Help. My mac runs slow.
January 12, 2008 1:37 PM   Subscribe

Help me, my mac is running slow! I have a theory that this relates to not utilizing the full amount of memory that is available.

I have an 800 MHz PowerPC G4 with 1GB of RAM. Still using Tiger.

Using a simple program like Firefox or Photoshop moves semi-slowly (even with no other progams open) - at least compared to my pc. When I watch the activity monitor, my % user will shoot up to 40-90% and stay there while Firefox is open. But my % of System stays pretty low. Below 30% usually.

Any explanation on this?

Also, I have Cocktail, and ran it, and it helped my computer overall, but not while using programs like firefox.
posted by hazyspring to Technology (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
What makes you think all your memory is not being used? You didn't explain why you think that's true.

1 GB of memory is not very much these days, and memory is cheap. I suggest going up to at least 2 GB, and more if you can hack it.

Also, Firefox and Photoshop are the opposite of simple programs, in my opinion... they both can be quite complex and memory-hungry, depending on what you're doing.
posted by xil at 2:09 PM on January 12, 2008

Also, if Firefox is using 90% of the CPU while it's sitting there doing nothing, something is wrong with it. Both the system and user CPU usage should be under 10%. ("Doing nothing" means that no pages are loading, nothing is animating, etc.)
posted by xil at 2:11 PM on January 12, 2008

It's an old mac? I mean, you're very near the bottom of system specs even for Tiger, and Firefox isn't as "lean" as you'd think.

Oh, also, forget about Flash.
posted by Oktober at 2:22 PM on January 12, 2008

That "%" shows CPU utilization. That has almost nothing to do with memory utilization (except when you're swapping cache).

It sounds like the Mac you have can be goosed to 1.5 GB, but that's not going to make your CPU run any faster, and that's the limiting factor here. Web browsing and Photoshopping are fairly demanding on the CPU.

If you click on the "system memory" tab on Activity monitor, you'll see how much you're actually using. I've got a G5 iMac w/ 1 GB RAM; right now I show 993 MB RAM used and 1.64 GB "swap used"
posted by adamrice at 2:36 PM on January 12, 2008

Best answer: First, Firefox and Photoshop are neither simple nor lightweight programs. They're both giant, overgrown, lumbering behemoths. Firefox in particular is a ridiculous RAM hog, especially if you don't quit it every once in a while so it releases all the memory it's gobbling and starts fresh. It keeps the last few pages you've visited, in every tab, cached in memory so the 'Back' button works faster, so it can use a lot if you use lots of tabs and browse very heavy pages.

One of the other immediate problems I see is that you're comparing your Mac to an unspecified PC. How fast is this other machine? Obviously, Firefox is going to run better on a faster, more-recently-manufactured (more modern processor) machine. So it's not clear whether the comparison you're making is really fair or not.

Just to give you a point for reference: I'm writing this on a 800MHz G4 iBook, with 640MB of RAM. At idle (when I'm not typing), Firefox takes about 0.5 to 1% of CPU. With this page alone open (and just the last couple of MetaFilter pages in the cache) it's taking 105MB of real memory and 325MB of virtual. Overall, with FF, Mail, and Activity Monitor running, I'm using between 5 and 15% CPU in user processes and between 2 and 9 percent in System.

If Firefox is taking lots and lots of CPU at idle, something is wrong -- I would consider first disabling all add-ons (or doing it one by one, to see if one of them fixes it), making sure you are using the most up-to-date stable version (I'm using, and then look into deleting and reinstalling it if nothing else works. It sounds like an add-on run amok that's leaking memory.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:36 PM on January 12, 2008

I ran a similar-spec'd PowerBook G4 12" for many years. Firefox is indeed a RAM pig, so whenever possible, I'd opt for Safari, with a leaner RAM appetite and faster performance on a G4 processor than FF.
posted by porn in the woods at 3:13 PM on January 12, 2008

2nd'ing the harshing on Flash.

