What is Siri doing so slowly?

My Mac is slow - I can do that

Christian Rentrop

When the system just crawls and the beach ball of death keeps spinning, it often seems like a new Mac is due. However, this is not true: most of the time, it is just the system that is clogged. We'll show you how to get it clean again.

Enlarge(Almost) every Mac can get faster
© Who is Danny / shutterstock.com

You hear about the new speed records of the M1 Macs and you are almost tempted to buy a Mac Mini M1 for the desktop or a MacBook Pro 13 ''. However: The next Macs with Apple Silicon are already in the making, the first iMac with the new chip and Macbooks Pro will probably come in a new design this year.

The temptation is great, because the iMac from autumn 2015 is only agonizingly sluggish: it is an eternity between switching it on and registering. Otherwise, the system seems somehow tough: programs only start with a delay and this damn water ball is constantly spinning at the position of the mouse pointer - an unmistakable sign that hardware is too slow.

The iMac from 2015, on which at least the current operating system macOS 11 Big Sur can be installed, is just one example: Owners of older systems in particular gradually experience a slowdown under macOS and the feeling that the box has really been replaced must become. But that doesn't have to be the case: with a little work, an old Mac can still be used for a few more years - without any time-consuming upgrade measures! Because the fault is more a trashed system than poor hardware performance.

Tip: Speed ​​up your Mac with CleanMyMac X.

Bring old Mac back to life

Of course, the days when a 2015 iMac was a rocket are long gone. But it is also much too good to throw away. After all, according to the Geekbench benchmarking tool, this model isn't much slower than a 2020 iMac in terms of processing power - at least in terms of single-core performance.

EnlargeAfter five and a half years, it is far from ready for scrap iron

Compared to the Mac Mini M1, it is considerably lame, but the performance of the five and a half year old machine is completely sufficient for today's demands. This means that it is basically still fully suitable for current office and internet tasks - you just have to get it back on the road. And that is quite possible with little investment of time and money. The "beach ball of death" has largely disappeared afterwards. The following measures are of course also possible with Mac Pro and Macbook Pro as well as Mac Mini or Macbook Air - and of course with all current models that have it here and there.

First: take stock

Before you start making your old Mac faster, however, there needs to be time to take stock: What kind of Mac do you have - and how is it equipped? Click the apple icon in the top left and choose About This Mac. Here you not only see the model, but also the memory configuration and the processor type. The desktop Mac is at least from 2014, a Macbook Pro or Macbook Air from 2013 or later? Then you can even install macOS 11 Big Sur! However, the main memory is important - for devices with a classic hard drive, it should be 8 gigabytes or more. Devices with a fast Apple SSD such as the Macbook Air even get by with 4 gigabytes for reliable operation. The Macbook Pro from 2016ff have such fast SSDs that you hardly have to compromise in the basic configuration with 8 GB of RAM.

Should I install the latest macOS on my old Mac?

If this minimum requirement is met, there is nothing against giving the old Mac the latest macOS version first - in February 2021, macOS 11.2.2 will be Big Sur. That already brings a decent performance boost. Because unlike Windows, macOS is not that bad in terms of resource consumption: even old Macs can run with the latest version without any problems. At the same time, the upgrade ensures that all drivers and other system functions are up to date. Important: Before upgrading, make a full Time Machine backup on an external hard drive and then put it in a drawer. This ensures that you can go back to your current macOS version at any time if necessary! Then simply download and install the current macOS from the Mac App Store.

Danger!

Before upgrading to a newer operating system version, check whether your essential software is still running. Especially old programs like MS Office or Photoshop can be problematic in a major system upgrade over several macOS versions. If necessary, ask the manufacturer about this!

Make macOS faster: clean out Autostart

If the Mac is up to date, the real acceleration can begin. Because macOS is by no means as problem-free as Apple likes to suggest. Legacy software in particular can bring the system to its knees massively. Here it is mainly autostart objects and other old software that make the system unnecessarily slow. It therefore makes sense to first look through all the standard folders for such autostart lenses. The first look should lead to the system settings:

  • Click here on "Users & Groups".

  • Select your current user.

  • Click on the "Login Items" tab.

  • Only what you really need should appear here, i.e. nothing besides the iTunes helper. There are often countless old entries here on old Macs. Very bad: those with a small yellow triangle behind them.

  • Select the autostart objects that are no longer required and press the minus sign.

That should bring a big speed bonus when starting the system and during operation, but of course it is only a first step in the optimization measures to be carried out.

Identify system brakes with KnockKnock

Next, you should install a little free tool on your Mac: Objective-See's KnockKnock. The software is an analysis tool that helps to detect system brakes - and you can neither use it on a current nor on an old Mac!

EnlargeKnockKnock finds autostart objects that are hidden deeper in the system
  • Download the tool.

  • Unzip the ZIP by double-clicking it, unless Safari has already done this.

  • Copy the app into the Applications folder.

  • Then start KnockKnock from the Applications folder.

  • Click on “Scan” to find system brakes.

  • If necessary, KnockKnock asks you to enter the administrator password: Enter this and click on "Always allow".

EnlargeKnockKnock needs the administrator password so that the base system can also be searched

Delete system brakes

After the scan, KnockKnock shows you all the system files that are loaded at startup and thus load the system. The entry "Kernel Extensions" and "Launch Items" are very important here. Here you will often find numerous entries from long deleted or forgotten programs. Conveniently, KnockKnock also shows the path to the program to which the entry belongs in the “Launch Items” - the second “Autostart” folder of macOS. This allows you to identify the launch items relatively easily. With the kernel extensions this is not that easy - however, they often have descriptive names. With a click on the eye labeled "Show" you can open a Finder window and simply delete the extension or the launch item.

