17 Ways to Speed Up Mac OS X Lion

Just like people Macs are prone to slowing down the older they get, but after recently upgrading to OS X Lion some users are protesting their machines have aged before their time.

Since the release of Lion back in July its been subject to a number of criticisms, while some of these may not be justified, it is difficult to ignore the growing chorus of reports of performance issues after upgrading.

It is of course possible that Apple will fix some of these issues in a future update, however until then many users will search for ways to boost the performance of their machines. After researching and testing a wide range of suggestions and fixes I have compiled a list of what I think are the 17 best ways to speed up your Mac running Lion.

1. Meet the minimum requirements

It sounds obvious but check your system meets Lions minimum requirements. Lion requires a minimum of 2GB of RAM and a Mac with one of the following processors: Intel Core 2 Duo, Core i3, Core i5, Core i7, or Xeon processor.  2GB of memory should be considered the absolute minimum, many people are finding that for Lion to roar you will need at least 4GB.

2. Clean install

The majority of “upgraders” to Lion did so using the Mac App store which doesn’t provide the facility to do a clean install.  If you are experiencing serious issues with Lion its highly recommended you try this step.

To do a clean install of OS X Lion you will need to create (or buy) a bootable USB stick or DVD, see our step by step guide: How To Create a Bootable Version of Mac OS X Lion.

3. Repair Disk Permissions

The usefulness of repairing disk permissions on the Mac has long been the subject of debate. It is often wrongly heralded as the solution to a wide variety of performance problems. However recently many people have reported that after upgrading to Lion repairing disk permissions cured a host of issues.

Open Disk Utility in the Utilities Folder, select your startup disk then click Repair Disk Permissions.

It may be preferable to run Disk Utility in Recovery mode, Restart your Mac while holding the option key, then select Recovery HD and click the arrow. Select Disk Utility and repeat the above steps.

4. Check Running Processes

You may be running an application that isn’t optimised for Lion and causing your system issues. You can see what apps and processes are running on you Mac and their memory usage using Activity Monitor.

You can find Activity monitor in your Utilities folder, fire it up to see which processess are using your systems resources. You can force quit individual processes by selecting them and clicking the “Quit Process” button.  Before you start quitting processes check out this great list of common OS X processes.

5. Disable Auto-Resume

One improvements brought to OS X with Lion is Auto Resume, a feature borrowed from iOS which enables applications to save their states automatically. This feature applies to all applications and the finder itself, while definitely welcome addition to the OS there is no doubt that on older machines could suffer from the extra burden.

To disable open System Preferences and click “General” uncheck the “Restore windows when quitting and restoring apps” option.

You can also use this keyboard shortcut to quit an app and discard its windows:  ⌥⌘Q  (alt + command + Q)

6. Check application compatibility

Many users performance issues stem from software or utilities that are out of date or haven’t been optimised for Lion. Check that your apps are compatible using this handy App Compatibility Table.

7. Disable browser extensions

For many web browsers are the most resource hungry applications they use. Aside from the obvious tips like clearing the cache and closing unused tabs, extension have been reported as causing slow downs with Lion (AdBlock in Safari being the cause of one commenters pain). Try disabling them to see if they are the thorn in your Lions paw.

To disable extensions in Safari: Launch Safari, open “Preferences” under the main “Safari” menu then choose “Extensions”. Select the extension in the left hand column that you wish to disable then click the Uninstall button in the main window.

To disable extensions in Chrome: Launch Chrome, open “Extensions” under the “Window” menu. Uncheck “enabled” beside the extensions you want to disable.

To disable extensions in Firefox: Launch Firefox, open “Add-ons” under the “Tools” menu. Choose “Extensions” in the left hand column.

8. Stay Organised

With the introduction of full screen apps and Mission Control in Lion, its easier than ever for your mac to get bogged down with unused spaces, windows and apps.  Stay organised and streamlined by closing unused applications, windows and spaces.

To close/combine spaces launch Mission Control and hover the cursor over a desktop at the top of the screen, after a slight delay a close icon will appear.

9. Turn off unnecessary Login items

Login items can be handy but they do effect boot up times and often costume resources while unused. This can become even more of a problem if you have Auto resume enabled.

To turn off Login items. open System Preferences, click “Users & Groups” then choose the “Login items” tab.  Simply select the apps you no longer want to open on login and remove them with the “minus” (-) button.

10. Force Spotlight to Re-index

Spotlight automatically indexes the contents of your Mac in the early hours each morning. But if you turn your Mac off at night Spotlight may not have had a chance to reindex. While unlikely to cause major  performance problems it could cause unresponsiveness and issues while using spotlight.

To force Spotlight to reindex, open System Preferences, click “Spotlight” then choose the “Privacy” tab. Click the “+” icon and choose the volume you want to reindex. After a few minutes remove the volume using the “-” icon. Spotlight will reindex the volume.

