As your Mac gets older, it starts to show its age during daily use. Everyday tasks can drag on as your computer struggles to keep pace. More demanding apps and games may even refuse to run at all. Sometimes your Mac can just hang around. . . seemingly forever.
But your Mac can get old gracefully with just a little help from you.
Favorite lightweight or optimized apps
As computers become more powerful, software developers take advantage of faster processors, more RAM and better 3D graphics. While this makes perfect sense, it can leave owners of older hardware in the dust.
One of the best things you can do for an aging Mac is to use age-appropriate software. This means you release the resource-intensive browsers and photo editing suites in favor of lightweight apps and software optimized for macOS.
If you use Chrome or Firefox, try switching to Safari. It is special for Mac computers, which is why it has a significantly lower energy footprint (and thus provides better battery life) than its competitors. It also tends to be less memory than Chrome. Make sure you are running the latest version of macOS to get the most up-to-date version of Safari.
Your browser is not the only app you can turn off to improve performance. Apple’s iWork suite is without a doubt lighter than Microsoft Office, less demanding for your system and completely free to boot! It consists of the Pages word processor, the Numbers spreadsheet app and the Keynote presentation tool. LibreOffice is another no-frills option.
Evernote and OneNote are the undisputed masters of notes, but most do not use (or need) all the features. Try ditching these inflated apps for Apple’s Notes app, which is now a profitable alternative. Bear is another great Mac-only app that competes with Evernote, and Simplenote is also worth mentioning because of its speed and simple text.
For photo editing, you can not beat Adobe Photoshop for raw power. But that power costs – both for your wallet and your Mac’s performance. GIMP is a free alternative with open source code, it is much less cumbersome but can perform the most common editing tasks.
If GIMP does not have what you need, you can try Affinity Photo or Pixelmator Pro for free and see how they work.
Finally, you can also ditch any intrusive antivirus program because you really do not need it running constantly on your Mac.
Make sure you have free space
MacOS needs space to breathe, which means that you keep a buffer with free space on the boot disk. There is no set rule for how much space your computer will need at any given time – Apple has never made a specific recommendation. However, we recommend that you always keep about 10 percent of your available disk space free.
If you get a warning message that your computer is running low, it’s time to do something about it. When your Mac runs out of space, it can not perform routine tasks, such as downloading and unpacking macOS updates.
Any programs you use that create large temporary files may have stability issues or crash if your computer does not have enough space. Your Mac may even refuse to boot completely if you run out of space.
These issues can affect Macs of all ages. However, the combination of aging hardware and macOS fighting for space creates the perfect storm of freezes and long waits while your computer struggles to stay afloat.
Fortunately, there is a lot you can do to create more space on your Mac. Avoid storing iPhone or iPad backups on your Mac first – use iCloud instead. You can also enable iCloud photos to store full-size photos and videos in the cloud, while having less optimized versions on your local disk.
Moving backups and media from your Mac should result in a huge gain in free space, but there are other things to try. Comb through the “Applications” folder and delete all the apps you no longer need.
Also empty the Downloads folder regularly or ask macOS to do it automatically by clicking Finder> Preferences> Advanced and then selecting the “Remove item from Tash after 30 days” option.
You may also have large files on your computer’s boot disk that you forgot. Fortunately, macOS can help you find them. Just click the Apple menu, and then click “About This Mac.” Click the “Storage” tab and then “Manage.” A new window will appear.
Click “Documents” in the sidebar to see a list of large files that sit on your device and take up valuable space.
Reinstall macOS for that “Fresh Mac” feel
For many people, the reliable macOS is the reason why they pay a premium for Apple hardware. But even macOS can get stuck after many years of use – something that is traditionally associated with Windows. One of the best things you can do for an old Mac is blow out cobwebs.
That means you delete everything and start over after backing up your Mac. You can do this relatively painlessly thanks to Apple’s recovery partition. To access this, just hold down R while your Mac starts up. By reformatting your Mac and reinstalling MacOS, you remove all the debris that has accumulated over many years of use.
Not only will this save valuable disk space, but it will also give you a chance to start anew. It is important to emphasize that you do not need to do this regularly. You will probably benefit from this if you install many apps or make system adjustments and then forget about them.
