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Home > New Gear > The basic guide for cleaning and optimizing your Mac
The basic guide for cleaning and optimizing your Mac

The basic guide for cleaning and optimizing your Mac

By  Ingrid You 2019-06-20 706 0

If your Mac is slow, you may find yourself with many different symptoms, such as applications that take a long time to start or a slow browser despite a fast Internet connection. At other times, you will hear the fans increase in power to levels that would make your vacuum cleaner jealous. In the worst case, your Mac slows down to a standstill.

Why does my Mac work so slowly

There are several reasons why your Mac has become slow, for example:

● Your Mac or its programs are not up to date.

● You have far too many programs installed, competing for the attention of your Mac.

● Your disk has structural errors or other problems.

● Your Mac's firmware and device controller cause errors.

● The disk fills up and your programs no longer have enough space to "breathe".

● You have too many widgets running.

● Sophisticated animations are enabled on older Macs.

● Hidden processes consume your Mac's processor and RAM.

In this guide, we will review the most common causes of slowdowns and help you correct them.

Technical background

The internal components of a Mac are almost identical to those of modern PCs. And macOS is bound by the same rules as Windows: the more programs you install or the more you reach the limits of your disk space, the more you will experience drastic slowdowns in your daily work. In our tests, this slowdown may even be worse than on equivalent Windows machines.

Let's take a look at what happens when we fill the disk space of a 15-inch MacBook Pro 2016 with touch bar, 2.6 GHz Core i7, 16GB RAM, AMD Radeon 460 PRO, and a 512GB SSD.

Start-up time of a Mac with full disk space (with as little space as possible)

50 GB free disk space: 11 seconds

250 MB free disk space: 39 seconds

Launch of Outlook 2016 for Mac (lowest possible version)

50 GB free disk space: 3 seconds

250 MB free disk space: 8 seconds

Conversion of a 200 MB 4K video file (smallest possible size)

50 GB free disk space: 9 seconds

250 MB free disk space: 32 seconds

These results partly show how even the fastest machines are hampered by low disk space. Each click was accompanied by a delay or error message, which is mainly caused by the macOS virtual memory system and the lack of space in the temporary caches of your applications. Without this space, applications will not work as expected, causing crashes or slowdowns.

But it is also the additional applications or programs that run automatically at startup or in the background that slow things down considerably, even on modern Macs.

Anyway, if you're reading this, there's a good chance your Mac is in danger. That is why we are writing this article today. We'll start by showing you some basic tips for cleaning a Mac before going deeper into some tips for improving speed and battery life.

The basics

Don't forget the updates

To optimize and improve the performance of your Mac, the first thing to do is to check that your MacOS is up to date. Apple always finds a way to improve performance or get rid of bottlenecks that affect your Mac. Anyway, unless your Mac is completely obsolete or no longer supported, the latest updates of macOS tend to make things more fluid.

To check for updates, open the Mac App Store and click on the "Updates" category. Install all available bids.

Delete applications that have been abandoned for a long time

Just like on a PC, the more programs you install, the more tasks that run in the background increase. Get rid of this clutter by going through your list of applications and carefully determining which ones you still need and which ones you no longer need.

You can find the list by going to your desktop menu bar, clicking on "Go" and selecting "Applications".

To uninstall an application, you can either drag it into the Trash or right-click and select "Move to Trash". But this process is not free of defects. Uninstalling applications usually leaves behind cache files, settings or other temporary data that you will learn to delete with one of our own tools (spoiler alert!).

Do not neglect the basic maintenance of your disk

From time to time, your disk needs a classic health check to avoid errors and data loss. If certain problems are detected, it can solve them instantly. But if this is not possible, it is usually a sign that your hard drive is about to give up: it is high time to back up your data!

To perform an analysis, click on "Go" in the menu bar and switch to "Utilities". Then click on "Disk Utility". Select your main hard disk and click on "S.O.S.".

Then you will see a summary of the problems detected. If you see an error, it is time to start a repair:

In our example, macOS has found corrupted elements in the file system, which can only be repaired by going to the recovery environment of your Mac and running "S.O.S." (by holding down the Command + R keys, you switch to recovery mode).

Reset the SMC and PRAM once in a while

MSC? PRAM? Don't let these acronyms impress you.

All Macs have a system management controller (SMC). It is a chip inside your Mac that controls its ports, fans, power button, Wi-Fi, power management and many other physical elements. By using your Mac and many accessories, you can corrupt the SMC.

The parameter RAM (or PRAM) is a small memory chip that contains basic system settings such as touchpad sensitivity, date and time, volume and keyboard backlight. Over time and after many updates, it can also suffer from bugs.

If you encounter strange problems such as blank screens, Wi-Fi problems, fans running at full speed, random shutdowns, slowdowns, USB ports not running, and more (non-exhaustive list), then resetting the SMC and PRAM may well help you.

How to reset the SMC

Resetting the SMC: For MacBooks with a non-removable battery

To reset the SMC, you must completely turn off your Mac. While it is off, hold SHIFT + CONTROL + OPTION on your keyboards (left side) and press the power button. Hold these keys down for 10 seconds (and try not to get cramps). Release the keys and turn on your Mac as usual.

