Macbook Pro Slow?
Does this sound familiar to you? You're sitting in front of your Macbook Pro surfing the Internet on Safari or working on a project. All of a sudden, you see the spinning beach ball. One second, two seconds... Finally you start to cry out: "Why is my Mac laptop so slow?"
Though Macs are generally considered to be faster than Windows PCs, it's not uncommon for your Mac to start acting up with symptoms like: taking forever to bootup, freezing while opening an application, or the mouse cursor becoming unresponsive.
You are not alone! As Apple advocates for a decade, we've probably encountered most of the Macbook performance issues you may be experiencing. Fortunately we were able to fix them; and today we still use our older Macs daily.
Here we share the fixes we've discovered along the way, and you are going to learn:
- The main reasons why a Mac may run slow.
- Solutions to fix your slow Macbook and make it fast again.
- Bonus tips to mitigate risk of future slow-downs.
Read on by navigating the Table of Contents below.
Why is My Macbook Pro so Slow?
Whether you own an old 2009 Macbook or a shiny 2015 model, over time it can run slowly. There are numerous reasons out there, but in general they all fall into the following 4 groups.
If you keep your Mac running all the time, let too many apps join the fun on startup, or multitask with several heavy applications open--more often than not, your Mac will hang.
OS X System
A newer OS X usually performs better than an old one, but no system is perfect. You may experience firmware or permission issues that impedes performance as well.
Apps, whether pre-installed or downloaded elsewhere, can consume lots of system resources when used improperly, which slows down a Mac.
Everything has a lifespan; your Macbook's hardware is no exception. An outdated hard drive or lack of RAM can cause a bottleneck preventing desirable speed.
These are just the high-level reasons. Check out this nice infographic that outlines 26 specific causes why a Mac may be running slow. You may find what's hanging up your Macbook.
Moving on... The Solutions!
Okay. Now that I've learned the reasons behind a slow mac, what should I do to fix it? Good question!
We break down the solutions into two categories:
Note: the solutions we provide only work when your Macbook Pro can boot up normally. If it cannot, and you hear strange sounds coming from the machine (particularly from the hard drive), contact an Apple Genius or local computer repair shop for help immediately.
How to Fix a Slow Macbook Pro: The Manual Methods (4-6 hours)
Please note: the methods introduced below are the best manual fixes we have explored. The order is based on a combination of estimated time required and effectiveness in speeding up. They are, however, by no means the only solutions, and you don't have to complete all the methods as it’s very unlikely you'll be able to. Meanwhile, read this post for a checklist on how to speed up Macbook Pro.
Method 1: Manage login items to tune startup times
Time: 5-10 minutes
When to use: your Macbook Pro runs extremely slow on startup.
Why it helps: hiding login items (applications and services) you rarely use helps the machine to allocate more resources to load the processes you do use -- reaching the OS X desktop more quickly.
How to do: follow the steps in this YouTube video.
Method 2: Clear off cluttered Desktop items & Dashboard widgets
Time: 20-30 minutes
When to use: your Macbook Pro takes a bit longer to load the first screen after startup.
Why it helps: because Mac OS X treats each desktop item (be it a file, a Dock application, or a Dashboard widget) as a small task, it uses resources to load it when starting up. Reducing the number of such items can make the first screen show up sooner.
How to do:
- Keep less files on desktop. Try to group those files you saved directly on desktop, put them into few folders, and if possible move them to Documents or Pictures.
- Remove unnecessary apps from the Dock. Move your mouse cursor to an app, right click, select Options and click Remove from Dock.
- Clear unused Dashboard widgets. Go to Dashboard, press option button and move your cursor the the widget you don't want to show, click "x" on the upper left corner.
Method 3: Clean up hard drive to free up more disk space
Time: 1-2 hours
When to use: your Macbook Pro seems slow doing everything and frequently freezes.
Why it helps: OS X utilizes free hard disk space as "virtual memory" in addition to RAM (Random Access Memory). If your hard drive is running out of free space, that means little virtual memory can be used by the system if needed. This can cause your Mac freeze frequently--even if you just open a few apps. Therefore, having a good percentage of free disk space can often prevent the problem from happening.
