Why is OS X so damn slow?
June 21, 2006 3:44 PM   Subscribe

Why is OS X so damn slow?

I was employer issued an iBook G4 800 running OS X 10.4 and it's a dog. I'm not talking Photoshop is slow. I'm talking checking email and surfing the net is almost unbearable if the machine isn't restarted every single day (or more). I've done everything I can to speed it up - max ram, run system scripts, checked the disk, run shadow killer, etc. and the machine just doesn't seem to get any faster. I would revert back to OS 9 but the machine won't dual boot. Is there anyway to strip OS X down to make it faster? I don't need any of the fancy quartz crap and would gladly give up all the beauty of OS X for speed. I ask this question after booting Ubuntu Linix and it was faster running off the CD than OS X is off the HD! I'm tempted to install Ubuntu but my sys admin wouldn't dig that too much.
posted by photoslob to Computers & Internet (50 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
How much RAM does it have now?
posted by nathan_teske at 3:47 PM on June 21, 2006

Slow compared to os9? Thats an oft heard complaint, including from myself. But I like the not crashing part :p . OS9 put more resources in the current process than osx. Do you have IM / chats running, dashboard, google desktop? G.D. really is a dog.
posted by uni verse at 3:54 PM on June 21, 2006

Have you tried running logging in as root to see if it's just as slow?
posted by jca at 3:54 PM on June 21, 2006

Try turning off the Dashboard and Spotlight components of Mac OS X 10.4 to reduce its load on memory and CPU.

Also make sure that by "max ram" you mean you are considering both slots and that you have a total of 512 MB (1 GB preferably) of system memory.

You might also consider replacing the internal HD with a 7200 RPM laptop hard drive.

This last trick will require cloning to a third disk if you don't want your sys admin to know what you're doing. It will also make your laptop run much hotter than you may be accustomed to. But it will be faster.
posted by Mr. Six at 4:00 PM on June 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

Try MacJanitor. It's a ui wrapper for some UNIX cleanup scripts that keep everything running smoothly.

ShadowKiller may speed up your Mac by removing the default dropshadows on all windows.

Some tips and tweaks from Macworld.
posted by lekvar at 4:01 PM on June 21, 2006

Huh - Are you positive it is recognizing all the RAM in there?

The fact that it is bogging down, rather than being consistently laggy, makes me think there are some services running that maybe shouldn't be.
posted by mzurer at 4:02 PM on June 21, 2006

I have a slightly newer iBook G3 as a secondary machine and it works great for email, Web browsing, that sort of thing. The only thing I wouldn't do on it is any sort of graphics-intensive stuff. My first guess would be that the memory is defective, or perhaps you have a memory leak situation on your hands.
posted by lackutrol at 4:04 PM on June 21, 2006

Max RAM on that model seems to be 640 MB, which is not great. I upgraded my slightly faster G4 mini from 512 MB to 1 GB and it got much snappier.
posted by smackfu at 4:04 PM on June 21, 2006

I am glad you qualified the your "Why is OS X so damn slow?" to be your system.

I had it running at decent speeds on my old iMac g3 500. I wouldn't want to edit a movie on it, but for email, web and playing MP3s it was fine.

It could be the bad memory mentioned above. You should also make sure you have everything turned off you don't need like file sharing and whatnot.

I've since acquired a MacBook pro and OS X is so fast it scary.
posted by birdherder at 4:26 PM on June 21, 2006

My PB G4 667 is considerably slower running an Ubuntu live CD than OS X 10.4.6 or whatever it's up to, and was totally useable for email and surfing. Can you give more information on just how slow you're finding it? Does it beachball lots? Is it very stuttery? Is it taking seconds at a time to do the simplest tasks or what?
posted by edd at 4:34 PM on June 21, 2006

My RAM is maxed at 640. I've run shadowkiller and I prefer Main Menu and disk utility for running system scripts and repairing permissions. I've deactivated Dashboard and I've got Spotlight set not to search in the background. I can't really swap out HD's as I'd get a stern talking to or worse from the sys admin. I can't log in as root because I don't have the root password.