Danger!

Under no circumstances should you blindly muck out everything here! Some extensions are an integral part of the operating system! Only delete what you can clearly identify. It may help to google the name of the KEXT or the launch item.

Clean up the hard drive

In the next step, you should take a look at your hard drive usage: If the Mac drive is very full, there is only little space left for accelerating functions such as virtual memory and system caches. As a rule of thumb, around 15-20 percent of the Mac hard drive should remain free so that the operating system can expand here as it sees fit. Space can quickly become tight, especially on older Macbooks with SSD. In such a case, you can delete old media such as films and music or move them to an external drive - such as a very compact USB stick. These drives are now large enough to hold an entire photo or music library: Simply move the respective library to the external drive and then open Photos or iTunes / Music while holding down the (Option) key to find the new storage location to select. You can then delete the original from the hard disk.

Clean up Mac with CleanMyMac X

Switch off network services that are no longer required

What also brings back a bit of performance is the deactivation of unnecessary network system services. Depending on how your Mac was set up so far, many of them may be unnecessarily active:

  • Open the system settings.

  • Select “Shares”.

  • Switch off all services here that you no longer need.

With fewer network services active, the Mac is effectively less stressed. Of course, you should leave the services you want to use activated.

Deactivate calculation of folder sizes

And a little speed tip: Open a Finder window and select "View -> Show display options". If there is one, remove the check mark next to “Calculate all sizes”: In this way, the Finder no longer has to work as much when you open a Finder window. This option does not change anything in terms of comfort.

EnlargeThe calculation of the folder sizes in the Finder is a real CPU hog. Turn them off.

Reduce transparency

Old Macs in particular often have very weak graphics cards - so it can be of some use to reduce the graphics effects to a minimum. To do this, first open the system settings and select "Accessibility". Under “Display” you will find the option “Reduce transparency”. Due to the lower demands on the graphic effects, the basic system load is reduced, and the option also counteracts juddering of the system surface.

EnlargeReducing the transparency helps especially on old Macs

Check widgets

You should also take a look at the “Extensions” entry in the system settings: Under “Today” you will find all the automatic notification functions of the message center. Remove as many hooks as possible here.

EnlargeWidgets are active in the background and thus burden the system. Turn them off.

In macOS 11 Big Sur, the Notification Center has its own system setting. To reduce the number of messages on the screen, you have to go through each one one by one and move the slider from green to white.

Turn off Siri

Then it makes sense to switch off Siri by deactivating the check mark "Ask Siri" under "System settings> Siri". Warning: Siri does not exist on many older Macs, it has only been in the system since macOS 10.12 Sierra.

EnlargeIf Siri is running on the Mac and you don't need the lady, you should switch her off) (BU:)

Restrict Time Machine and Spotlight

Last but not least, you should "tune" two more options: First of all, it makes sense to limit Spotlight a little. For example, the service does not necessarily have to search a Time Machine backup hard drive: Open "System Preferences> Spotlight" and under "Privacy" define folders and drives in which Spotlight should not search. In addition, you can also remove ticks in the "Search results" tab for searches that you do not need, such as "Developer" or "Fonts" - this speeds up the search considerably.

Delete old programs

If you still feel like it, you can now tidy up a little further: Delete old programs, however, not by simply moving them to the trash, but with the free AppCleaner software: Instead of dragging the app to the trash, drag the app into the AppCleaner window . The tool then searches for all associated installation files scattered in the system and deletes them at the same time. Documents that were created with the apps are of course not affected by this procedure.

EnlargeDelete apps you no longer need with AppCleaner.

Do not shut down the system anymore

Finally, a small workflow speed tip: Macs with classic hard drives in particular need a lot of time to boot and swap out virtual memory and create cache files. After a restart, however, parts of these acceleration files are deleted again and have to be recreated, which means that the Mac is particularly lame at the beginning after the restart. Macs with rotating hard drives should therefore only be switched off if they are not used for a long period of time, for example for vacation. Otherwise, leave your Mac running and just put it to sleep using the Apple> Hibernation menu. The power consumption in this mode is minimal, but you save yourself the annoying time for starting up and shutting down and the first few minutes until the virtual memory is sensibly built up and all programs are in the RAM.

Conclusion: New fire in old ovens

That's it: The old (or current) Mac should work much faster again - and is equipped for current applications, even if it is a few years old like the example system from the beginning. Of course, newer Macs also benefit from this treatment, so the bottom line is that you can look forward to a significantly faster system, even if the Mac is very old. The above measures kindle a new fire in old pots - and in case of doubt save the purchase of a new, expensive second computer.

EnlargeRAM is not expensive - but it doesn't always help.

Super speed upgrade: upgrade RAM and SSD

If you are using an even older model than the one in our example, you can think about a small upgrade. Because it initially brings a significant increase in speed for little money.Most grateful are the Macbooks from model years up to 2012: These allow the easy exchange of hard drive and RAM. But even the Mac Mini up to 2012 can easily be retrofitted with an SSD, up to and including Mac Mini 2018 at least the RAM can be upgraded.

Other models such as the iMac are limited to RAM upgrades without major operations, only the 2015 and 2017 models of the iMac 21.5 "are problematic here. For Macbook Pros after 2012, Mac Mini from 2014 and Macbook Air, speed-relevant hardware upgrades are unfortunately not possible. RAM is still one of the most important speed factors: A double pack of 4 gigabyte bars is available for older iMacs, Macbooks and Mac Minis for little money from providers such as Mac-Speicher-Shop.de or even cheaper on Ebay. With the M1 architecture, the topic of RAM has been completely dealt with, here a shared memory for CPU and GPU cores is an integral part of the System-on-a-Chip (SoC).