How to do: try these tricks manually. (Note: if you want to save time, CleanMyMac is a nice tool for this purpose. It automatically detects and cleans extra junks that can take up to gigabytes.)
- Empty Mac Trash bin.
- Clear web browser (Safari, Chrome, Firefox, etc.) files such as caches, history, plugins, etc.
- Uninstall unused applications.
- Remove unnecessary language packs on your Mac.
- Go to the "Movies" and "Pictures" folders and delete any large items you've already backed up.
- Go to the "Download" folder and get rid of items you don't need.
- Transfer big files or folders to your external hard drive or another computer.
- And any other unnecessary files.
Method 4: Verify and repair disk permissions with Disk Utility
Update: beginning with Mac OS X El Capitan (Version 10.11), it's no longer necessary to verify or repair permissions as Apple has made system file permissions to be automatically protected.
Time: 15 minutes
When to use: your Macbook Pro is having issues with launching some applications, or is just generally slow.
Why it helps: corrupted or damaged file permissions can cause certain applications to run abnormally or be unable to run, thus affecting the overall Mac performance. Matt from CNET was able to bring his sluggish Mac back to health using this method. Note: it does no harm to repair your file permissions as it is a safe operation.
How to do: check out this Apple support article or this YouTube video for a step by step guide.
Method 5: Lighten web browsers to improve Internet surfing
Time: 20 minutes
When to use: the web browser (Safari, Chrome, or Firefox, etc) just seems stubborn to load pages, or becomes unresponsive.
Why it helps: web browsers are notorious for dragging down your Macbook performance after extended use. This will make your net surfing much smoother.
How to do:
- Have fewer tabs open at once, especially when you read magazine sites which tend to have heavy pages (ads, flash queries, etc.).
- Remove browser extensions you rarely use -- (Safari here, Chrome here, Firefox here).
- Clear browser cache, cookies, plug-ins, and history. This can also free up much hard disk space. See this guide for how.
- Get rid of Adware (flash ads), this article from the Boyce Blog tells how.
- Safari will eat up more and more RAM as time goes by, but a simple quit and restart of Safari will get you back to "normal".
- Reinstall browser if the above tricks fail.
Method 6: Identify and knock out heavy apps/processes with Activity Monitor
Time: 15 minutes
When to use: your Macbook starts to run slower after opening several applications, but you have no idea which application is the culprit.
Why it helps: Activity Monitor is a task manager on Mac that reveals both running applications and inactive processes. The list enables you to have a clear understanding of which one is devouring too many system resources (CPU, memory, disk, network, etc). Once you find the culprit, you can also use Activity Monitor to quit or force quit it easily.
How to do: see this intuitive video from MacWorld.
Method 7: Reset SMC and NVRAM to fix odd hardware errors
Time: 30 minutes
When to use: your Macbook Pro acts oddly (it takes forever to figure out which disk to boot from, it is slow to shut down, the fan is running non-stop, screenshots are not adjusting correctly, battery indicator lights are behaving incorrectly, etc.), and overall your Mac performs poorly.
Why it helps: NVRAM (or PRAM in older Macs) stores certain settings in a location that OS X can access quickly. SMC has roles in controlling thermal and power management on Mac. Resetting NVRAM and SMC helps resolve the issues mentioned above, and it is a safe thing to do.
How to do: check these two videos for how to properly reset NVRAM and SMC respectively.
Method 8: Update Macbook system to the latest OS X
Time: 1-2 hours
When to use: your Macbook Pro is running an older operating system (e.g. Yosemite or an earlier version), and you meet the basic requirements of the upgrade--for El Capitan, you need at least 2GB of memory and 8.8GB of storage space.
How to do: follow this official guide posted by Apple, or this video tutorial for how to update to OS X El Capitan. Note: you'll need take quite some time to download it as it's about 6GB in size. So be patient.