I've done everything I know how to do to make this pig run. My personal machine is a dual G5 so I know how OS X should run. It's hard to believe that someone, somewhere hasn't figured out a way to either hack the firmware to boot OS 9 or released a hack to strip down the OS for speed.
posted by photoslob at 4:42 PM on June 21, 2006

It beachballs way more than it should and surfing the net can just get stupid with the way it hangs. My guess is that a G4 800 just shouldn't be expected to run OS X no matter what Jobs wants everyone to believe. Probably part of the reason for the switch to Intel.
posted by photoslob at 4:45 PM on June 21, 2006

I'm sitting in front of G4 800, 768 MB of RAM, running OS X 10.4.6. And it's running just fine.
posted by nathan_teske at 4:54 PM on June 21, 2006

It beachballs way more than it should and surfing the net can just get stupid with the way it hangs. My guess is that a G4 800 just shouldn't be expected to run OS X no matter what Jobs wants everyone to believe. Probably part of the reason for the switch to Intel.
posted by photoslob at 4:45 PM PST on June 21 [+fave] [!]

That's stupid. A G4 800 is perfectly capable of running OS X. I have a G4 450, a G3 iMac and a 600 MHz G3 iBook all running OS X just fine. The guy has a problem.

When it beachballs, open Terminal and type 'top' to see what's kludging. Also check the console log. You may have a failing HD or some other problem.
posted by unSane at 4:55 PM on June 21, 2006

Drive could be fragmented or the directory structure corrupted. Beachballing can be down to accessing areas of the hard drive affected by these issues.

This is easily fixed with common disk repair tools that any halfway competent sys admin — who should be your willing and able primary source of help, anyway — will have.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:56 PM on June 21, 2006

I concur: a G4 800 runs OS X just fine, as long as it has the maximum RAM (I think it will, in fact, take more than 640 MB), as long as you have sufficient hard drive space free, and as long as all your programs are behaving normally.

The best advice on this page is that which says to run "top" in the Terminal when you're beachballing. I'm betting you'll be surprised at what's eating up your processor power.
posted by Mo Nickels at 5:13 PM on June 21, 2006

Create a new account and login there to see if it is as slow. That will help isolate whether it is a software or a hardware problem.
posted by sophist at 5:19 PM on June 21, 2006

I'll run top and see what it says. And unSane, you're referring to the laptop and not me right?
posted by photoslob at 5:20 PM on June 21, 2006

Yeah, I'm having no problems running OS X on a G3 iBook (granted, it's only 10.3 since there's no DVD drive on that iBook, so I never bothered to upgrade), so I would tend to think there is something odd about the system you have.
posted by litlnemo at 5:20 PM on June 21, 2006

Would Timbuktu being installed make a difference?
posted by photoslob at 5:24 PM on June 21, 2006

It does run a host process. What did 'top' return?
posted by Mr. Six at 5:29 PM on June 21, 2006

I had a problem like this with a G3 iBook: the machine would grind to a screeching halt whenever I had more than two programs open, and would stay that way until I restarted. I thought it must be bad RAM, since top didn't show anything funny hogging the CPU, but before I went out and spent any money I just reinstalled 10.4, making sure to reformat the hard drive in the process.

That fixed everything.

I still don't have a reasonable explanation for this--bad sectors in virtual memory, maybe?--but if you run out of other things to try, then it's worth a shot.
posted by hal incandenza at 5:31 PM on June 21, 2006

top returns the following: Processes: 52 total, 2 running, 50 sleeping... 176 threads 20:37:13
Load Avg: 0.84, 0.58, 0.38 CPU usage: 10.5% user, 13.2% sys, 76.3% idle
SharedLibs: num = 167, resident = 37.9M code, 4.28M data, 9.66M LinkEdit
MemRegions: num = 5699, resident = 143M + 9.24M private, 72.6M shared
PhysMem: 60.6M wired, 105M active, 249M inactive, 415M used, 224M free
VM: 3.49G + 117M 19907(0) pageins, 0(0) pageouts
posted by photoslob at 5:36 PM on June 21, 2006

I also knocked the monitor colors down to thousands and it actually feels snappier.
posted by photoslob at 5:36 PM on June 21, 2006

I'd put my money on a dying hard disk. That has slowed down OSX machines of mine with similar symptoms, and if it runs faster off CD, that might be because the CD doesn't require as much disk access. Open Disk Utility and click "Repair Disk Permissions." If it fails, make a backup of your important data and tell your sys admin you need a new hard drive. If it succeeds, it probably didn't help your problem at all, but it couldn't hurt.
posted by scottreynen at 5:39 PM on June 21, 2006

Via TheXLab:

At then end of the PhysMem (Physical Memory) line, we see that the Mac in this example has 1 GB of RAM (440 Mb used + 584 Mb free = 1,024 Mb = 1 GB).

