Why is my MacBook running so slow?
December 20, 2013 5:42 AM   Subscribe

How can I figure out why my MacBook Pro is running so slow, and what can I do about it?

I've got a year-old MacBook Pro (2.5 ghz i5, 4GB) that has lately been running ridiculously slow. I don't have that many things running at any given time, but even when nothing is running, launching an app or switching windows takes way longer than it should.

I'm from a Windows background and this is my first Mac, so I don't really know what the Mac equivalents to CCleaner are, or even where I need to be looking for culprits. 500 GB hard drive, 200 GB is free. Any ideas?
posted by jbickers to Computers & Internet (23 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Have you opened Activity Monitor and looked at what's using up the most memory and CPU cycles? It's like Process Explorer was on Windows. From there, you can try killing processes to see how it affects performance, and then Google them.
posted by ignignokt at 5:49 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

The canonical answer to "why has my Mac gone so wonky" is "open Disk Utility and repair the filesystem". Takes a while, but give it a go.
posted by mhoye at 5:50 AM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

To see if it is something set up in your own user account that is causing problems, you can create a new user in System Preferences/Accounts, shut down, and then start back up and log into the new user account you created. See how things run. If everything is great, there's something in your original user account that is slowing things down. Take a look at the login items, maybe.
posted by BillMcMurdo at 6:09 AM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: In Activity Monitor, which of those numbers am I looking at? The idle percentage is hovering around 90%. There's a whole bunch of line items for Google Chrome Helper, six out of the top ten or so. Do I care about "threads" or "idle wake ups"? What am I looking for here?
posted by jbickers at 6:14 AM on December 20, 2013

Good chance this has something to do with Chrome. Kill Chrome on every user. See if that speeds things up. If it does, then some of your Chrome extensions are playing poorly together and you'll need to mess around in there for a bit.

Is there anything taking up an extraordinary amount of threads?
posted by griphus at 6:17 AM on December 20, 2013

Response by poster: kernel_task is taking 92 threads, that's the highest one. The Chrome ones are all in the 10-20 range.
posted by jbickers at 6:23 AM on December 20, 2013

Those Chrome tasks build up. See how much RAM you're currently using. Hit the "Real Mem" column to sort by the RAM footprint size. If there's something enormous in there, you might want to kill it (after finding out what it is, of course.)

Activity Monitor should have a "System Memory" tab as well to show you how much of your RAM is in use.
posted by griphus at 6:29 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Something called "Safari Web Content" is the biggest offender in the Memory tab - and it's separate from Safari itself. After that, looks like Tweetdeck and Notepad are the worst.

Problem is, I use those all day, so it's not like I can quit out of them.
posted by jbickers at 6:33 AM on December 20, 2013

Response by poster: OK, here's another weirdness - I count 13 "Google Chrome Helper"s in activity monitor, but I only have two extensions installed. What am I missing here?

(Again, please explain like I am 5, because I don't know where anything is in the Mac file system/apps/etc.)
posted by jbickers at 6:37 AM on December 20, 2013

There's some discussion here about the Safari Web Content issues. Looks like, among other things, Facebook is a giant resource drain.

As an experiment, try running either Chrome or Safari with all their extensions disabled, using only a single tab in each browser for a period of time. If that works, you can start narrowing it down from there.
posted by griphus at 6:42 AM on December 20, 2013

I will tell you. I thought my brand new at the time mac was super slow and I was very disappointed. I stumbled across an article that said a particular anti-virus was notorious for slowing down Macs. I happened to have that free antivirus and once I removed it the speed increase was huge.

If you have an anti-virus package installed, try uninstalling it.
posted by j03 at 6:43 AM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also, diagnosing this kind of thing would likely be covered and free at a genius bar if you're under warranty.
posted by fontophilic at 6:52 AM on December 20, 2013

Response by poster: Potentially dumb follow-up question: What does it mean on Mac OS for something to be "installed"? On Windows, there's a formal install process and an un-installer for each app. But I don't see any uninstallers anywhere. Is it the case that if an app is in the Applications folder it is "installed" and is potentially using resources?
posted by jbickers at 7:18 AM on December 20, 2013

Quit out of everything and close all but the main account. Install any software updates. Restart.

If everything feels snappy there's no reason to do so much digging around for which process or extension is the problem. There's no need to clean or repair anything. A restart should tidy things up.
posted by spitbull at 7:48 AM on December 20, 2013

In windows, when you install something it deposits bits of files into your registry and various places.

In Mac OS, they're self contained in the applications folder. To remove a program, you just delete what is in your applications folder.
posted by fontophilic at 7:54 AM on December 20, 2013

fontophilic is correct - you can just delete the app from the applications folder and it will remove (most of) the application.

However, some apps do leave preference files and sometimes libraries lying around. If you're picky (like me) you can use a uninstaller. AppCleaner is free and works great.
posted by kaefer at 8:36 AM on December 20, 2013

I thought my brand new at the time mac was super slow and I was very disappointed. I stumbled across an article that said a particular anti-virus was notorious for slowing down Macs. I happened to have that free antivirus and once I removed it the speed increase was huge.

Sophos, by any chance?
posted by slkinsey at 9:50 AM on December 20, 2013

If you upgraded to Mavericks, various users (including me) have experienced a big slowdown after they upgraded their OS. I'm about to install new memory to retrieve my speed.

Also, if your disk drive is over 50% full, performance will begin to deteriorate, and the more full it is, the more slowing. I'm also getting a new, hybrid drive to replace my now 80% full 500GB drive.
posted by musofire at 10:15 AM on December 20, 2013

I would look at the disk and memory tabs in activity monitor. CPU is sometimes an issue, but more common, in my experience, is that something either has a memory leak, which causes swapping, or something, like the spotlight indexer or time machine (or antivirus) is doing a full scan of the whole disk.
posted by Good Brain at 10:18 AM on December 20, 2013

Oh, and, no, a 500GB with 40% free should not be exhibiting obvious performance degradation because of the amount of data.
posted by Good Brain at 10:21 AM on December 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

Is your desktop cluttered with stuff? I've read that keeping files and folders on the desktop impacts performance. I have only my HD alias on the desktop at any given time.
posted by humboldt32 at 10:54 AM on December 20, 2013

In my experience, all the anti-virus programs for the Mac produce system instabilities and slowdowns. Each has a uninstall procedure documented somewhere.

If you have anti-virus software installed, either ensure it is the latest version (by visiting their website) or disable it.

Run Disk Utility, as mhoye suggests.

Otherwise, consider the Apple Genius bar as fontophilic suggests. We do not have enough information to fully answer your question, and the additional information needed will be tedious via metafilter but quick in person.
posted by blob at 2:56 PM on December 20, 2013

The canonical information for diagnosing these kinds of slow-downs is called "sysdiagnose". It's a command line tool, but it can be invoked by the key combination Control/Option/Command/Shift/Period all held down at the same time. (Or you can open the Terminal application found in the Applications/Utilities folder, and enter the command
sudo sysdiagnose
In either case, it will create a file in a directory called /var/tmp/ which has all sorts of geeky things compressed into the file; logs of activity, details of your hardware, etc. No personal information per se, but lots of information about the state of your machine.

Memail me that file, and I'll see what I can determine.
posted by blob at 3:01 PM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

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