everyone to drop in without your permission. Don't go to all of the trouble of getting it running efficiently, organizing all of its files and folders, and performing maintenance tasks when you've left a door open to malicious co-workers, uninformed visitors, viruses, spyware, or thieves, all of which can really gunk up (or destroy) your Mac. Protect your Mac by incorporating some simple security measures such as using screen saver passwords and turning on OS X's built-in firewall.

Here are some "must do" things: purchase, install, and configure anti-virus software, understand Safari's security options, let friends use a visitor account if they need to use your Mac, turn on FileVault if necessary, understand encryption and when to use it, and set up a firmware password for really tight security.

9. Back Up Your System

Your Mac came with installation CDs that you can use to restore your system if you ever need to. That's all well and good, but they won't restore your personal data: the fonts you've acquired over the years, your Preferences files, the folders you've created, the music you've downloaded, the movies you've made, your Internet cookies, your Keychain entries, and your mailbox files -- you get the idea. If something happens, you need to have all of that backed up.

It's going to be pretty hard to back up, on your own, every single thing you'll need to recover from a hard drive crash. It'll even be harder to try to keep these backups up to date. If you can afford it, purchase a third-party backup utility to help you; the Mac doesn't come with a dedicated one. Sure, there's Disk Copy, but it's not really a backup program, and it isn't going to really do what you want in the way of backups.

There are lots of programs you can purchase to assist you in backing up regularly, and they range in price. Take a look at the options by visiting If you want to try to find some freeware to help you back up your data, visit You never know what you might find!

10. How to Maintain Your Mac Once Degunked

Maintaining you Mac once it's degunked will help it perform better for a longer period of time. There are several things you should do on a regular basis, and I've outlined still more in my book. Knowing when and how often to do them is part of it too. Here are just a few things to keep in mind:

  • Maintain your Mac by checking for and repairing file system errors.
  • Clean up your Mac by deleting library caches.
  • Make sure you are getting software updates.
  • Use Disk Utility to verify and repair permissions.
  • Use the OS X CD to scan the startup disk for errors and repair them.
  • Use Disk First Aid to find repair problems with OS 9.
  • Zap the PRAM when strange crashes and errors cannot be explained or repaired.
  • Create a new user in case of an emergency situation.
  • Learn about good third-party applications that can help you maintain and troubleshoot your Mac.

11. Disable Unnecessary Components

There are many system components that can be tweaked to offer minimal improvements but, when combined, offer noticeable changes. For instance, you can remove extraneous extensions, preferences, or fonts you're not using. These extra files increase boot time and slow down reaction time. Application preferences can be set, too, and applications such as Photoshop or Mail can be made to open faster. You can also get rid of system- intensive desktop images and screen savers, or even reduce the color depth of the desktop for a faster redraw. You can disable Calculate All Size, deactivate Remember Recently Used Items, and disable file sharing if you don't need it. There are lots of tweaks that, although seemingly insignificant when performed separately, really add up to improve your Mac's performance when combined with others.

12. Move to OS X if You Haven't Already (Or if You Have a Hybrid System)

The differences between OS 9 and OS X are complex and many. Because they are so vast, the new technology of OS X has forced Apple to offer a hybrid operating system to get people (and software manufacturers) through the move. For programs that are not yet OS X compatible, OS X offers a Classic environment that kicks in when older programs need to be run. The complex changes to the OS may thus require you to use both operating systems for a while, or at least until software manufacturers catch up with all of the changes Apple has made and you purchase the upgrades.

Using older programs though is not the best choice. Your ultimate goal is (or it should be) to use your Mac the way it should be used, with all programs running smoothly in OS X and with OS X performing as a healthy, happy OS. There are several steps involved in making that move, though, including taking inventory of the software and hardware you use often, purchasing new programs when necessary, and even adding RAM.

Briefly, there are six steps to moving to OS X:

  1. Take a survey of what software you use that causes Classic to open. If you configure System Preferences so that Classic does not start automatically when you log in, and your Mac warns you before starting Classic, you'll be able to see this easily.
  2. Take inventory of your hardware. Does your web cam hardware and related software open Classic? If so, save up for an iSight, or see if your hardware manufacturer has an upgraded driver and software. Does your bargain-basement printer open Classic? Same thing there -- look for an updated driver or purchase another printer. That'll teach those manufacturers to keep up when a new version of the OS is released!
  3. Purchase third-party tools to keep the system running smoothly. Your old OS 9 applications aren't going to do the trick. You can also look for freeware or shareware to optimize performance. Check out for the latest.
  4. Consider adding RAM. RAM is the single best way to increase the performance on your machine and may, in fact, become necessary after upgrading your applications and hardware drivers and adding new programs.
  5. Transfer your favorite fonts from OS 9 to OS X, just in case you get a wild hair and want to trash the OS 9 folders some day.
  6. Gather up any documents, pictures, music, artwork, or movies from your OS 9 folders and move them to your OS X folders. Put them in the appropriate folders, such as Documents, Music, Pictures, and Movies.


The thing is, all computers slow down. They all bog down. The reason is that the day you bring your sparkling new computer home, you start storing stuff on it. Stuff can be pictures, music, videos, email, drivers, spam, and whatever else you have obtained, knowingly or unknowingly. You have to take control and maintain control, and if you do, your Mac will be a happy one!

Some text in this article has been excerpted directly from Joli's book, Degunking Your Mac.

Joli Ballew is a professional writer, technology trainer, and network consultant in the Dallas area, and she is a Microsoft Windows Expert Zone Columnist.

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