This article shows you various free and quite simple ways you can make your mac run faster as well as some other alternatives which help speed it all up to make it feel like brand new again.

Upgrade to Mavericks (free) (note Yosemite is out now and is also free)

Upgrading to Mavericks is free from Apple and provides numerous extra features over earlier versions of OSX and many performance improvements – in particular things like App Nap, which essentially puts supported background applications to sleep while they’re not being used – reducing power requirements and speeding up the applications you are currently using. Mavericks is available on the Apple Store and unless you have some software package that isn’t supported, is highly recommended.

Check Your Hard Drive and Permissions (free)

Incorrect permissions and unreadable blocks will slow down your Mac. Fix it with Disk Utility

If you want to know how to make your Mac run faster by freeing up space on the hard drive, just give it a try. Try deleting programs and documents that you no longer need and see if your Mac runs faster than it did. Ideally you should always keep as least one third of your drive free so that your computer will work optimally. This is due to the Mac using a section of the hard drive as a virtual memory or swap partition for memory usage (see adding RAM above). This is especially important when viewing large media files.

Another tip to speed up your Mac is to check and fix your Mac’s internal hard disk preferences at least once per month. Launch Apple Disk Utility (Under Application/Utilities) and select your internal hard drive and then click on Repair Disk and/or Repair Permissions. The repair will take between ten and twenty minutes depending on the size and speed of the drive. Repairing the disk can make a significant speed difference if there are errors on the drive that OSX is having to work around regularly.

Remove un-necessary Programs (free)

The wastebasket takes up space you could use for proper stuff

The next step is to remove programs from the Mac login items that are not needed at startup. Navigate to Log in Items and see what is on the startup list. If you see unnecessary start up programs listed click on the item and then click the minus button that is located below the list. If you are not sure what a program is, do a quick Google search to see what the program does before you remove it from the start up list.

Dashboard Widgets that are unnecessary should be removed since they consume critical processor and memory resources even when you are not using them. Widgets that update information through the Internet use a lot of RAM and resources since they are performing updates constantly, even when you do not have the Dashboard activated. Widgets however have been removed in Mavericks, so this option won’t help you if you’re already on Mavericks.

If you’re not wanting to manually go through all your programs and data to see what is a good candidate for removal, it could be worth checking out something like Clean My Mac 2 by MacPaw – our review is here. Applications such as Clean My Mac will go through and remove any stored metadata and preferences files too so can sometimes clean up stuff that’s been laying around for ages that’s no longer in use.

MacPaw aren’t the only ones who write cleanup programs – there’s also EaseUS and Detox My Mac (which was recommended by an independent comment on this article) which are also worth a look.

Make Sure Your Cooling Is Up To Scratch (semi-cheap)

A well cooled Mac will run a lot faster

Apple MacBook, MacBook Pro and iMac all have fans that assist with removing the heat from the processor and graphics cards. Apple seems to run these fans quite slowly, perhaps not wanting to shorten their life spans and perhaps not wanting to drag more dust into the system chassis than is absolutely necessary. However, a bit of preventative maintenance, such as using a specialist compressed air-can from the likes of Staples or OfficeWorks to blow excess dust from the cooling fans can help keep this part of the system running nicely. This might seem like an odd suggestion, but modern OSX and Intel processors have systems built in that protect the hardware if overheating is an issue. Rather than just shutdown the computer when it gets too hot, modern systems will gradually throttle back the processor speed in order to generate less heat. This of course is great for making sure you don’t cook your hardware, but not so great for a fast computer. Keeping the fans clean, and/or installing something like Macs Fan Control can help the system run cooler and therefore keep the processor running at full speed. I’ve been using Macs Fan Control for 4 years with quite aggressive cooling and never lost a fan yet – although if I do, I’d rather spend the $20 or so to pick up new MacBook fans than I would risk early processor failure due to too much heat. This is a good suggestion if you’re working your computer hard with 3D games such as EvE Online or similar too.

Add extra RAM (not cheap)

Adding RAM can significantly speed up your Mac

RAM is your computers short term memory. When you run a program, the instructions the computer executes to make that program work are loaded from the (slow) hard disk into (very fast) RAM. From RAM, the computer can execute these instructions (millions of them) to perform the operations that you’re expecting. Everything your computer does, it must do from RAM – everything. If you’ve got lots of programs open (such as Safari, Microsoft Word/Excel, Apple Mail and an Adobe Creative Suite product for example) the computer may not have enough RAM to hold the instructions for these programs all at once. If this happens the computer will temporarily store those instructions (and state about what’s happening within the program) back onto disk. But the computer can’t actually use those instructions from there, and so when you switch programs back to a different application, the instructions must be reloaded into RAM. This is slow and will cause your computer to run slowly. Adding more RAM means you can run programs at a time before the instructions have to be ‘swapped’ to disk, speeding up your mac considerably. Although it’s not cheap, if your Mac doesn’t have sufficient RAM then this can be one of the biggest factors that will get your Mac back to feeling like new.

These days a minimum of 4G of RAM is recommended, and 8G is probably optimal. Apple RAM is available on eBay usually at a reasonable price.

Add an SSD Drive (not cheap)

SSD drives are MUCH faster than standard magnetic drives

This step will make a blistering difference to the speed of your Mac (unless you have a recent MacBook Air or other Mac model that already came with an SSD). But it’s not a cheap option. SSD Drives start at around $75 on eBay for 120 Gigabytes of storage. But, if you look at the comparisons available on YouTube for bootup times for example, the difference is stark. Starting up large applications such as Firefox/Safari/Google Chrome will benefit from an SSD too. Why is this? Standard drives rely on moving parts to get to your data – SSD drives have no moving parts and are all electrical. Thus, no moving parts means quicker access times. SSD generates less heat and are quite a bit lighter too, which is a secondary advantage. Modern SSDs are quite likely to outlast a standard drive before failing – but historically they tended to wear out quicker than standard drives. We’d always recommend keeping separate backups anyway.

If you’re doing design work with Adobe Creative Suite or any kind of video editing, adding an SSD will make a big difference to the performance of your Mac and is highly recommended if you can afford it. It’ll be a lot cheaper than buying a new Mac, but remember to buy one with a big enough capacity. You can always add an SSD alongside your existing drive (although doing so will mean you probably need to remove your optical drive) to have fast access for programs and operating system and slower access for all those large video and music files in your home directory.

Amazon also sell SSD drives at a really respectable price, and sizes range (at time of writing) from 120-500 Gigabytes (the 500GB drive could quite possibly be even bigger than the drive your Mac originally shipped with).

Make sure you have enough RAM (see above) before adding an SSD drive – you don’t really want to be swapping to disk as this reduces the lifetime of the SSD, however this one tip can give you the biggest speed boost possible for your Mac.

Additional Information

Some of the suggestions listed here have links to reviews regarding the different software options, check those links for more information about the particular packages.

If you would like to comment on any of the information in this article please do comment below – your feedback is valued