Flash on Mac OS X is simply atrocious, and even moreso on G4s. And even quadruply moreso on an 800 Mhz G4 with a measly 1 GB of RAM. It will take any opportunity it can to saturate your CPU usage, and when you add that to the total memory and resource nightmare that is Firefox, it shouldn't be surprising that it runs slow on your system.

Also, I've found that on G4's (at least on my G4 Powerbooks), *any* access of the network by an application will cause CPU usage to spike. When I had NetNewsWire running, and periodically updating RSS feeds, or had iTunes updating podcasts, my system would basically become unusable until the apps stopped accessing the network.

I would suggest that you use a leaner browser, such as Camino (there are actually G4 optimized builds of Camino available)

Install MenuMeters, so you can easily monitor your CPU and Memory usage whenever you're using your system. There's a 99 44/100% chance that you are maxing out your RAM usage. 1 GB is the bare minimum you need to use OSX, let alone run resource hungry programs like Photoshop and Firefox.
posted by melorama at 3:58 PM on January 12, 2008

Applications -> Utilities -> Disk Utility

Run "Repair Permissions". Never hurts, often cures mysterious Mac ills.
posted by mkultra at 4:22 PM on January 12, 2008

try resetting the browser.

try camino or safari
i tend to stick with camino, it seems better with a hundred or so tabs (not all the same ones) open for more than 2 weeks. after that it starts getting pokey.

at least clear the cache.

how much disk space do you have free? unices like at least 20% free space for ample breathing room, especially with not a lot or RAM.
posted by KenManiac at 5:41 PM on January 12, 2008

Applications -> Utilities -> Disk Utility

Run "Repair Permissions". Never hurts, often cures mysterious Mac ills.

No, it does not often cure mysterious Mac ills. You should learn what that functionality actually does, rather than buy into the voodoo hype surrounding it.
posted by Mikey-San at 6:41 PM on January 12, 2008

(And it damn sure isn't going to make his system magically faster or reduce memory usage.)
posted by Mikey-San at 6:41 PM on January 12, 2008

Don't use menu meters or similar programs. They will slow your computer considerably.

I still use my old 600 MHz iBook g3 but it is excruciatingly slow for modern web tasks like flash and video. Bottom line: our computers are nearing end of life and need to be replaced.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:27 PM on January 12, 2008

Best answer: ikkyu2: I understand the point you're making but respectfully disagree, at least in relation to the OP's computer. A 600MHz G3 may be getting a bit long in the tooth these days (although I'd argue it's still pretty servicable), but an 800MHz G4 really isn't that bad. Like I said earlier, I use one every day, am using one right now in fact, and it's just fine. It even runs Firefox, for all its bloat, without trouble. The only thing I've noticed is some frame-dropping on YouTube videos.

40-90% user-process CPU utilization is definitely not, in my experience anyway on similar equipment, normal, when the only thing running is FF.

Something is definitely borked here if that's really the numbers he's getting.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:57 PM on January 12, 2008

our computers are nearing end of life and need to be replaced

Shhh! My 867 MHz 12" Powerbook G4 can hear you!
posted by mumkin at 10:58 PM on January 12, 2008

Don't use menu meters or similar programs. They will slow your computer considerably.

Not true.
posted by D.C. at 11:24 PM on January 12, 2008

I will second the MenuMeters thing. It is invaluable to me to see how much VM and how much CPU you are using at a given time. And it does not eat too many resources. Secondly, have a look at the free space on the hard drive. It really must be more than 20% of the size of it, as any virtual memory will become much slow with less. Buy an external hard drive for your iPhoto album and your iTunes collection if necessary.

Do also run some maintenance jobs, if you don't have it running all night. I use Onyx which is free to clean my machines.

I would probably also suggest using Safari, as it is a very decent browser that renders pages so much more beautiful than Firefox. You may have installed some of the extensions in Firefox and they may be the culprit of the CPU-thrashing you see.
posted by KimG at 8:48 AM on January 13, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the suggestion. I have recently run Cocktail and repaired disk permissions so I know that is not the problem. I have a 120 GB hard drive, and it has less than 40GB used, I have the bulk of my music files on an external hard drive.

