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Why is my macbook running slow?
January 13, 2007 3:32 PM   Subscribe

Why is my new Mac acting so slow, and what can I do to fix it?

I've been a lifelong pc user, and I know windows like the back of my hand. I know where to go and what to do when experiencing problems and am usually the go-to guy.

But of course, I recently bought a macbook (the original low-end white model) and out of the box, it was quick to boot up, quick to start programs, and everything, even with only 512 megs of ram (I plan on upgrading soon, but this really shouldn't have anything to do with the amount of ram).
Now, after use, I find start up is slowing down immensely; the desktop icons, the menu bar at the top and then the far right icons (power, airport, battery) all appear at different times during the startup of my computer. In addition to this, basic programs which used to start immediately are now occasionally beachballing, while the dock icon will bounce for what feels like eons until the program begins and finally renders the entirety of the window. I still have at least 20 gigs of harddrive space available, and I know I should get more ram, but it's not like the computer has always been slow. What sort of things should I look out for as the reasoning for this, and what can I do to fix it?
posted by stresstwig to Computers & Internet (27 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
I forgot to add, I've already reset the p-ram and various things like that. Is this just normal mac behavior?
posted by stresstwig at 3:33 PM on January 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


Not really. As a start, run /Applications/Utilities/Activity Monitor and see which apps/processes, if any, are using a lot of CPU.
posted by xil at 3:35 PM on January 13, 2007


No programs are using any noticeable amount of cpu; camino, as I type this has the most with 5-10 percent while activity monitor itself is the next highest with .80. Interestingly enough, I forgot to add this in my question, but the problem only really occurs in the first few minutes after start up; after the computer has been on, things run just like they should.
posted by stresstwig at 3:40 PM on January 13, 2007


Are you starting a lot of apps all at once when you log in? Or are any of them set to run automatically? (System Prefs, Accounts, Login Items)

Launching an app can be fairly resource-intensive (depending on the app, of course), especially if several of them are doing it at once. With only 512 MB of RAM you'll probably be trying to load a bunch of stuff off the disk AND swapping to the disk at the same time, which slows things down a lot.

You might also have something that's waiting for the network to become available -- are you on a wireless network? Does the network appear connected in the Airport menu in the menu bar right away after you launch, or does it take a while?

You might also set Activity Monitor to run at launch, and see if anything in particular sucks up a lot of CPU/disk very early in the process.
posted by xil at 3:53 PM on January 13, 2007


with only 512 megs of ram (I plan on upgrading soon, but this really shouldn't have anything to do with the amount of ram)

Actually, this does have something to do with the amount of ram. It's slow at first 'cause it's having to start a bunch of stuff and each thing getting loaded gets a certain amount of virtual memory. When things get CPU time, they have to compete for physical memory. So things are getting paged in and out. Eventually, as things finish their startup processes (and block on IO or timers) most of the bits that can be paged out will be, but that'll take some time to stabilize. Having more ram would relieve that pressure.

Also, having more ram would allow for lots more cache for what's on disk so that when the computer does have to get something that's on disk, the computer doesn't have to wait for the disk to spin around and the head to seek. Instead, it can just hit the cache, which is thousands (tens of thousands?) of times faster.

So, it's true that you could have no user processes using up CPU and have a computer that's slow. The cpu can be idle waiting for disk.
posted by rbs at 3:59 PM on January 13, 2007


rbs,

wouldn't that mean this problem should have always been happening, even when I first started using it? I haven't added anything to the start up, and I've only installed the usual programs (cs, microsoft office, etc.) and I haven't added anything to the startup list.
posted by stresstwig at 4:02 PM on January 13, 2007


Have you repaired permissions?

HD > Apps > Utilities > Disk Utility, then select the drive and click Repair Permissions.

Do this after installing programs, for sure!
posted by k8t at 4:06 PM on January 13, 2007


Did you install a large number of fonts?

That'll slow things down as well...
posted by MathewS at 4:22 PM on January 13, 2007


MS Office adds some stuff to the startup, even if you didn't.
posted by rbs at 4:27 PM on January 13, 2007


You'll want to repair the hard drive's directory structures too. You'll need, at a minimum, to start up from the OS CD and run Apple disk utility (which will also tell you the drives SMART self-monitoring status), but something like DiskWarrior or TechTool has more power.

Things slowing down could be a drive failure in slow motion. You ought to back up promptly before you mess with any of this advice.
posted by spitbull at 4:30 PM on January 13, 2007


MacJanitor?

Makes mental note to test this out personally, but it sounds really good.
posted by niles at 4:32 PM on January 13, 2007


Is your macbook off or asleep overnight? If you turn it off when you're done, you're depriving it of the vital unix upkeep scripts that it runs in the middle of the night. I noticed a kick in startup speed when I started running these myself.