Think of SSD and RAM upgrades
Depending on how old your Mac is, you may not have an SSD. Unlike traditional hard drives (HDDs), which use a turntable and retractable arm, SSDs use flash memory for improved speed and reliability.
While most Mac laptops made in the last decade have SSDs, models like the iMac and Mac mini do not. These are often equipped with Fusion Drives, which fuse a small amount of flash memory with a traditional hard drive. Although cost effective, these are often no better than a standard hard drive.
Ditching a hard drive in favor of an SSD can yield huge performance gains. iFixit is one of the best resources for this. To get started, just look up your model to see what an upgrade would entail. If you do not know which model you have, you can find it on your computer by clicking Apple> About This Mac.
You can buy a kit with everything you need from OWC. Prices range from about $ 99 for 256 GB to $ 500 for a 2 TB drive. You can also upgrade some MacBook Pro and Air models.
If you have an iMac or Mac mini, upgrading RAM is relatively painless. The iMac has a slot on the back to expand the memory, while the Mac mini provides access internally via a slot on the bottom of the device.
However, it is important that you buy the right type of memory. This usually means matching the speed of your existing RAM to the new one. To check your current memory specifications, click Apple> About This Mac> System Report. Then click on the “Memory” tab to see how much RAM is installed, at what speed it is running and its current status.
OWC also sells memory for specific Mac models, so you do not buy wrong. You can then complete the upgrade by following the instructions on the Apple website (iMac, Mac mini).
Unfortunately, if you own a MacBook, you’ve probably lucky, as RAM has been soldered to the logic board on most models since 2012.
Use a lightweight Linux distro
If you are using a Mac for macOS, switching to Linux is probably not very appealing. However, if you want to revive an old machine or find a new use for it, Linux is a great choice.
Unfortunately, choosing a Linux flavor can be difficult. Ubuntu is good for many because it has a large library of built-in software binaries. It’s also a good choice for a Mac because it usually works “out of the box.” You also do not need to look for the web at ages looking for audio or network drivers.
If your Mac is really old, you probably want a lighter distro. Options such as Lubuntu, Linux Mint or Puppy Linux focus exclusively on performance. With these, you may need to work a little harder to make everything work. Afterwards, however, you have a very responsive machine with a bit of overhead.
Finally, there is the Elementary OS. This Linux distro goes out of its way to deliver a Mac-like aesthetic. It has a docking station, an “App Store”, parental controls and even macOS-like keyboard shortcuts that get you up and running in no time.
You can install all of these Linux distros on a USB stick and try them all out before you do anything.
Embrace the limitations of your machine
Using an old Mac is like driving an old car. For best results, you must work within the limits of the machine. However, this can be good. For example, an old PowerPC MacBook is perfect for an author who is easily distracted because it is so limited in terms of available software and processing power.
Once you understand what your Mac can no longer do, you can avoid using it for that purpose. This works best if you have another Mac or PC that can pick up the slack.
This also means being ruthless when it comes to managing system resources. You will probably want to turn off all browser extensions and limit resource hungry sites, such as Facebook. You also want to keep as few browser tabs open as possible.
Learning how to use Activity Monitor to isolate and kill greedy background processes would definitely be worth it.
Know when to upgrade
Most people eliminate large purchases for as long as possible. But the time will eventually come when you have to open your wallet. If your Mac is negatively impacting your productivity or preventing you from even trying certain tasks, it’s time to consider upgrading.
While Windows owners can gradually replace old PC components, Apple’s ecosystem is not as upgrade-friendly. Aside from a handful of upgrades that you can complete yourself, a Mac’s proprietary character means that your only way forward is usually a new machine.
Fortunately, you still have some options that can save you some money. The used Mac market offers big savings on older machines, but don’t expect bottom prices – Apple hardware tends to retain its value.
Apple also has a refurbished program that sells slightly older models that have been refurbished by Apple engineers. The machines have a full warranty and are also eligible for AppleCare.
If you are rebuilding or using a route, make sure you are familiar with any issues that your slightly older hardware may face. In particular, the MacBook Pro has had problems such as thermal choking in models as late as 2019. All MacBooks up to those released in 2020 also had Apple’s problematic “butterfly” keyboard.
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