Eeking another year out of a Macbook Air (Late 2010)
January 23, 2015 10:59 AM   Subscribe

I have a late 2010 13" Macbook Air with 2 gb of RAM with OSX 9 (Mavericks) installed that's really showing its age. I'd like to keep it going for another year or so, and I'm interested in strategies to do this. Upgrade, downgrade, leave things alone?

I don't need this machine to do anything except run Chrome and MS Office 2011 (well, to be complete, also the Dropbox app and Bettersnaptool). It can do this now, but really drags if it's been on for an hour or so since a restart. It never seems to fully wake up from sleep (i.e., it drags even worse). I've reset the PRAM and the SMC.

My work computers (each with 8 gig of RAM) have been upgraded to Yosemite, and they feel much snappier. I have heard Yosemite is a real resource hog - will it drag my barely-functional laptop even further down if I upgrade from Mavericks? Should I attempt to downgrade to Snow Leopard via the reinstall drive that came with the Air? (And would I be able to restore from Time Machine backups made with more-current versions of OSX?) Or am I just going to drive myself crazy doing this and should I just keep muddling along, being thankful that things work?
posted by ndg to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Put more RAM in it. Seriously, keeping 2 gig in that machine is so horrible, I want to run down to wherever you are with more RAM, just to keep you and it from suffering any longer.

It should be able to handle 4gig, so get to the computer store pronto!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:13 AM on January 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I just downgraded my 08 macbook pro from yosemite back to 10.8 since it was running too slow on my 4gb of RAM. Apparently 10.9 and 10.10 take a lot of RAM (8gb pretty much required).

I would be perfectly happy with downgrading even further but don't have any install disks.

As for time machine, you will have to treat the downgrade as if it was an entirely new computer. This means using the 'browse' feature in time machine or the 'setup assistant' to transfer data to a new computer.

As for Brandon's comment, the macbook air has its RAM soldered in. No chance for upgrades.
posted by just.good.enough at 11:17 AM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

My 4gb Air is noticeably worse with Yosemite - I need to reboot it every week or so or it buries itself in its own cruft. I'd highly suggest sticking with Mavericks until there's a point release.
posted by revertTS at 11:17 AM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I upgraded as Brandon Blatcher said, and that made a huge performance difference. However I still won't go to Yosemite with my 2008 MBP. Mavericks is bad and I know Yosemite will be worse.
posted by TravellingCari at 11:18 AM on January 23, 2015

I don't know if you want to invest the money, but you could also replace your conventional hard drive with an SSD. You'll immediately notice a big improvement in speed.
posted by alex1965 at 11:25 AM on January 23, 2015

You might get a bit of a bump in performance from upgrading the SSD, but it's $170 for the cheapest one. Not sure it's worth it for a machine you only want another year out of.
posted by O9scar at 11:29 AM on January 23, 2015

You may want to check your activity monitor to see if Chrome is taking up a LOT of resources. I love chrome but chrome don't love my mac.
posted by jadepearl at 11:38 AM on January 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I think I should clarify my specific question, which pertains to this specific MacBook Air, in which the RAM is not upgradable and has a SSD installed. The question is: will upgrading or downgrading (if possible) the version of OSX installed on this computer improve overall performance? Thanks!
posted by ndg at 11:47 AM on January 23, 2015

Best answer: I have the same MacBook Air model (late 2010, 2GB of RAM). I upgraded to Yosemite and I really regret it. I can't use Chrome anymore, it's so slow that it's unusable. I don't recommend it at all.
posted by clearlydemon at 11:55 AM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Snow Leopard is generally considered the best for older machines. If you can't go back that far, I would go with Mountain Lion.

I regret upgrading my 2013 Macbook Pro (i7/8gb) to Yosemite and keep debating on downgrading.
posted by wongcorgi at 11:58 AM on January 23, 2015

Best answer: Don't downgrade to 10.6, as that no longer receives security updates. You could downgrade to 10.8 as it performs a bit better than 10.9 but you can expect 10.8 security updates to stop summer of 2015 so you're only gaining 6 months before you have to go back up to 10.9—probably not worth your time and the hassle. The performance hit between 10.8 and 10.9 isn't too bad.

Yosemite is a big resource hog, and it needs lots of RAM and an SSD for decent performance. I would avoid it (as well as 10.11 when it comes out) and you can plan to stick with 10.9 until as far as (probably) summer 2016 when 10.12 is released and support for 10.9 is dropped. That is of course as far as you could push it with this machine and this strategy. It could die before then or you could get fed up, but I would say you will have to be in the market for a new computer by summer 2016 at the latest.

A bigger SSD would give performance gain, but you'll have to evaluate if you really want to push this one far or would rather start saving for the replacement. has models that fit in Airs. A 128 GB SSD stuffed to the gills will be improved by getting a new 256 GB model.