11. RAM

The role of Ram in system performance really cannot be overstated. If your Mac is upgradable and you can afford it increasing your Ram is the single biggest thing you can do to speed up Lion. It doesn’t cost the earth either: for a 2011 iMac you can get a 8GB Kit (4GBx2) for less than fifty bucks.

12. Reclaim Hard Disk Space

When your Hard Drive gets close to its capacity (in excess of 90% full) system performance can dip considerably. OS X cleverly uses your Hard Disk as Virtual memory it can use in addition to your actual Ram. A full hard disk and insufficient Ram is the recipe for an extremely lethargic Mac. But before you start ruthlessly culling your music library of Barry Manilow and ABBA albums you could try a few of the space saving tips below.

Remove the unnecessary language files and resources bundled with OS X by downloading Monolingual. This should recover up to half a gigabyte of disk space.

13. Upgrade to an SSD

Anyone familiar with using one of the latest generation of Macbook Airs will attest to the massive speed benefits of SSDs. Despite the constraints of the Airs limited Ram and Processor it still achieves blistering start up times of under 15 seconds. SSDs improve system performance radically because data can be retrieved much faster than from traditional hard disks

SSDs are available as an extra on most new Macs but if you are willing to get you hands dirty and void your warranty you may be able to upgrade you old Mac.

14. Preferences

Preference files can become corrupt and can cause programs to crash or run slowly. Deleting these files will cause them to be recreated once the application they are associated with is relaunched.

Preference files are located here : Macintosh HD / Library / Preferences.

To remove or disable unused System Preference Panes which can also be detrimental to system performance see: How To Remove System Preference Panes in Mac OS X.

15. Caches, log files & temporary items

Regularly clear out built up caches and log files to save disk space and keep your system lean.

16. Eye Candy

OS X has always had more than its fair share of animations and lighting effects.  However Lion takes this to a new level incorporating iOS style effects and skeuomorphic UI Textures.

While its certainly arguable that the performance increase gained from removing Lions animations is slight, the time saved from these effects “playing out” adds up  and makes your Mac feel more responsive.

Disable window animations in the terminal by typing:
defaults write NSGlobalDomain NSAutomaticWindowAnimationsEnabled -bool NO
Press Enter then relaunch the Finder with the Force Quit Applications function (press cmd+alt+esc). To enable again repeat but replace the NO at the end of the terminal command with YES

Disable Mail reply animations in the terminal by typing:
defaults write com.apple.Mail DisableReplyAnimations -bool YES
Press Enter and relaunch Mail. To enable again repeat but replace the NO at the end of the terminal command with YES

Disable the switching Spaces animation in the terminal by typing:
defaults write com.apple.dock workspaces-swoosh-animation-off -bool YES && killall Dock

To enable again, type the following:
defaults delete com.apple.dock workspaces-swoosh-animation-off && killall Dock

17. TinkerTool

If you are not comfortable playing around in the Terminal then I suggest you check out TinkerTool. TinkerTool has a simple interface that allows you to easily tweak system settings by just checking or unchecking boxes, rather than entering lengthy terminal commands.

TinkerTools gives you access to a wide array of extra preferences that have been built into OS X. You can use Tinkertool to simply turn off Animations for opening apps and files, deactivate the Dashboard and turn off font smoothing and Dock transparencies.

Before you go

After spending over 20 years working with Macs, both old and new, theres a tool I think would be useful to every Mac owner who is experiencing performance issues.

CleanMyMac is highest rated all-round cleaning app for the Mac, it can quickly diagnose and solve a whole plethora of common (but sometimes tedious to fix) issues at the click of a button. It also just happens to resolve many of the issues covered in the speed up section of this site, so Download CleanMyMac to get your Mac back up to speed today.



About the author


I've been a passionate evangelist for Apple and the Macintosh throughout my working life, my first love was a Quadra 605 working with a small creative agency in the south of Norfolk UK in the mid 1990's, I later progressed to other roles in other Macintosh dominated industries, first as a Senior graphic designer at a small printing company and then a production manager at Guardian Media Group. As the publishing and printing sector wained I moved into Internet Marketing and in 2006 co-founded blurtit.com which grew to become one the top 200 visited sites in the US (according to Quantcast), at its peak receiving over 15 million visits per month. For the last ten years I have worked as an Affiliate and Consultant to many different business and start ups, my key skill set being online marketing, on page monetisation, landing page optimisation and traffic generation, if you would like to hire me or discuss your current project please reach out to me here.

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  • Nice post. After usage over time period, Mac starts operating at slow speed due to many factors. The above mentioned tricks can be done manually rather buying a costly tool. IMO, paid software must be used when all these tricks get failed and still Mac is slow.

  • apple ssd’s load faster because they are trimed by default. if you install a 3rd party ssd you need to download trim enabler pro and enable it.