Now note the pageins and pageouts in the last or VM (virtual memory) line:

11747(0) pageins, 0(0) pageouts

The numbers before the parentheses, 11740 and 0 in this example, indicate the total pageins and pageouts, respectively, performed since this Mac was last restarted. Over time, both numbers will increase. If the total pageouts is low — ideally 0 — compared to the number of pageins after having used your Mac for hours of work, you may have sufficient RAM. Otherwise, you should install more RAM.

The numbers within the parentheses are the most important: these indicate the number of pageins or pageouts performed in the last one second. If these values — especially pageouts — are consistently in the range of 25 to 50 or more, then the system is thrashing: paging excessively as it is starved for RAM at its current workload. Overall performance will slow as the CPU spends more time paging than on other work. If your Mac is thrashing, you need to install more RAM!

With 1 GB of RAM, there are 0(0) pageouts, both since the last restart and in the last one second. If this Mac had 256 Mb of RAM instead of 1 GB, then the number of pageouts would be higher since the current physical RAM in use is 440 Mb. Recall that RAM use increases with every additional open application or document. If this Mac had 256 Mb of RAM and we opened many applications and documents, the number of pageouts, both total and on a per-second basis, would be significantly higher. Depending on the mix of open applications and documents, with just 256 Mb of RAM, thrashing could result.

However, even with a large complement of RAM, such as the 1 GB in this example, pageouts and pageins can be high with very processor-intensive activities, such as video playback or compression. Therefore, it is the numbers in parentheses -- pages in or out per second -- that are the most critical in determining when thrashing is occurring and if more RAM is critically required.

To quit the top application, press the Control-C keyboard combination in Terminal.

My impression is:

• you have too many processes open: close apps and uninstall or turn off services
• your hard drive is too slow: replace the hard drive with a faster model
• your hard drive is probably fragmented or corrupt and so virtual memory access is slowed: use utilities like DiskWarrior or Norton Disk Doctor to do repairs
posted by Mr. Six at 5:47 PM on June 21, 2006

I second the idea to create a new default user, reboot, and log in as that user. If you still have the beachball, it is probably a hardware problem and most likely a failing disk.

OS X can be very slow if the Finder is trying to access a remote volume and waiting for timeouts, for example if you have mounted an FTP disk or your iDisk and the network isn't happy.
posted by unSane at 5:54 PM on June 21, 2006

by the way, 52 processes is NOT a lot for OS X because of all the daemons... here's mine for example:

Processes: 68 total, 2 running, 66 sleeping... 230 threads 20:57:57
Load Avg: 1.07, 0.57, 0.38 CPU usage: 1.8% user, 9.8% sys, 88.4% idle
SharedLibs: num = 188, resident = 43.1M code, 4.62M data, 20.9M LinkEdit
MemRegions: num = 14186, resident = 560M + 14.6M private, 183M shared
PhysMem: 165M wired, 405M active, 1.40G inactive, 1.96G used, 44.3M free
VM: 9.30G + 113M 44627(0) pageins, 687(0) pageouts
posted by unSane at 5:56 PM on June 21, 2006

Great link Mr. Six. The page also has a great link detailing how to manually run maintenance scripts from the terminal.
posted by photoslob at 5:56 PM on June 21, 2006

I have a 600 MHz G3 iBook, 640 MB, and while it's a little slow, it's definitely still OK for email and web surfing under OS X. In terms of 'top', your computer's hitting the processor a little harder than I'd expect it to be. I think it'd be more interesting to look at what was running - what apps were actually eating a lot of %CPU - while you were having the problem.

Do you routinely have iTunes and Safari open? Those two apps together suck a lot of processor, especially if iTunes is actually playing (decoding) mp3s. Safari eats a good bit of processor even if it's just sitting there not doing anything; lots of pages have Flash ads on them that play in the background, eating your processor. Playing music and having a couple of web pages open makes my iBook no good for anything else.

