Macbook Pro Slow?

(This page was last updated on October 12, 2018 for information accuracy and freshness.)

Macbook Pro running slow with Spinning Pinwheel

Does this sound familiar to you? You were sitting in front of your Macbook Pro surfing the Internet or working on a project. All of a sudden, you saw the spinning beach ball. One second, two seconds...finally you started to cry out: "Why is my Mac laptop so slow?"

Though Mac machines are generally considered to be faster than Windows PCs, it's not uncommon for a Mac to start acting up with symptoms like: taking forever to boot, freezing while opening an app, or mouse cursor becoming unresponsive, etc.

You are not alone! As Apple advocates for a decade, we've probably encountered most of the 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 four 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. Note: the tips below may also apply to other type of Macs such as iMac, MacBook Air, Mac Pro/Mini etc. 

Why is My Macbook Pro so Slow?

Whether you own an old 2009 MacBook Pro, or a shiny new model with Touch Bar, or the latest 15-inch 2017 MacBook Pro with 512GB flash storage (SSD), over time it can run slowly. There are numerous reasons that might be the causes, but in general they all fall into the following four categories.

Personal Habits

If you keep your Mac running all the time, let too many apps join the fun on startup, or multitask with many heavy applications open -more often than not, your Mac will hang.

macOS System

A newer macOS usually performs better than an old one, but no system is perfect. You may experience firmware or permission issues that impede performance as well.

Software Issues

Apps, whether pre-installed or downloaded elsewhere, can consume lots of system resources when used improperly, which slows down a Mac.

Old Hardware

Everything has a lifespan; your Macbook's hardware is no exception. An outdated hard drive or lack of RAM can be the bottleneck preventing desirable speed.

These are just the high-level reasons. Check out this infographic that outlines 26 specific causes why a Mac might run slowly. You may find what's hanging up your machine.

Update: if your MacBook Pro is slow only after updating to the latest macOS version (i.e. macOS 10.14 Mojave), the best fix would be restarting your machine for several times since the new macOS needs time to re-index or update data saved in the disk drive. For example, Photos can take a while to update the entire picture library; Spotlight reindexing tends to be time-consuming as well.

Moving on... The Solutions!

Now that I've learned the reasons behind a slow mac, what should I do to fix it?

We break down the solutions into two categories:

  • The Manual Methods: best for those who are tech-savvy and you don't mind taking the time to do so. We list a number of things you can do manually to fix it.
  • The Quick Technique: best for beginners or those who don't have time to implement the manual fixes. We recommend using an app called CleanMyMac (A good alternative is Dr. Cleaner, which offers more free features though it's less powerful).

Note: the solutions we provide only work when your Mac can boot up normally. If it cannot, or you hear strange sounds coming from the machine (particularly from the internal Mac hard drive), contact Apple support or schedule a visit to Genius Bar for help immediately.

How to Fix a Slow Macbook Pro: The Manual Methods (4-6 hours)

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 to implement. 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

Method 2: Clear off cluttered Desktop items & Dashboard widgets

Method 3: Clean up hard drive to free up more disk space

Method 4: Verify and repair disk permissions with Disk Utility

Method 5: Lighten web browsers to improve Internet surfing

Method 6: Identify and knock out heavy apps/processes with Activity Monitor

Method 7: Reset SMC and NVRAM to fix odd hardware errors

Method 8: Update your Macbook Pro to latest macOS version

Method 9: Disable fancy features in exchange for performance

Method 10: Upgrade hardware (RAM, SSD) to have a real boost

How to Fix a Slow Macbook Pro: The Quick Technique (5-10 minutes)

The manual methods can be quite time-consuming and may require you to have certain level of technical skills. Fortunately, if you want to fix your slow Mac more quickly, here are some cleaning tools worth trying.

Option 1: Using CleanMyMac to scan & clean up your MacBook Pro

CleanMyMac X - an app developed by MacPaw Inc. As its name indicates, the core value of CleanMyMac is to help you clean your Mac and free up storage space -- by locating junks and unnecessary files through deep scan of the system: Photo/iTunes, Mail attachments, large and old files, etc. In addition, you can use the app to batch uninstall unwanted programs, and permanently erase files that are private to you. CleanMyMac is super sleek and intuitive, just hit Scan to get started and then Clean.

CleanMyMac X main interfac

Option 2: Using MacBooster to keep your Mac clean and secure

MacBooster 7 - an app developed by the IObit team. MacBooster stands out for its all-in-one concept. The app includes a handful of useful utilities that you can use to monitor the overall status of your Mac system. TheVirus & Malware Scan module, for example, helps identify possible security threats and removes malware. To get started, simply run a quick System Status scan to find and fix issues on your Mac. You can also move on to the Tools sections for further optimization.

Additional Tips to Avoid Mac Running Slow

  • Shut down your Mac when you are away. Restart regularly.
  • Do not save everything to the boot drive (where your system files are stored). A full boot volume can lead to a slow startup and other performance problems.
  • Try not to install third-party apps that you don't need. They can consume much precious disk space as well as system resources while they're running. Additionally, outdated software can have problems running due to macOS incompatibility issues. Learn how to uninstall Mac apps in different ways.
  • Use a lightweight browser like Safari or Chrome, Firefox tends to slow down over time (Safari acts up sometimes too). Avoid opening too many tabs at once, and do not add too many browser extensions/plugins.
  • Clean up the hard drive (especially when the startup disk is almost full) on a regular basis, e.g. once a month. You can do this manually, or use a tool (like the ones we recommend above).
  • Always keep your software up-to-date, and have a good habit of getting software from App Store or the software provider's official website.
  • If you regularly use your MacBook for work at an office, consider elevating it with a laptop stand or a cooling pad as this often helps avoid overheating issues.
  • Don't immediately update your Mac to the latest macOS version (which is 10.14 Mojave). Let the early birds test out first, choose to update when you feel the timing is right.
  • Don't blame your Mac when it's slow. Figure out the reason first and fix it right away. You never know when a small issue can evolve into a serious one.

Do You Have Any Questions?

Are the information and techniques we've shared above helpful?

Did you manage to tune up your computer a little bit? If so, we'd appreciate it if you could share this article.

Also, feel free to contact us if you have any questions.

Full Disclosure

We are just normal loyal Mac fans like you. We don't claim ourselves to be Mac experts, nor have we 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 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 (if not all) of the earnings will be used to maintain this site. Nonetheless, we recommend them because we use the tools with our Mac machines and find them truly great. Make sure you only use what works for your issue, and don't over-spend on things you don't need.