7 tips for speeding up OS X Yosemite (and a last resort if they don’t work)

The improvements (so far) outweigh the problems, making this release, on the whole, an improvement and worth adopting.

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Apple (One-Time Use)


You might still be nervous, as many of my friends are, about upgrading to Apple’s latest release of OS X, version 10.10, otherwise known as “Yosemite.” Being the foolhardy user I apparently am, I went for the upgrade very soon after its release and yep, things are indeed different. That said, the improvements (so far) outweigh the problems, making this release, on the whole, an improvement and worth adopting. But there are things you can do to make Yosemite -- particularly on MacBooks, which seem to suffer after upgrade more than other Mac hardware -- run better and faster, and that’s what I’ve got for you here, as well as a what to do if all else fails.

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Tip #1

All OS X releases since 2011’s OS X Lion have included a “Recovery Mode”, which provides diagnostics and repair functions. To enter Recovery Mode press the Command and “R”keys as soon as you hear the Mac startup chime and hold them down until you see the Utilities screen. Now you can perform the next two tips which both use the Disk Utility in Recovery Mode, which will be potentially faster than waiting for Yosemite to boot as usual. Moreover, should your Mac not boot normally, you’ll be doing this anyway.

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Tip #2

The first thing you should do before and after installing Yosemite is check your disk drives for errors. This is because the upgrade process is complicated and the interaction of the updated operating system with old and recently revised software can lead to a number of issues that are caused by disk problems. The tool you need is Apple’s Disk Utility; start it up, select the boot drive, then click on “Verify Disk”…if a problem is found then use the “Repair Disk”function to resolve it. You should also run the check on any other drives your Mac has, but the one that matters most is, of course, the boot drive.

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Tip #3

Next, have Disk Utility verify and, if needed, repair permissions. Again, this should be done both before and after upgrading. Select the boot partition under the boot drive, click on “Verify Permissions” and, if your Mac has been heavily used as mine has, go get a cup of coffee; this will take a while. If you come back caffeinated and discover problems, click on the “Repair Disk Permissions” button and prepare to take a second coffee break.

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Tip #4

A common problem reported after upgrading to Yosemite is poor performance which, in some cases, can be traced to increased graphics processing load introduced by the new user interface of Yosemite. A potential fix is to turn off “transparency” which is the feature that makes menus translucent. You do this in the Accessibility section of System Preferences (under the system Apple menu at the top left of your monitor). If this doesn't improve performance then …

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Tip #5

…if you’re using FileVault, the OS X feature that encrypts drives, try either waiting for the encryption process to finish (this can take a loooong time) or turn it off and re-enable it when you aren’t going to use the machine for a while. You can control this feature from the FileVault section in Security and Privacy under System Preferences.

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Tip #6

Another potential cause of poor performance is the Spotlight feature which indexes pretty much everything on OS X drives. This feature is incredibly useful if, like me, you keep forgetting where you put files or even what a file was called (yes, Spotlight can identify the contents of files, creation dates, update dates, and so on) but it takes horsepower to perform initial indexing. You can disable this feature temporarily, selectively, or permanently from the Spotlight option in the System Preferences section.

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Apple (One-Time Use)

Tip #7

If your Yosemite system is still way too slow you should try any or all of the following: 1. Make sure all of your apps and widgets are up to date, particularly anything that runs in the background. You may have to disable one or more background apps and widgets until upgrades are available; 2. One word: RAM. Lots of it. OS X loves lots of RAM and if you’re running big apps such as Photoshop and Illustrator there’s no such thing as too much RAM; 3. Make sure you have plenty of free disk space. A lack of free space can have a huge impact on performance. Offloading rarely used data to external drives is the way to go.

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The last resort

If you’re experiencing other problems such as your Mac “forgetting” speaker volume, display resolution, etc., between sessions then you should consider resetting your System Management Controller (SMC) and Parameter Random-Access Memory (PRAM). Resetting these subsystems are really for when you’ve exhausted all other choices and have pulled out at least 50% of your hair. See Apple’s support articles on the SMC and PRAM for the details of how to do these operations. If that fails, consider doing a complete re-install; sometimes that’s your penultimate fallback. Your ultimate fallback? If everything still crawls along you may have to roll back to Mavericks. Good luck.