Should I upgrade my MacBook Pro to the latest OS?
January 30, 2015 5:35 AM   Subscribe

I've got a 2.5-year-old MacBook Pro. It is agonizingly slow. Should I upgrade to the latest OS version?

Writing this on a MacBook Pro that was purchased in the summer of 2012. 2.5 GHz, 4 GB of memory. Currently running 10.9.5. Plenty (about 100 GB) of free hard drive space. But it runs agonizingly slow - like, I booted it up 45 minutes ago, and I'm still getting the spinning ball when I switch from one application to the next. Apps that were on when I shut down are still working on loading.

I feel like I've done all the tricks to speed things up, including that voodoo thing of holding down three different keys when powering up to flush out something or other. But it still is a pale shadow of the machine I knew and loved two years ago, and I'm wondering if a fresh OS install is the answer ... so should I do the OS upgrade that the App Store is telling me to do (Yosemite)? Or will that make things worse? Is there anyway, short of wiping the drive and doing a total reinstall, to get the machine as fast as it was when I bought it?
posted by jbickers to Computers & Internet (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
My son uses my 4 y/o macbook. It was agonizingly slow.
Last week, we added a new user account for him, and it's a lot faster now when you use said new account. Try that first? Takes like 10 minutes and won't delete any of your information.
posted by signal at 5:42 AM on January 30, 2015

And the new account is 'managed with parental controls', don't know if that made a difference.
posted by signal at 5:43 AM on January 30, 2015

First version of Yosemite was very slow. First update was much faster than Mavericks. Do it.

Be warned, if you have anything installed in /usr/local (like homebrew, npm, or a TeX distribution), move it to another location before installing or the install will take like 12 hours. If you don't know what any of that means you don't have to worry about it.
posted by vogon_poet at 5:57 AM on January 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

A three-year-old Mac shouldn't be that slow. My 2010 MacBook Pro is running Yosemite with no unusual beachballing. Do a clean install of Yosemite, and if it's still slow add RAM and consider replacing the HD with an SSD.
posted by nicwolff at 5:57 AM on January 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: So, to clarify - does "clean install" mean let the app store do the update? Or is there more to it?
posted by jbickers at 5:58 AM on January 30, 2015

I recently upgraded to Mavericks with a newer macbook pro (2013 model), and it was awful. It had been fine pre-upgrade, and then suddenly everything was very unresponsive.

Here is my question about that.

It only got better when I upgraded from 4Gb of RAM to 8Gb of RAM, although to be fair I didn't end up trying a number of the other suggestions offered.
posted by vernondalhart at 5:59 AM on January 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

Your bottleneck is likely ram - 4 gigs is extremely low for a modern laptop, and your processor doesn't sound so bad. You can buy 16 gigs of Mac-compatible laptop memory for $150 on Amazon - I did it recently to push an old Mac mini I had from 4 gigs to 16 and it's like a whole new machine.
posted by Itaxpica at 6:10 AM on January 30, 2015 [6 favorites]

My Macbook Pro is even older, and still feels damn fast on 10.10 - but I long ago swapped out the HD for an SSD, and upgraded the RAM to 8GB. 4GB just isn't enough, and HD to SSD is a lot cheaper than it used to be and will Blow Your Mind (tm) for most day-to-day activities.
posted by Tomorrowful at 6:37 AM on January 30, 2015

4 gigs of ram is not low for a modern laptop, in fact the Macbook Air ships with it on all models. I have never beeen in a situation when I needed more ram.

Does your Macbook Pro have an SSD?
posted by devnull at 6:39 AM on January 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

That may be the case, but it kind of helps my claim; I've found that MacBook Airs are extraordinarily slow for anything other than basic web browsing and word processing. In my experience, 4 gigs meant that my machine was hanging for seconds at a time after clicking on pretty much anything if I had Chrome, Xcode, and a terminal open. Upgrading the ram has had a significant, noticeable positive effect for me there.

Though I guess we don't know what jbickers is using the machine for; 4 gigs may well be enough for them.
posted by Itaxpica at 6:43 AM on January 30, 2015

This machine should not be slow. Adding memory is easily the first thing you should do - it is cheap and easy. However, even with only 4 gigs it shouldn't be as slow as you describe. What do you have running all the time? What installs and runs at start-up? What kind of add-ins, helpers etc. do you have in your browser? I have cleaned up a few laptops where the drag was adware that came with browser add-ins. A full re-install of the OS from scratch (not just an update) is the best way to clear out all such clutter, but that is more of a need in Windows than OSX. For this machine if the issue is too much extra crap running you should be able to get rid of most things without the re-install.
posted by caddis at 6:46 AM on January 30, 2015

Does your Mac have an HDD or an SSD? If it has a hard drive, put your ear to the right hand side of the case when it's beachballing. Do you hear a slow, rhythmic click until it stops beachballing? If that's the case, back up your data immediately - it's probably time for a hard drive replacement.