Finally, presumably you have a wireless network. You should check into whether or not it's responsible for some of your web-surfing lag, especially if it's 802.11g, which is vulnerable to interference.
posted by ikkyu2 at 6:36 PM on June 21, 2006

I've had a similar problem several times. For me, it was running out of disk space that was the culprit.

Archive/Delete as many files as you can. Then Safari->Empty Cache.... This has consistently (3-4 times) sped my machine up substantially. I now try to keep about 8GB of my 80GB disk free at all times and empty the cache in Safari.

The other problem I've had was with animations in Safari eating the CPU. Use Activity Monitor to check how much CPU Safari is eating. If it is any greater than 2-3% in a steady state, try Safari->Block Images and Plugins->Only Animation. This really screws up the rendering of a number of web pages, but can make a night and day difference with your overall system performance.
posted by Mr Stickfigure at 6:47 PM on June 21, 2006

I'd put my money on a dying hard disk. That has slowed down OSX machines of mine with similar symptoms

Me too. You said you can't swap drives, but can you run it off an external volume?
posted by furiousthought at 7:13 PM on June 21, 2006

I vote for the hard drive failing too. I run 10.4 on several older Macs. Heck, I run 10.4 server on a G4 933 tower and it's snappy as all get out even under a fairly heavy load (1GB RAM). I have 10.3 running on an 800 MHz G3 iBook withh 768 MB RAM and it is quite snappy.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:15 PM on June 21, 2006

Sorry, 800MHz G4 iBook. No more G3s in my life except an old Pismo running 10.3 (serving a little java wiki app) with 512 MB. (Runs fine, and fairly quick.)
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:17 PM on June 21, 2006

I've found that both Safari and Firefox are prone to random resource hogging. Sometimes they're fine, sometimes they just decide to glom up CPU, and in the case of Safari, randomly stop making net connections.

Camino has been zippy and shockingly predictable in comparison.
posted by trevyn at 7:24 PM on June 21, 2006

Safari does seem to eat up alot more RAM than I ever expected - something like 100 mb or more just sitting there. Camino here I come. I'm also going to try and boot from an external HD and see how it runs. Thanks everyone.
posted by photoslob at 7:28 PM on June 21, 2006

Mac OS X runs usably fast on my iBook G3/300 (I even used it as my main computer for a couple of months just over a year ago). Either you have fantastically unrealistic expectations (ie instant everything) or there's something seriously wrong with your computer.

Ignore the suggestions about turning off services, erasing files, repairing permissions, whatever. They'll make no difference if it's as bad as you claim. It almost certainly isn't the glossy effects either. The claims about the hard disk failing ring true. Either reformat or replace it.
posted by cillit bang at 7:31 PM on June 21, 2006

There are a couple other things that haven't been mentioned. (I'll second the "low disk space" possibility.)

Do you have a lot of stuff cluttering up your desktop? Moving items off the desktop can help.

Resize your dock to one of the optimal sizes. Press and hold Option while resizing the dock and pick an available size. Also turn off bouncing dock icons and magnification.
posted by jxpx777 at 7:31 PM on June 21, 2006

Only a few things on the desktop and 46 gigs of 60 available. Maybe my expectations are too high but it kills me to say that my wife's comparable IBM Thinkpad runs circles around my iBook.
posted by photoslob at 8:33 PM on June 21, 2006

hack the firmware to boot OS 9

white g3 ibooks actually can boot into os 9 -- I started writing some instructions on how but I now see on the web that they stopped providing for this possibility with g4 ibooks, so it is probably too late for you. I doubt it is a firmware issue though, but that g4s just don't come with the right stuff installed. I see for instance that imac g4/800s can boot into os 9 (source)

Of course, on my g3 ibook (700mhz, 640MB memory) I would never dream of doing this -- OS X isn't fast, but it's certainly fast enough. So I suspect there is something wrong with yours.
posted by advil at 9:21 PM on June 21, 2006

How much free disk space do you have? If it's over 90% full you'll get that slowdown.
posted by bonaldi at 6:55 AM on June 22, 2006

Bonaldi, he just said he has 46 out of 60 free. So it's not the disk space.

Maybe my expectations are too high

But if you've used OS X on a G5 then you know how it should operate; and if you've been reading your own thread you know that OS X should behave quite well on your iBook, not to mention even older iBooks.