Resetting the SMC: for a MacBook with a removable battery

Turn off your MacBook, remove the power cord, remove the battery and hold the power button down for at least 5 seconds. Then put the battery back in place, plug in your MacBook and turn it on. That's all. That's all.

Reset the SMC: for your Mac desktop

Turn off your Mac, remove the power cord, wait 15 to 20 seconds, plug it back in and turn it on. It couldn't be simpler.

How to reset the PRAM

To reset the PRAM (applies to all machines), you must turn off your Mac and press the power button. Then press COMMAND, OPTION, P and R simultaneously. Keep these keys pressed until your Mac restarts, then release them.

This manipulation should fix many strange Mac problems that you would not otherwise be able to solve.

Clean your Mac from A to Z

Check what really takes up space on your disk

Let's say you've forgotten all the files you have and you want to know what takes up so much disk space. There is an easy way to find out. First, click on the Mac icon in the upper left corner, then click on "Storage". Wait a while until the calculation is complete:

In the example, you can see that a massive library of photos, probably residing in a completely forgotten sub-folder, amounts to almost 17 GB. For a more detailed overview, go to "Manage".

Start with the "Recommendations" category at the top of the list: the tips will help you delete the iTunes movies and shows you've watched, empty the trash and sort the files (which brings you to the file manager mentioned above).

Under the first category, "Applications", you can see which applications take up the most space (and delete them immediately if you don't need them)

Under "Documents", you have an intuitive view of large files and downloads as well as access to the file browser. The latter displays huge folders and allows you to see what is hidden and where.

Then, you can use other files such as "iBooks" to delete books you have read or audio books you have already listened to.

Often, iTunes stores massive iPhone backups, which you can delete because they usually take up several gigabytes of space (but only delete the oldest ones you are sure you don't need!) You can find them in "iOS Files".

Another large folder could be the "Messages" folder: if you use the iMessage application on your Mac, it stores ALL movies, photos and even files like PDFs in a hidden folder. In the case below, it has reached 1.27 GB. (Without lying, it took less than 4 weeks!)

If you (like us) are not the most talented musicians, you can delete the GarageBand sound library under "Music Creation" and free up 2.3 GB on MacOS High Sierra. Finally, enable the iCloud photo library that moves your local library to the cloud, saving you a few extra GB. Note, however, that this only makes sense for iCloud users.

How to clean up cache files under MacOS

You can also perform a basic cleaning of application caches, which are files that applications continue to keep long after they no longer need them. To do this, open "Finder" and click on "Go to folder" in the "Go" menu. Enter the following path: ~/Library/Caches

Now open each individual folder and empty the contents. Do not delete the folders themselves, as this could cause problems with your applications.

Unfortunately, you have to do this regularly, and this cache is just one example of the areas where macOS and your applications store their temporary files. That's why we created Avast Cleanup Pro, which scans your Mac from A to Z for these files and automatically disposes of them for you on your entire hard drive. Our cleaning application gets rid of all the waste you don't need on your MacBook, Mac or iMac.

Examples of things we clean up

● Apple Help: Temporary caches left by Apple's help files.

● Safari user cache: temporary navigation files left by Safari.

● Rental services: temporary files left by macOS localization services.

● Spotify: the remaining data from the Spotify application.

● Photos: unnecessary cache files in the Photos application.

● Log files: these files are generated regularly by macOS and the installed programs when you encounter a problem or simply to establish the protocol for normal operation. For example, macOS records each crash under /Library/Logs/DiagnosticsReport, which can reach hundreds of megabytes. When a program crashes, relevant information is stored in a folder called CrashReporter. These files contain information about your computer, but also some user information and, in some cases, a lot of data about the crash itself. Unless you are a developer, this information is useless and can be safely deleted using Avast Cleanup Pro.

● Basket: the basket of macOS. Since many users forget to empty it, our cleaning tool provides a safe way to delete files for good.

● Downloads: Defined as the default user's download location, the "Downloads" folder can contain long forgotten data or even astronomical amounts of data that the user no longer needs.

● Unwanted development files: Programmers will appreciate the fact that Avast Cleanup Pro removes temporary residual files, such as XCode temporary files.

● Unwanted external hard disk files: MacOS also stores temporary files on external disks when they are connected. We delete them, so that none of your USB drives are cluttered with unnecessary files.

● Duplicate files: from time to time, users or programs accidentally copy (duplicate) files. This can happen if you download multiple copies of the same file, duplicate photos or videos to edit and forget them, or accidentally save files more than once, to name just a few of the possible scenarios. You'd be surprised at the number of duplicates you can find, even on the cleanest Mac.

Accelerate your Mac

Reduce the list of items running at startup

A handful of programs decide that they are important enough to work each time you turn on your Mac, such as Spotify and Skype. They not only increase your Mac's boot time, but also have an impact on overall performance, as these program processes continue to run in the background all the time.

