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Mac troubleshooting FAQ: slow-downs and passwords

Christopher Breen, | May 6, 2011
Speed up your Mac, get rid of the spinning beach ball, and recover forgotten passwords

After start-up problems, the most common questions I get at the Mac 911 blog are about speed—or lack thereof—and passwords. If your Mac is slow, if the spinning rainbow cursor appears more often than you'd like, or if you're forever being locked out of your accounts, here's what you need to do.


Why does my Mac run so slowly?

When describing a “slow” Mac, it helps to focus on exactly what it is about your Mac that’s sluggish. If the Finder is poky, for example, and your Mac’s desktop is packed with nongeneric icons, all those icons are slowing down the Finder because it’s drawing each icon as a separate window, which takes time. You also want to keep the Mac from performing needless Finder calculations: Open a window in the Finder, choose View -> Show View Options, and ensure that the Calculate All Sizes option is unchecked.

If your Mac plods along when it’s performing Internet-related work, it’s likely that your broadband connection is the bottleneck. Go to a Website such as Ookla’s to see how fast your connection is. If your Web browser specifically performs slowly, quit and relaunch it. Memory leaks that seem to be part and parcel of today’s Web browsers can slow down these applications. If the browser remains sluggish, empty its cache. (In Safari, choose Safari -> Empty Cache. In Firefox, choose Firefox -> Preferences, select the Network tab of the Advanced preference, and click the Clear Now button in the Offline Storage area.)

It’s also possible that a particular application is chewing up a lot of your Mac’s attention. Launch Activity Monitor (/Applications/Utilities), click the CPU heading, and see what floats to the top. If an application takes up a large chunk of the CPU and won’t let it go, it could be dragging down your Mac’s performance. (Note that some processes can hog a lot of your CPU cycles, but they do so for only a brief time. You’re looking for processes that routinely devour major portions of your CPU.) If it’s a process or application you can do without, quit it by clicking the Quit Process button at the top of the Activity Monitor window. (If it’s an application, first save your work.)

A Mac can also be slow when you have too little RAM or free hard-drive space. Today’s Macs want a minimum of 2GB of RAM but will perform better with more. And a nearly full hard drive can slow down your Mac because the Mac has to work harder to find places to store virtual memory. If your Mac shipped with a slow hard drive (5400 rpm, for example)—as does the Mac mini—consider replacing the drive with a faster one, or boot from a faster external drive.


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