Method 9: Disable fancy features in exchange for performance
Time: 15 minutes
When to use: best for those who are using an older Mac with limited resources, and don't particularly favor fancy interfaces and visual effects.
Why it helps: by disabling or turning off features such as Notifications, Transparency and Animations, Magnification, File Vault, etc., your Macbook Pro can boost performance due to less system resources being used.
How to do:
- Reduce Transparency and Animations.
- Minimize windows using and change Genie Effect to Scale Effect.
- Optimize Notification center and turn off real-time notifications you don't need.
- Disable Launchpad effects.
- Get rid of preference panes. Go to System Preferences, locate a pane you want to remove, right click (or Control-click), then remove it from the pop-up menu. It may ask you to type admin password.
- Disable FileVault Disk Encryption option.
Method 10: Upgrade hardware (RAM, SSD) to have a real boost
Time: it depends
When to use: you are using an old Macbook Pro, and you've tried every method you can to fix your slow Mac but it's still slow.
How to do:
Add extra RAM: be sure to check out this page to see memory specifications for your Macbook Pro model. It also comes with an illustrated guide on how to replace the memory. Or watch this CNET video:
Replace with a SSD: follow the steps in this video.
How to Fix a Slow Macbook Pro: The Quick Technique (5-10 minutes)
The manual methods can be quite time-consuming and require you to have certain technical skills. Fortunately, if you want to fix your slow Mac more quickly and easily, there are some tools you can rely on.
Please note: we have successfully used either option recommended below, but you only need to try one of the options.
Option 1: Using MacBooster to keep your Macbook clean and secure
MacBooster - developed by the IObit team, the software stands out for its all-in-one concept. It actually integrates a collection of handy and useful tools for monitoring overall status of your Macbook. The Security Center, for example, helps you identify possible security threats and removes malware.
To get started, simply run a quick System Status scan to find items that may affect your Mac and fix them. Later move on to the Tools section to perform further optimization.
Option 2: Using CleanMyMac 3 to scan & clean up your Macbook
CleanMyMac 3 - as the name indicates, the core of the tool is to clean up your Mac -- locating junk files through deep scan of the system: Photo/iTunes, Mail attachments, large and old files, etc. In addition, it has the functionality to uninstall programs and secure or wipe files that you'll find super useful. The program itself is very simple and intuitive, just hit Scan to get started and then Clean.
Tips to Avoid Macbook Running Slow
- Shut down your Mac when you are away. Restart regularly.
- Don't save everything on the boot drive (where your system files are stored). A full boot volume can lead to a slow startup and performance problems beyond.
- Try not to install software that you don't need. It can consume a large portion of hard disk space. Additionally, outdated software can have problems running over time due to incompatibility issues.
- Use a lightweight browser like Safari or Chrome. Try not to open too many tabs at once, and do not add too many browser extensions/plugins.
- Clean up the hard drive on a regular basis -- e.g. once a month. You can do it manually or rely on a tool like the one we've introduced above.
- Always keep your software up-to-date. Avoid malicious programs.
- Don't immediately update your Mac to a new OS X version. Let the early birds test it out first. After a while, choose to update when you feel the time is right.
- Don't blame your Mac when it's slow. Figure out the reason and fix it immediately. You never know when a small issue can evolve into a bigger one.
Do You Have Any Questions?
Is the information and technique we've shared above helpful?
Did it help tune up your slow Macbook Pro a little bit? If so, we'd appreciate it if you'd please share this article.
Otherwise, feel free to contact us if you have any questions.
We are just normal loyal Mac fans like you. We don't claim to be Mac experts, nor we have ever worked for Apple. All the information shared above is merely a walk-through of the knowledge and experience we've used to resolve our own Macbook Pro performance issues. Due to the complexities of the subject matter, your results may vary.
Some of the recommendations contain third-party affiliate links. If you decide to purchase one of them, we will receive a commission for the sale--part or all of the earnings will be used to maintain this site. Nonetheless, we recommend them because we use the tools with our Macbook Pros and find them to be great. Make sure you only use what works for your issue, and don't over-spend on things you don't need.
Last updated: March 1, 2016