To prevent them from loading, click on the Apple icon in the upper left corner and go to "System Preferences". Then go to the "Users and Groups" category. Take a look at the "Connection Elements" category, because it shows you which applications are launched each time you start your Mac.

In our example, for no good reason, Spotify and Chrome have put themselves under the list of connection elements, and they launch themselves every time you restart your Mac. If you want to launch applications like Spotify only when you need them, uncheck the applications you don't need at startup to enjoy a faster startup and a more efficient, unencumbered computer. Simply click on an entry and delete it with the minus icon.

Disable these annoying widgets (view "Today" + "Dashboard")

Fundamentally, anything that runs in the background, sends notifications or checks for updates can have a minimal or significant impact on performance.

The macOS widgets listed in the notification area are small applications that run in the background and provide, for example, weather information, reminders, calendars, stock updates or playback features for iTunes. Anything you don't need must be disabled.

To disable macOS widgets, click on the notification icon in the upper right corner of your screen, then select "Edit". Click on the red minus sign to delete all the widgets you don't need in your notification bar.

To disable widgets, you must open the "Dashboard" (for example by pressing F12 or the corresponding key) and get rid of the widget via the red "minus" icon.

You can completely disable the Dashboard and save a small amount of additional memory. To do this, go to "System Preferences", then "Mission Control" and set the "Dashboard" to "Off".

Disable sophisticated animations and purely aesthetic elements.

Older Macs with lower graphics chips and processors, especially those purchased before 2010, can be overloaded by macOS' sophisticated zoom and purely aesthetic elements. You will notice this by minimizing or maximizing windows, moving windows or hovering over your application bar. Even if it won't make your old Mac look like new, disabling such animations is still a good idea.

To disable macOS animations, go to "System Preferences" and open the "Accessibility" icon. Under "Display", check "Reduce transparency" and "Reduce movements".

Then return to the "Dock" category. Disable animation magnification and opening applications to further reduce these unnecessary effects.

Find the elements that consume resources

If your Mac is too slow, too hot or too noisy or your battery runs out too fast, the person in charge may be a program that is constantly overusing your Mac's processor, hard drive, network adapters or graphics processor.

To check what is happening, you should check the "Activity Monitor" to see if there is a rebel process. To do this, click on "Go" in the menu bar, then on "Utilities". Take a look at the "Activity Monitor" on your Mac and click on "% CPU" to filter all running processes by percentage of CPU usage.

As you can see above, Safari takes up 22.5% of CPU usage. Looking at the browser, it is clear that the 10 tabs we have opened, plus the few downloads, are at the origin of this high usage. In this case, it is easy to identify the culprit, as it is clearly written "Safari Networking".

But what if a process with a cryptic name appears and you have NO idea what is going on? Well, Google is your friend! Usually, if you use keywords like "Mac PROCESS NAME", you should find pages and forum entries where the process is explained. If you do not need it, leave it by using the X button or uninstall it completely.

Upgrading RAM and hard disk

After all these adjustments and adjustments, you still feel like your Mac is lethargic? Unfortunately, however minimalist the design of Macs may be, upgrading them is not always easy. However, unless you have one of the new MacBook Pros 2016/17 monohull or the slim MacBook, you should be able to improve the memory and hard drive of your device.

When is a RAM upgrade really necessary

If you feel that your Mac is starting to slow down when you only have 3 or 4 browser tabs open and some applications running at the same time, then you can start looking into it. This is especially true if you have less than 4 GB left. In today's browser world where only a few tabs can easily consume 1 to 2 GB of memory, 4 GB of memory is the real minimum. Look at the "Activity Monitor" (mentioned above) to see if you are reaching the memory limit and determine what is consuming all your RAM. A typical upgrade kit (4 to 8 GB) costs about $100 and is relatively easy to install (see guides below).

When is a hard disk upgrade really necessary

Many older Macs still come with mechanical hard drives, which are turntables where bits are stored in individual locations. A read/write head moves on these discs, almost like an old record player, to access files, programs and everything your Mac needs to work.

This technology dates back several decades and is distinguished by its slowness. Today, new SSDs (Solid State Disks) are beginning to replace traditional hard disks. If starting your Mac takes time, opening files also takes time, and you have to wait indefinitely for a program to load, it may be time to change the disk. In most scenarios, even a low-end SSD is 10x faster than an older hard drive. On some older Macs, it is possible to replace the hard disk with a newer component.

For RAM and hard disk upgrades, you should first go to https://www.ifixit.com/Device/Mac and check what types of upgrades are available for your Mac....

The site includes step-by-step upgrade instructions. If you don't want to touch your equipment, let a qualified technician do the work for you. In the case of both RAM and SSD, you will see and feel a significant change.

Conclusion

The most common misconceptions are officially dispelled: yes, Macs become slower, less efficient, and crash. This guide has shown you where to look for patches and how to solve problems related to performance bottlenecks and unwanted files. But keep in mind that as waste accumulates over time, you need to repeat some of these steps from time to time, especially when it comes to cleaning, maintaining and checking the starting elements.

By using our manual method and cleaning tool, you will be able to keep your Mac in good working order for many years to come.

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