Step 1: Minimum requirements
Is your Mac fast enough to meet your need for speed? Check the spec of your machine by going to the Apple menu and choosing About This Mac. The minimum requirements for OS X Lion are an Intel Core 2 Duo and 2GB of RAM, but it isn’t called a ‘minimum spec’ for nothing.
Step 2: Clean up your desktop
It takes time for your Mac to draw all the files, folders and clutter on your desktop – so don’t use it as a storage area. If you regularly save files to the desktop create a folder for temporary files, then sort them into the appropriate folders when you’ve finished. It’ll help you to stay organised as well as speed things up.
Step 3: Reindex spotlight
Spotlight should reindex automatically, but if your machine is switched off it’ll miss its slot. So leave your Mac on overnight – or force it to reindex. In Spotlight’s System Preferences click the Privacy tab. Add the main disk to ‘prevent’ Spotlight from indexing, then remove it. This will force Spotlight to reindex.
Step 4: Compatible apps
To see a list of your applications that won’t work in Lion, hold down the Option key, click on the Apple menu, and select System Information. In the window that appears, select Applications on the left. Click on the Kind column to sort the applications. Any that are Classic or PowerPC will be incompatible.
Step 5: Remove programs
Applications that you don’t use take up precious drive space; space your Mac can use to speed up your system. There’s no application removal tool shipped with the Mac, but you can use CleanApp instead (£10.02, www.syniumsoftware.com) to find applications you don’t use and remove them forever.
Step 6: Take out the trash
Another simple way to speed up your disk – and your performance – is to empty your trash. Some people use their Trash as though it were another folder – but it can hide active preference files, corrupt data and gigabytes of unoptimised disk space. C-Shift-Delete does the job.
Step 7: Live verify
When faced with a sluggish disk verify the start-up volume. When you run Disk Utility direct from the startup volume, this is called Live Verification. If Disk Utility finds problems, you’ll need to reboot and repair the volume at startup. If you suspect a compromised drive, go directly to Repair Permissions.
Step 8: Defragment
Your Mac optimises application allocations every time you add new software. Fragmented drives slow down file writing and access and therefore your system. There are several third-party tools for defragging your Mac. We like Drive Genius 3 – a good all-round disk repair and maintenance tool (£62, www.prosofteng.com).
Step 9: Have a Cocktail
There are other tools you can use to repair permissions and perform maintenance routines that can speed up your Mac too. Cocktail (£13, www.maintain.se/cocktail) is one of few clean-up tools with a Lion edition, providing features like permission repairing, cache cleaning, maintenance scripts and more.
Step 10: Lion Tweaks
Much of Lion’s fancy interface behaviour uses valuable processor cycles. You can shave off valuable nano-seconds using Lion Tweaks (www.ifredrik.com) to turn off animation and revert to the 2D dock. Speed freaks can disable potentially time-sucking features like global spell checking and repeating keys too.
Step 11: Reduce start-up items
Quicken startup by reducing the number of items your Mac loads when you switch it on. Go to Users & Groups in System Preferences and click the Login Items tab – disable (or enable) items that load when the Mac boots up. It’s also handy for removing boot-loading apps you’ve no need for.
Step 12: Reset PRAM
Remember zap the PRAM? Since the dawn of the Mac, it’s been a cure-all for ailing machines, and it still holds true. Restart your Mac and immediately hold down Cmd-Option-P+R until the Mac chimes a second time. It wipes the Mac’s short-term memory for connected devices, display resolution and other settings.
Step 13: Create a new user
If all this tweaking has lead to nought, you might have a dodgy installation on your hands. But, wait, before you wipe everything clean and start from scratch create a new User in System Preferences Accounts pane. If that new user is no faster than your old log-in, it’s the Mac’s hardware at fault.
Step 14: Add new RAM
An easy way to speed up any system is to add more RAM. With most modern Macs and MacBooks, upgrading RAM isn’t difficult. (Except the MacBook Air, where the memory is integral to the motherboard.) Use Crucial’s memory picker to find out what’s available for your machine, www.crucial.com/uk/.
Step 15: Clean Install
Sometimes a clean install of your operating system is the only thing that works. OS X Lion is available as a download only or on a USB stick – both require Snow Leopard. However, you can create your own clean installer using Apple’s official Lion Recovery Assistant. Get it from: http://support.apple.com/kb/DL1433.
Bonus tip: Solid State Drives
A solid state drive is fast becoming the king of speed upgrades. You can expect a fast HD drive to write at speeds of 45Mbps and read at 60Mbps. An SSD drive should clock around 200Mbps writing and 250Mbps reading.
How does that translate into start-up speeds? We measured boot time for cold to desktop at just under 30 seconds on a new Mac mini. SSDs are still quite expensive, though. You won’t see much change out of a hundred quid for a 120GB SATA III drive.
The best machines for SSD upgrades are Mac Pros – where a spare optical drive slot accepts the SATA connection. Upgrading a MacBook or Mac mini isn’t a trivial undertaking, but the rewards are blistering.