For now:

1. Uninstall Flash
2. Make sure you have at least 20 GB free on the SSD—more is better.
3. Install a Flash block extension in Chrome—you can then click to play one flash item at a time.
4. Install an ad block extension in Chrome. Technically this can be more of a processor drain, but still worth it.
5. Don't leave a ton of tabs open in Chrome. Close them when you're done.
6. Scan for Adware
7. Do a safe boot (hold down shift when restarting) which clears out caches. Then reboot afterwards.
8. Verify directory is healthy with DiskWarrior.
9. Check your login items for anything you don't use anymore.
10. If you have any applications (Chrome, Word, Spotify, etc) set to open at login that you could just open yourself then disable that and open when you need them. OS X drags everything down when it opens applications at login. Things like Dropbox in login items should be left alone.
11. When you log out or restart uncheck "reopen windows when logging back in." Reason is the same as above.
12. Adjusting your keyboard speed (key repeat and delay before repeat) can make it feel snappier while using arrow keys to navigate through a document.
13. Reduce animations by typing these into Terminal:

Display sheets (like print page dialog) faster:
defaults write NSGlobalDomain NSWindowResizeTime .001

Remove animation when making a new document:
defaults write NSGlobalDomain NSAutomaticWindowAnimationsEnabled -bool NO

Minimize to the dock faster by scaling down instead of Genie effect:
defaults write mineffect scale

Get rid of sending and replying animations in Mail:
defaults write DisableReplyAnimations -bool true
defaults write DisableSendAnimations -bool true

14. Check for cruft from old applications in:
15. Check for CPU / RAM hogs in Activity monitor.
16. Don't install Anti Virus, or uninstall if you have it now.
posted by ridogi at 12:32 PM on January 23, 2015 [15 favorites]

I gave up on Chrome when I discovered it was spamming the logs on my even older MBA (like, even when the application wasn't running, there would be multiple messages every five seconds or so from the Google Chrome Updater process, and this persisted after reboots). I uninstalled, reinstalled, tried Canary, tried the release version again, and gave up. I then uninstalled Chrome and manually deleted every trace of it that I could track down. Since then I've been happy with Safari's performance as a day-to-day browser, even with Yosemite, and I like the improved integration with my iOS devices (I use the iCloud tabs thing multiple times per day).

I haven't found Yosemite to be any worse of a resource hog than Mavericks was, but I have encountered several complete lockups of the sort I never had with Mavericks. I also have one new, randomly recurring problem that seems to be a cascade failure between [Insert App Name] Web Content processes, DNS weirdness, and problems joining a WiFi network upon waking from sleep. If the computer takes too long to rejoin WiFi, all the Web Content processes that are trying to do some sort of background refresh will hang, require killing, and then I end up rebooting because the DNS seems all screwed up after that.

I'll second the thing about Flash and clearing off space on your SSD though. The system gets really touchy about running out of swap space, and it can essentially make itself crash if it thinks the disk is full (which will happen if it's swapping enough). I have completely removed Flash and use the Youtube5 extension to handle that, and I'll fire up my iPad for any other site that won't play video without Flash in a desktop browser.
posted by fedward at 1:10 PM on January 23, 2015

Chrome hogs resources on Macs. If you're anywhere near short on disk space (which is likely on a 128GB SSD) and are in the habit of opening lots of tabs Chrome will spawn GB and GB of temporary files without limit and your Mac will become unresponsive after a certain amount of time as a result. If you can get by with Safari, switch to Safari. (Or Firefox.) If you can't, install a tab-limiting extension and get in the habit of deleting tabs when you're done with them (or saving them with a read-later extension or OneTab).

Don't upgrade to Yosemite. I've avoided it on a 2011 Mac that's better specced than yours because I won't make use of most of its new features and suspect it'll affect performance on the things I do need. Don't downgrade either.
posted by holgate at 1:13 PM on January 23, 2015

Best answer: Chrome is a pig. Mavericks is probably the sweet spot for that machine, as it has memory compression.

SSD upgrade may or may not help. More space can help, and a faster SSD should help a bit with swapping. I noticed that there are now adapter boards that allow the use of commodity mSATA SSDs in some MacBook's with Apple's proprietary SATA SSD form factor. I just ordered one for my 2012 rMBP for $20 + the price of the SSD. Together I'll have a better SSD for less than what one world computing offers.
posted by Good Brain at 2:48 AM on January 24, 2015

Give safari a try if at all possible- it's so much less resource intensive that I've switched to it as the default browser on my mac.
posted by AaronRaphael at 7:52 PM on January 24, 2015

Response by poster: Thank you all. I've spent the weekend with Safari and can live with it.
posted by ndg at 8:45 AM on January 25, 2015

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