Do your macbook a favor and grab copies of Onyx and Mainmenu and start running the daily/weekly/monthly scripts. You only need the dailies from one app, but the two apps have different styles and different optimization traits, so pick which works for you. Onyx stays in the dock and clumps many acts into a few optimization routines, while Mainmenu lives in the menu bar and lets you pick and choose what to do.
posted by tylermoody at 4:58 PM on January 13, 2007


Also, there's some periodic background tasks that will take a lot of cpu while they run, but otherwise won't tell you that they are running. Spotlight indexing is the one I notice, and it shows up as "mdimport" or "mdutil" in the task lists. It should finish in a few minutes and not run again for a while, though, if this is what's slowing down your computer.
posted by advil at 5:20 PM on January 13, 2007


I'll second MacJanitor, or perhaps Cocktail to clear all your caches. It could be a font cache or server cache, if you were at some point connected to a remote server that it's trying to find. These things don't clear out properly, sometimes. Another thing to try would be to update prebindings. In a Terminal session, enter 'sudo update_prebinding -root /' (without the quotes) & hit return. It'll promt you for a password. (Shot in the dark)
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:05 PM on January 13, 2007


I forgot to add this in my question, but the problem only really occurs in the first few minutes after start up; after the computer has been on, things run just like they should.

After re-reading this, it sounds like an indexing issue. The easyest way to force re-index is to first add your hard drive to the privacy tab in the Spotlight Preferences, save that out by quitting Preferences, then go back & remove it from the list. This'll rebuild the index from scratch, I believe, which could take an hour or more. Look for the little throbbing dot in the middle of the Spotlight Menu item at the top right. That means it's indexing.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:11 PM on January 13, 2007


Why are you "starting up" up your MacBook? My MacBook Pro stays up and logged in for weeks at a time.
posted by nathan_teske at 8:38 PM on January 13, 2007


You didn't mention what rev os the MacBook it was, so you might also want to check Apple's site for any known hardware issues, just in case.

I'm kind of with Nathan on the "Why are you starting it up?" question, oddly enough. I leave my Macs on for days on end, that often turn in to months on end.
posted by smallerdemon at 9:30 PM on January 13, 2007


It might be indexing, but stop screwing around and get more RAM like you know you should. 512MB are absolutely not enough if you're running CS or Microsoft Office. Get 2GB and don't buy it from Apple.
posted by Mo Nickels at 10:12 PM on January 13, 2007


One other possibility - have you installed any software built for the older PowerPC architecture? If so when you run it (or it gets run at startup) Rosetta has to fire up, slowing your machine. You can check in Activity Monitor by adding the Kind column (View, Columns, Kind) and then checking for any PowerPC process. Also, Macs love RAM, the more the better.
posted by gi_wrighty at 12:05 AM on January 14, 2007


Having lots of icons on your desktop can also slow things down.

Here's my shortlist for when things get slow: Restart. Repair permissions and disk structure. Clear caches and run cron maintenance scripts with Cocktail (or equivalent). Uninstall unnecessary system-level apps and startup items.

And yeah, buy more RAM.
posted by anarcation at 3:22 AM on January 14, 2007


you said you installed CS, which is built for powerpoc and isn't universal binary yet. so, rosetta has to rev up and it hogs a lot of time/space when helping a memory-hog like cs run.
sounds like that is new since you started using the machine and could be making a difference. unfortunately, that's not correctable, except with more RAM and a UB version of CS...
posted by rubberfish at 4:35 AM on January 14, 2007


Ditto the comments about Rosetta if you're running (notoriously slow) MS Office, which is PowerPC native, and even runs badly on PowerPC Macs. Go Microsoft!
posted by armoured-ant at 4:45 AM on January 14, 2007


Some USB devices can create a slowness on some Macs. I have a USB-based headset with earphones and it makes my single-processor G5 slow to a crawl when I try to use it.

I quickly replaced it with a Logitech stand-alone mic and Sennheiser headphones, both of which are non-USB.
posted by camworld at 9:59 AM on January 14, 2007


The biggest factor here is simply lack of RAM. OSX will use as much RAM as you can throw at it, and isn't really happy with less than a gigabyte (and will make use of more). Upgrade.
posted by raf at 10:01 AM on January 14, 2007


Alright guys, well running those scripts in cocktail (I already had it clear caches) helped a lot. I can't leave my computer on for weeks on end because I take it with me everywhere and I need that battery power when I get to my destination, not in transit. I also didn't realize that about cs and msoffice; I'll look for alternatives that will work on an intel mac. As far as memory goes, I had had 2 gigs (and things were great) but the memory turned out to be bad and I am currently waiting for my replacement ram. Thanks a bunch everybody.
posted by stresstwig at 1:32 PM on January 14, 2007


Dude, your mac will use very little juice when it's sleeping.
posted by rbs at 4:50 PM on January 14, 2007


Alright guys, well running those scripts in cocktail (I already had it clear caches) helped a lot. I can't leave my computer on for weeks on end because I take it with me everywhere and I need that battery power when I get to my destination, not in transit.

Your MacBook will burn less than 1% of battery per hour, sleeping, argualbly less than it'll burn restarting. My Powerbook has been up for 81 days, and I haul it around everywhere, too.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:30 PM on January 14, 2007


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