My computer is about 5 years old (maybe a little older) and I upgraded the RAM and hard drive about 2 years ago. I'm trying to get the most out of it I can until it just is unusable. Then I'm going to do a serious upgrade.

Safari is great, but I do like Firefox and the add-ons that I can use with it.
posted by hazyspring at 11:13 AM on January 13, 2008

You should learn what that functionality actually does

I know exactly what it does. It corrects errant permission changes caused by lazy developers. It has a well-documented track record of fixing odd Mac slowdowns (both in my house and across the web) when some cruddy program decides it wants to change the permissions on something like /Library/Frameworks.

Even if you just want to be obstinately contrarian, note my first point- Never hurts.

Do you have anything actually constructive to add?
posted by mkultra at 11:39 AM on January 13, 2008

Menu meters ate 10% of the CPU time on my iBook while other processes were running, the last time I installed it. Evaluating the amount of CPU that CPU-intensive threads are using is itself a CPU-intensive process and if you're trying to optimize the amount of CPU time your software is asking for you should take a glance with a load meter to figure out where you are and then shut the load meter off.

The right way to do this on a mac, by the way, is to pop open the Terminal and run 'top'. Much better information than any of these Quartz Extreme transparent-windoid gadgetry.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:24 AM on January 15, 2008

I'll second ikkyu2 and suggest that running top during a slowdown might give you some additional insight. The other nice thing about console-based utilities is that you can always copy/paste their output into a file, or put it into Pastebin and link to it, so others you're working with on the Internet can see exactly what you're seeing.

There may also be a way of running top's output directly into a file, but I can't figure out how to do it and get clean results right now. (Running top > somefilename works, but the output is ugly.)

If you wanted to do that and then either post it or send a link to a pastebin, people might be able to give you some more specific/helpful suggestions.

Although if all top shows is that Firefox.bin has 90% processor utilization or something, it's not going to mean much new. In that case I think you're just going to have to start disabling addons one at a time and see what makes the numbers drop back to a more reasonable number, like <5%. And, worst-case, delete Firefox and all associated files and reinstall it.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:09 AM on January 15, 2008

Similar problem with G4 15" 1.5 MhZ Powerbook, 2 GB RAM, OS 10.5.2

The machine has been slow for a long time. Genius Bar said to reinstall OS -- did a clean reinstall late last spring. No help. Tune-up (2 days) in November. Hard drive died in December and I thought, "That was the problem!" Installed new (MacSales/OWC) faster (7200 rpm) drive; installed 10.5. All apps installed as new.

Machine crawls. System resources were maxed out regularly -- everything slow. Tabbing between applications is painful.

Genius Bar person said he thought my processor was bad. (??) Before I spend $350 (the "flat rate" fix), I'm trying alternatives.

Regularly use FF, Thunderbird, BBEdit -- background apps Snapz Pro, Twitterrific. Have learned that MarkSpace sync for my Blackjack seems to be a resource hog, so now I kill it after use.

Sometimes: PPT or Keynote (I'm a teacher), Word, Excel. Would love to be able to use Photoshop again; haven't tried since new hard drive.

Have done most of the things on this list. In the process of disabling FF extensions -- here's what I have left: Session Manager, ScribeFire, Web Developer, Extended Status Bar. If it's any of these four, I'm guessing its Session Manager. Sigh. That's a lifesaver.

On Activity Monitor CPU graph, CPU is no longer always maxed out -- but everything is still somewhat slow, especially when an app is *doing* something. FF is still at 35-50% CPU "on idle" and goes up to 90+ when it's loading a page or doing something. RAM: 500 Free, 245 Wired, 700 Active, 600 inactive (rounding). But it says my VM size is 42 GB!!! WTH?

Any suggestions gratefully appreciated! Even if they echo the Genius Bar recommendation re $$$.
posted by kegill at 12:46 PM on March 18, 2008

Since there's been no answer, I posted as a new question:
posted by kegill at 11:24 PM on March 18, 2008

Both of you should open Terminal and type:

> sudo fs_usage

and watch it for a while - what processes are using disk and network the most when the Mac is slow?
posted by nicwolff at 11:56 PM on March 18, 2008

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