Tool of the Week: Boosting Performance in Mac OSX

Most of these performance improvements are super minor, but when my system is pegged out with a hefty image processing job or particle tracking model: every little bit helps.  These are especially useful if Matlab is running slow! Also, apparently saving 5% of CPU power can increase battery life by 20-30 mins.  Here are 10 ways to boost your system performance!

In the 3 years i've owned my laptop, i never have done the permissions/disc verification!

1) Verify Permissions / Verify Disk
If you open up the Disc Utility (in the Utilities folder under applications) there are options to verify permissions and verify disc.  I was shocked by the amount of errors I had here.  Fixing this on a regular basis should boost performance.

2) Run UNIX maintenance scripts

OSX is built on UNIX which has a built in daily, weekly and monthly maintenance scripts.  However, if you're computer is off or sleeping during the scheduled maintenance time (usually 3-5 AM), these scripts will get missed.  You can see when the scripts last ran by running the following command in the terminal:

ls -al /var/log/*.out

If it's been a while, run the scripts manually using

sudo periodic daily weekly monthly


3) Clean Up your Desktop
On startup each icon on your desktop has be loaded. If your desktop is full of screen shots and images, like mine, this can slow down your system.

4) Disable Animations
When opening a new windows, OSX Lion animates the new window opening. To skip this animation, and have windows open instantly, open the terminal and use the command:

defaults write NSGlobalDomain NSAutomaticWindowAnimationsEnabled -bool NO

You can also turn off the animation when you open a new application (vs a new window) by right clicking the dock and un-checking the appropriate box. Here also: using the "Scale effect" rather than the "Genie effect" is apparently slightly less intensive.

This used to be a lot fuller, but I cleaned it up to boos performance

5) See what applicaitons are launching on startup
The users menu under System Preferences has a tab containing "login items", all of these will open on startup and use memory while your computer is operating.  Some of these you might want to launch when you boot up your computer, but others, you might choose to launch on an as-needed basis.

6) Get Rid of Dashboard Widgets
Dashboard widgets are fun, yes. But useful? Usually not so much. Getting rid of dashboard widgets can free up a lot of system resources, and let's face it: You can usually find snow reports, current news, and dictionaries from an app on your phone or by visiting a website.

Want to get rid of the dashboard all together? Open the terminal and run this command:

defaults write mcx-disabled -boolean YES

then kill the currently running dashboard using

killall Dock

(Don't worry, the Dock will re-launch itself in a few seconds)
7) Close Tabs!
This is a no-brainer, but I'm the worst about leaving LOTS of windows open on my mac.  Each uses memory, so cleaning up and closing down unused tabs and quitting unused applications will free up lots of memory!

I'm bad about leaving tabs open!

To make informed decisions about what programs are using lots vs little memory, open up the Activity monitor, and sort applications by "Real Memory." Applications showing up using lots of real memory are worth closing, but this can be mis-leading. Some applications (like google chrome) break their processes into multiple parts. In google chrome, each tab occurs as a separate process in the Activity Monitor.

8) Free Up Hard-drive space!
If your system drive is full, it'll make your computer run noticeably slower. Deleting unused files and moving rarely used files to external drives is a great way to improve your system performance. Need help figuring out what files to get rid of? Try Disc Inventory X, a free ultilitiy to help you visualize what's taking space on your hard drive.

9) Restart
If you're like me, you normally don't shut down your computer very often.  I've read a couple forums and the jury seems to be out about which is actually better for your computer: Putting to sleep or shutting down.  Some say sleeping is easier on your hard disc then shutting down, but i'm not sure if that's true.  Still, shutting down clears the RAM, so it's not a bad idea to restart your computer at least once a month or more if it's running sluggishly.

10) Upgrades (RAM and SSD)
While these will marginally improve performance when your computer is operating at maximum capacity, they won't increase your overall computing capacity.  This post is about making the most of what you have... However; adding RAM and switching to a faster hard drive (A solid state hard drive) will drastically increase your computer's abilities.  But before you go to more ram, run an intensive process and open the Activity Monitor.  Under the "System Memory" tab look at the "Page Outs."  This is how much Virtual Memory (Using the hard drive as memory because the RAM is full) you're using and give you some idea of what your needs are.    Also note that using a solid state drive will result in faster Page Ins/Page Outs.

11) Disable Unused Features

Don't have an airport?  The Airport utility runs on start up, but if you don't have one, you can turn off the AirPort Base Station Agent by going to Applications/Utilities/Airport Utility.  Go the preferences menu and uncheck all the boxes.