Before we get started
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Does you Mac still boot up as quickly as the day you bought it? Over time, most computers have a tendency to start more slowly as they become clogged up with applications that install various startup processes and more disk space is used up, which over time leads to a deterioration in system performance. If your Mac is decidedly lethargic when starting up, it’s a good idea to perform a few simple checks to make sure it stays in tip-top condition.
Most people find that in general Macs boot up much more quickly than PC’s, but there are still a few things that you can do to make booting up as painless and fast as possible. Unlike PC’s, bothersome tasks such as performing disk defragmentation are unnecessary on a Mac, as this process is performed automatically by Mac OS.
1. Upgrade to an SSD or Faster Hard Disk
A Solid State Storage (SSD) disk will massively improve your startup times, because your Mac can read files and data from the disk much more quickly compared with a traditional magnetic disk. The random access time for an SSD is typically around 0.1 milliseconds, whereas for a hard drive it’s 5-10 milliseconds because the disk has to physically spin to locate the data. The MacBook Air already comes equipped with a fast SSD and boasts one of the fastest boot times of any modern computer. SSD disks aren’t cheap, but they are certainly a good investment to improve you Mac’s overall performance.
An alternative and cheaper option is to upgrade your Mac’s default hard disk (likely a 5,400 rpm model) to a much faster 7,200 rpm unit, which allows your computer to load applications and the operating system more quickly. A hard disk upgrade isn’t a particularly easy task for novice users, but it will lead to a noticeable speed increase when starting and during daily use.
2. Remove Unwanted Startup Items and Fonts
Besides login items which run when every time you login to your Mac, there are system wide startup applications and daemons which run when the system boots (before you actually login). These items can be found in the folder /Macintosh HD/Library/StartupItems/
This folder is usually hidden so the best way to view it is to use SHIFT + COMMAND + G from Finder and just type in the path above. Move any of the items which you feel are unnecessary or might be causing problems out of this folder, reboot and check to see whether the startup time has improved. Remember not to delete them in case you need to copy them back later on and, are absolutely sure they are not critical applications.
Another option which can improve startup time is to remove problematic or unnecessary fonts that may be installed on your Mac.
- Open Font Book from the Applications folder or using Spotlight
- Highlight any extraneous or problematic fonts
- Right-click and select Remove <font> or Remove <font> Family
However, be very careful not to remove essential system fonts because menus and other items may not display properly.
3. Remove Unwanted Login Items
One of the simplest ways to get to your desktop more quickly is to remove applications and processes which automatically start when you login. While removing these items may not decrease the actual start up time, you’ll see your desktop more quickly once you’ve logged in as normal.
It’s worth creating a copy of the login items preferences file first, which is at ~/Library/Preference/loginwindow.plist. The reason is that if you subsequently want to re-add any of the items, simply copy the original loginwindow.plist file back into its original folder.
To prevent login items from running, follow the steps below.
- Open System Preferences and select Users & Groups
- Click on your user name in the left hand window pane and the Login Items button on the right hand side
- Remove any items (such as iTunesHelper) from the list using the – button to prevent them from running
If you have lots of applications in the list, removing them from the Login Items list should speed up your Mac considerably.
You can also prevent any application in the Dock from running at login as follows.
- Right-click on the application icon in the Dock
- Expand the Options menu and uncheck Open at Login
4. Use Automatic Login and Disable Reopen Windows
In Mac OS X, the default behaviour is to show the login screen when the computer has booted up. This can be quite useful, but if there’s only one user it presents yet another step in the process of booting up before you get to the desktop. To skip the login screen and login automatically as any of the users on the system:
- Open System Preferences and choose Users & Groups
- Click Login Options on the left hand side
- Choose the user account to automatically login from the drop-down box labelled Automatic login
When you’ve set automatic login your Mac will boot up and show the desktop automatically. One of the nice options in Mac OS X Lion is the ability to reopen any windows that you had open when logging back in. While this is a useful feature, it also slows the whole process down. To turn it off, the easiest method is to uncheck Reopen windows when logging back in which appears on the shutdown window.
5. Disconnect Unused Peripherals
Many people leave their peripherals plugged into their Mac even when not used for weeks. Third party items such as scanners and printers have been known to cause slow startup times, especially if they are not working properly or check for updates when the computer is turned on. Disconnect any device that you don’t intend to use immediately and connect later on when needed.
You could also try disabling network volume auto mounts. This basically means that when your computer starts it won’t automatically try to recognise network disks, which might help to improve your overall startup time.
6. Use Disk Utility to Verify Your Hard Disk
Occasionally, errors on your Mac’s disk can lead to problems with its general operation which can also adversely affect startup times. Fortunately, it’s possible to check the disk and fix any errors encountered using Disk Utility as follows.
- Open Disk Utility from Spotlight or within the Applications / Utilities folder
- Select your Macintosh HD in the left hand column
- In the right hand window pane, click Verify Disk. Mac OS checks the volume for errors and displays a short report. Any problems can usually be fixed using the Repair Disk option
This suggestion will only improve start up times if there is a disk problem, but it’s worth checking occasionally to make sure your hard drive is in good health.
7. Periodically Check System Health
It’s a good idea to check your Mac’s overall health occasionally to identify any persistent problems that may be impacting boot up times.
- From the Apple Menu choose About This Mac
- Click on the More Info button
- Choose System Report to list your Mac hardware. From here, it’s possible to see the status and properties of all the installed components, potentially highlighting any areas that might be a cause for concern
It’s essential to keep your Mac up to date with the latest system updates, as Apple issues regular fixes for common problems that might also be related to a slow startup time.
8. Use Sleep Mode Rather Than Reboot
Many PC to Mac converts don’t realise that sleep mode is actually much better (and faster) than sleep mode on a PC – when it resumes, your computer will be in exactly the same state as you left it. To completely avoid restarting in the first place, it’s a good habit to get into to simply close the lid of your Mac (or press the power button) and enter sleep mode, rather than shutting down. Many Mac users go for weeks without ever restarting their system, until a system update or application install requires a full reboot.
9. Add More Memory
If you only have an extremely small amount of memory installed, then adding more to your Mac can help it to start more quickly, plus it will feel much more responsive overall. For users with a decent amount of memory already, adding more won’t do much to help your start up time, but your Mac will thank you for it anyway.
10. Recover Hard Disk Space
When your Macintosh HD is really full things tend to slow down significantly. Deleting old files and unnecessary items such as unused language packs can help you reclaim disk space and let you boot more quickly. Furthermore, your system will generally run more smoothly.
You can check your hard disk capacity in use for different file types in the Storage tab in About This Mac (the first item on the Apple menu), under More Info.