- The Tech Night Owl — Cutting-Edge Tech Commentary - https://www.technightowl.com -

How Not to Speed Up Your Mac!

One thing we can all agree on: However fast your computer is now, you wouldn’t mind if it was just a little faster, maybe even a lot faster.

The promise of Snow Leopard is that Apple will be concentrating mostly on performance and not on loads of new features, some of which are, to be blunt, not always so new or so useful. Indeed, there are unconfirmed published reports that the Finder itself is being recast in Apple’s Cocoa programming language, which holds out the hope that some of its long-standing performance and interface  inconsistencies might be dealt with at the same time.

Of course it’s also reasonably certain that Snow Leopard will be an Intel-only release. If you’re still using a PowerPC Mac, you’ll either want to take the opportunity to seek out a newer model, or stick with Leopard. You see, 10.5 isn’t going away in the wake of Snow Leopard. I expect that Apple will continue to support that system for a year or two at the very least. Or until the sheer numbers of Intel Macs have so eclipsed the PowerPC that it won’t make too much of a difference to them — or it’ll just be time for you to upgrade anyway.

In any case, with lots of you stuck with Leopard as your last latest and greatest Mac OS, no doubt you’ll want to find ways to soup up performance. Indeed that was the subject of a somewhat misleading article from Ryan Faas in Computerworld.

Entitled “Don’t wait for Snow Leopard: 10 ways to slim down and speed up your Mac now,” you start reading with the expectation that the advice will bring your Mac closer to 10.6 in significant ways. Just don’t raise your expectations.

The first five suggestions and the ninth concentrate on putting your Mac’s hard drive on a diet. You see, Snow Leopard is supposed to be slimmer, partly through more efficient coding and eliminating unused bloat from Mac OS X. If it will be Intel-only, PowerPC-related data could be zapped from the system without hurting anything.

If you have an older Mac, of course, you’ll want to get rid of the Intel code. But in either case, there are utilities that will trim an application of unneeded files without changing anything in terms of the way it works on your Mac. You can also remove unused language files and the applications and document files you no longer want.

But that’s just a fairly normal sort of housecleaning you might want to pursue, particularly if your Mac’s hard drive is running out of empty space. I suppose owners of the first-generation MacBook Air, with its miniscule 80GB hard drive — and imagine when that storage capacity was simply huge — would really appreciate such dietary advice.

But none of this will actually speed up your Mac. So Faas devotes four of the remaining five tips to that part of the equation with mixed results. Eliminating login items, the stuff your Mac launches in the final stages of the startup process, might shave a few seconds off boot time. But to what benefit? It doesn’t make your Mac run any applications faster, and if you happen to remove the wrong login application, you might find that software you depend on no longer works. Not all those items are always clearly labeled as to what they actually do or convey of the message of why they’re needed.

Removing unneeded fonts isn’t much of an issue either, unless you’ve install a large number of them, which might impact launch times on some applications. But not so much nowadays with even the cheapest Macs sporting multicore processors. I would also question the wisdom of using a system hack utility such as TinkerTool to remove 3D effects and animation, because the only benefit is to make a slower Mac seem a mite snappier. It’s not a real performance boost.

In fact, the only real suggestion that makes sense to me is the last one, “Increase RAM.” Assuming your Mac has the capacity, additional RAM has the effect of allowing more programs to load into memory and use less hard drive virtual memory or swap space. That indeed can produce a measurable performance improvement. This is one reason why I always suggest to my clients that they max out the RAM on their new Macs right from the starting gate, as step number one towards hitting the ground running.

Indeed, at the and of the day, this entire article can be summarized with two short phrases. Get rid of unneeded files and boost RAM. To that I might add one suggestion not mentioned at all in the article, which is to get a faster hard drive if you can. The ones Apple provides as standard equipment aren’t always top drawer, although they often offer faster ones as a built-to-order option. Either way, a faster drive can also offer more storage capacity, which will also eliminate the need to follow any of those suggestions about trimming applications and trashing unneeded documents.

But none of these steps will really allow your Mac to match the promise of Snow Leopard.