Reader Mailbag: Maintain Your Mac
I often get emailed questions by ATMac readers. I've decided to sometimes answer these on the blog, as they seem to be frequently asked questions.
Today's comes from Katilea:
On Windows you can defragment to sort out drive and speed it up, clean up programs you dont use, etc. What is the equivalent on Mac?
When you're using OS X you will never, under normal circumstances, need to defragment your hard drive. The way Mac drives are formatted means that fragmentation isn't a problem, so that's one chore you don't have to worry about. There are, however, some routine things that can help your Mac run as well as possible.
The first is to run OS X's own maintenance scripts regularly. OS X has scripts which run in the middle of the night to keep things running smoothly; there's one which runs daily, one which runs weekly, and one which runs monthly. This should happen automatically even if your computer is asleep or turned off at the time, but due to some problems these scripts often don't get run on some people's systems. When I checked mine, none of them had been run for the past 5 months!
An easy way to fix this is to install Pseudoanacron. Despite the complicated name it's very simple to run - all you do is start the program, and if any of OS X's routine maintenance scripts haven't been run at the proper time then Pseudoanacron will run them for you. Then the program will quit. I have set this up so it runs every time I log into my computer, just to make sure things keep running smoothly.
If you're doing this and your Mac is chugging along fine then there's nothing else you need to do! But if your Mac seems to be getting a bit slower that it used to be, you'll need to move to the next step.
For this, you'll need a program called Maintenance. There are versions for Tiger as well as Leopard - make sure you download the one you need from their downloads page.
Once you've downloaded it you'll need to double-click on the package to run the installer. When that's finished, you'll find the program in your Applications directory where all the other programs are. Open the Maintenance program and the first thing it does is some very basic checking of your drive - it should only take a minute so just be patient. Then you'll see this dialog box:
It's very much recommended that you do what the dialog box is asking - quit all the programs you can quit then let it proceed. It may take quite a long time to check your hard drive - it took about 7 minutes for mine and sometimes the screen stopped updating altogether - so the best idea is to go and get yourself a drink or have a bathroom break while it's running.
Once that's done, you'll see a window with a confusing list of possible tasks. I suggest that you select all the ones in the "Maintenance" and "Cleaning" sections, but none of the ones in the "Rebuild" section. Here's a screen shot of the selections:
Now some of this cleaning will make your applications start up more slowly the very next time they're run. They can't tell between cleaning out caches that speed up your programs and cleaning out old ones which aren't needed any more. So the first time you start up your programs again they'll take a little while longer while they rebuild their caches again. But after that they should be snappier than before.
Once you have your selections made, click on the "Execute" button and you'll see another warning about quitting all your programs. You can let the program do it for you, or you can quit them yourself before you continue. I quit them myself in case there's open documents or things I haven't saved yet - I'm always forgetting. And be aware: once you've started it it really does quit everything - even accessibility programs like KeyStrokes or SwitchXS will be quit.
Once you've set it running I suggest you go and make lunch or have a shower - this one takes aaaaages. On my Mac Pro it took 28 minutes, for example! And after it's done, it will ask to reboot your computer which I also recommend you do.
Once your computer is going again it will initially take a touch longer than before - remember about the caches having to rebuild themselves the first time you run things. But your system should be in tip top condition!
Another thing which can make your computer slow down is if the hard drive is nearly full. I think that Apple recommends that at least 10% of your hard drive should be empty, so OS X has room to shuffle around files without too much trouble. The first tactic here is to empty your trash! Right click on the Trash icon on your dock and select Empty Trash, then click "OK" that you understand it's permanent. If you haven't done this for a while there could be a lot of stuff in there - it's never emptied unless you do it yourself.
If your hard drive is still too full you'll need to delete some things, or buy an external hard drive and move some of your files to the hard drive - things like your iTunes and iPhoto libraries are good candidates for being moved to an external drive.
If you don't already have Software Update running automatically this would also be a good time to do that - open the Apple menu in the extreme top left of your screen and select "Software Update". Install anything it recommends, bandwidth permitting. Once it's done, run it over again as it sometimes has new suggestions once you've installed the existing things. This makes sure you've got the most current versions of the operating system and any iLife and iWork programs you have installed.
I hope this helps, Katilea! Let us know how your computer goes after your bit of "spring cleaning".
- Ricky Buchanan