If that's not the issue, I agree with many of the posters - 4GB is too low for a modern Mac. Yes, yes, Apple still technically sells 4GB units, but they're the very cheapest, lowest-end units, and 8GB will likely become the low end later this year. If there's not a problem with the HDD, upgrading to 8GB isn't that expensive on the non-Retina MBPs and will definitely improve performance.
posted by eschatfische at 7:06 AM on January 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

Here are instructions on how to do a clean install of Yosemite. It is not just an update. You will need to back up all of your apps & files, format the hard drive, install the OS, and migrate your stuff back onto the laptop. IMO, this is the route you should take. Your laptop should be running smoothly at 2.5 years old, so there's something wonky going on and a clean install will take care of it (as long as it's not a failing hard drive). Backing up to time machine, doing the clean install, and remigrating from time machine should only take an hour or so of your life.
posted by puritycontrol at 7:14 AM on January 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

I have a 2009 MBP that's still running well with no beachballs. I have 8G of RAM in it, and also upgraded the hard drive to a "hybrid" drive. I didn't feel it was worth going full SSD, though I'm certain that would have been faster yet. I'm running Yosemite on it, which is significantly more stable than Mavericks was.
posted by Runes at 7:25 AM on January 30, 2015

Response by poster: In the question that vernondalhart links, there seems to be a consensus that Chrome is a big culprit. Looking at the activity monitor, I can indeed see dozens of things called "Google Chrome Helper," adding up to tons of usage. 3.99 of the 4 GB are constantly in use.

So, assuming I nuke Chrome to see if that helps - is Firefox any better, or do I have to learn to love Safari?
posted by jbickers at 7:41 AM on January 30, 2015

IME, learn to love Safari because Firefox is just as laggy, ymmv.
posted by Jesse the K at 7:44 AM on January 30, 2015

The new Safari that comes with Yosemite is a vast improvement, so much so that I use it for most things now. I keep Chrome around so I can watch things that require Flash without having to install it.

nthing that your problems are not caused by the age of the computer. RAM may be an issue, but I suspect you'd get the most bang for your buck by upgrading to an SSD, and putting a clean install of Yosemite on it. Then you can migrate the apps you use, without keeping all the cruft that's slowing you down.
posted by Scienxe at 7:59 AM on January 30, 2015

Response by poster: Well, I just created a new user account and it feels like I have a brand new computer. I am amazed, frankly. Off to upgrade to Yosemite tonight.
posted by jbickers at 8:34 AM on January 30, 2015

Definitely upgrade the RAM. There's no excuse to be running 4 GB RAM on 2012 Macbook Pro. If my 2009 MBP is running 8 GB, your 2012 should be maxed out too. It's a very cheap, very noticeable upgrade.
posted by oceanjesse at 1:43 PM on January 30, 2015

The new account thing is good, but starting from scratch is even better.

My 2009 macbook pro with 4gb was SNAPPY on mavericks with a fresh install(yosemite is very similar, as well).

If you upgrade to 8gb of ram and an SSD, that computer will feel faster than the current macbook airs due to the fact that it can push the CPU harder, since it's a normal laptop CPU and not a low power model. 120gb SSDs are $50-60 now pretty often, that ram should be $40 or so. For $100 you could literally feel like you bought a brand new computer.

Also seconding using safari. Chrome actually makes my macbook pro get hot. It always stays ice cool with safari. Uses less ram, cpu, scrolls smoother.

Really though, you want to do a wipe and reinstall of the new OS. I put a fresh install on a macbook air a friend bought and it was hilariously faster.
posted by emptythought at 3:48 PM on January 30, 2015

Ok, a couple of things... if you haven't been doing occasional maintenance on your Mac, download Onyx. Run it every now and again and have it run its cleaning scripts. It will repair disk permissions, clean caches, etc. Also, I've had no problems with Firefox on a 2.5 GHz i5 with 4GB of RAM. When you download it, go to add ons and install Adblock Edge.
posted by azpenguin at 7:06 PM on January 30, 2015

Currently running a four year old Macbook Air with Adobe Illustrator, Cinema 4D and the latest Chrome running with 28 tabs open (mainly Ask Metafilter and Pinterest). OS X Yosemite 10.10.1. Running perfectly with no slow-down. Have never clean reinstalled OS X or erased the hard drive.

I'd be really interested to know what is causing your slow-down issues as it shouldn't be behaving in the way you describe. Look at Task Manager carefully and see if there are any things running that look suspicious or have names you don't recognise.
posted by stackhaus23 at 6:42 AM on February 1, 2015

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