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Improve your Mac’s Performance – Small Changes Add up

written by: Joli Ballew•edited by: Michael Dougherty•updated: 11/11/2008

You can improve an older Mac’s performance by choosing non-intensive screensavers, keeping your Mac up-to-date, and optimizing display settings.

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    Say you’re saving your money for a new car, and you want to cut corners everywhere you can. You start taking your lunch to work (saving a dollar a day), you increase the deductible on your car insurance (saving $100 a year, or about thirty cents a day), you refrain from eating out (saving $10 a week, or a little over a dollar a day), and you roll up all of your change instead of spending it (pocketing fifty cents or so a day). While each of these little savings improvements won’t be enough to pay for your new car by itself, together you can probably get together the down payment pretty quickly. This is how you can slowly but surely improve your Mac’s performance too: make small changes to improve performance, and these changes will eventually add up to a noticeable performance improvement.

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    Get the Latest Device Drivers and Updates

    Your Mac should always have the latest device drivers and updates. You should have Software Update settings configured to get updates weekly, and you should always make sure you have the most up-to-date software and device drivers possible. If you are ever in doubt about the status of your system, choose Software Update from the Apple menu. Staying updated is one of the easiest and surest ways to guarantee your computer is secure and properly maintained.

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    Choose Non-System Intensive Screen Savers and Themes

    One of my favorite screen savers is Holding Pattern from Idle Time, and I have a ton of other programs that are simply resource hogs. I just love decorating my Mac with colors and icons to match my mood. Unfortunately, these programs can rob your machine of valuable CPU and RAM resources quickly, and if you run system-intensive themes and screensavers, you will certainly notice a performance hit.

    If you’re looking to increase the performance of your hard drive, disable or remove system-intensive screensavers, themes, and desktop backgrounds that you’ve downloaded. Use the basic Apple backgrounds, desktop images, and screen savers, and stay away from third-party sites that offer the cool stuff.

    Tip: Besides eating up valuable resources, third-party utilities such as screensavers and themes might contain code that is not well written, and running the programs may use more resources than you think.  Some can even cause system crashes or freeze-ups.

    To choose a new desktop background or screen saver, open System Preferences, choose Desktop & Screen Saver, and click Desktop and then Screen Saver to make your choices. Choose a system choice for both. To completely remove any third-party screen savers you’ve added to your computer’s hard disk:

    1.      From the Finder, open your personal Users folder.

    2.      Open your Library folder, and then the Screen Savers folder.

    3.      Drag any screen saver to the Trash.

    While you’re here, check your personal Library folder for other third-party items you might have added. I have items in a folder named Application Enhancers, a FruitMenu Items folder, and several other third-party applications. If you see something you downloaded and added but no longer use, trash it.

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    Optimize Your Display Settings

    Some applications will run faster and cleaner if you raise your display settings. If you aren’t getting the desired results from a game or a graphics program, check the Read Me files for the proper display settings. A lower display setting will create a faster “redraw” of the screen and can enhance performance.

    I leave my resolution at 1024 X 768, which is generally fine for most games and for programs such as Photoshop. And this setting reduces the work OS X has to do to offer the graphics up on the screen, especially after changes have been made to it.

    To raise or lower the display settings on your Mac:

    1.      Open System Preferences.

    2.      Choose Displays.

    3.      Select a new resolution based on the needs of your applications.