Your expectations are fine--I think, like everyone else has said, it's your hard disk, or your RAM, or something specific to your individual machine that is the problem--not OS X in general or on iBooks in particular.

Is there a reason your sysadmin isn't able to help you with this? Assuming your workplace is set up like most others, it's the man's freakin' job to be helping you with stuff like this.

All that's probably required is A) a hard drive replacement, or B) RAM reseating/replacement, and the troubleshooting we've all mentioned (logging in as another user after a reboot, etc) would be even less trouble.
posted by cyrusdogstar at 7:18 AM on June 22, 2006

Low disk space is the first thing that occurred to me. A full hard drive means you'll constantly be swapping VM in and out, and that is sloooooooow. If you can get the techs at your office to install a new one, it'll probably make a very big difference. Fragmentation might be an issue as well--I'm less sure about that, but I think OS X tries to grab big contiguous blocks of disk space for VM. That would be the only reason fragmentation would be a real problem—in terms of plain file access, OS X doesn't respond to defragging the way OS 9 did.

Also second the recco for Camino. Safari is a massive resource hog; if you choose to keep using it, quit and relaunch it regularly.
posted by adamrice at 7:20 AM on June 22, 2006

Low disk space or faulty hard drive (listen for a telltale "click" or excessive grinding) would be my first guess. My old G4 Powerbook (a mere 550MHz) would run fine until the hard drive was on its last legs. At that point, it'd have trouble booting and I knew to get my data off of there.
posted by mikeh at 8:17 AM on June 22, 2006

Here is what I do on my iMM (Intel Mac Mini).

1. Turn off Dashboard.
2. Disable Spotlight and Cups (I don't use a printer).
3. Turn off mDNS (I don't personally need it).
4. I remove all icons on the desktop, except removable media.
5. I run as a regular user.
6. I install all 3rd party apps to ~/Applications.*
7. I don't use FileVault.
8. Keep Startup Items clear of things I don't need.

*Since I am the only user of my Macintosh, I keep all third party applications in my home directory, in a folder called "Applications". I do this in an effort to keep everything outside my home directory as untouched as possible.

Also, I perform a clean install when Mac OS X point releases are available. For example, when Mac OS X 10.4.7 comes out, I will back up my files, perform a clean install of Mac OS X 10.4.5, apply the 10.4.7 update, and restore my files and programs. This is probably not needed but point release updates change a lot of things and I want to be sure I am starting is as pristine a system as possible.
posted by DuckFOO at 1:04 PM on June 22, 2006

Could it be a font issue? I had a similar problem & that's what it ended up being; I took most of the fonts out of the library & deinstalled the font managment program i had & it made a HUGE difference.
posted by octavia at 1:08 PM on June 22, 2006

I've had problems caused by the download cache (not the regular cache) of both Safari and Firefox. You might try going into preferences and clearing both of these preferences. I had similar sluggishness problems and this definitely made things more snappy. This might be the reason why the browser is eating CPU while just sitting there. I hope that this helps. Good luck.
posted by monsteroflove at 4:55 PM on June 22, 2006

The three pieces of advice I have:

1. Turn off Spotlight.
2. Turn off Dashboard.

(I outline how to do this here.)

3. Check Activity Monitor — I had a rogue Quicksilver installation that was eating up about 95% of my CPU at times. Wiping the whole thing clean and starting again made my machine quite snappy once more.
posted by WCityMike at 7:59 AM on June 23, 2006

DuckFOO, how do you turn off CUPS and mDNS on your Mac, and have they made an appreciable speed difference over the other items you turned off? And what is mDNS? (CUPS is a printing system, if I recall, and I don't believe I need it either, as for the moment I don't have a printer hooked up.) Also, how would you re-enable same if you wanted to?
posted by WCityMike at 8:09 AM on June 23, 2006


I turned off CUPS by editing /etc/hostconfig. As for mDNS, I used the Mac OS X Hints entry here (be sure to read the comments as well):


As for speeding things up, I don't think it did, but I was looking at reducing the memory footprint of Mac OS X so it wouldn't be so quick to swap to disk. I am also the kind of guy who likes to tinker and disable everything I don't use on a operating system. You should see me on a XP computer!
posted by DuckFOO at 10:19 AM on June 23, 2006

« Older What gift should I send overseas?   |   Am I deeply traumatized without realizing it? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.