Max out your memory

Apple has frequently sold Macs with less RAM than they need to comfortably run Mac OS X along with a number of apps. MacBooks were a perfect example: 1GB of memory was barely adequate to run Leopard or Snow Leopard, and Mountain Lion requires a minimum of 2GB of RAM. Time to add some more!

Adding memory to your Mac is probably the single best way to increase its performance. A 64-bit architecture has been available since Leopard and is now mandatory with Mountain Lion. This means you are no longer restricted to 4GB of physical memory per application (2GB in practical terms for many apps) as was the case with the previous 32-bit OS. For example, Adobe Photoshop is now a native 64-bit application that absolutely flies with lots of RAM.

Installing RAM into most Macs is pretty straightforward. Make sure you buy from a reputable source where you can ensure you get the right RAM for your Mac.

It’s also worth checking that your RAM is functioning correctly. Use MemTest (free, open source), a command line tool, either in single user mode (type ‘memtest all’) or via the Rember front-end.

Rember is a convenient front end for MemTest

Faster, bigger, cheaper

There used to be a time when the cost of a bigger hard drive was prohibitive. Not any more. A bare 2TB 3.5” SATA disk for a Mac Pro (which can accommodate four disks) will set you back around £60. 

The real performance enhancer is an SSD (solid state device). When consumer SSDs first appeared in 2009, the advantages were substantial for MacBooks including increased disk capacity, up to 50 percent less power requirement and no moving parts so far more durable. While the same advantages existed for MacBook Pros, the reduction in hard drive capacity was an issue for some. Three years later, capacities are up to 512GB and costs have plummeted. Crucial offers a number of 128GB laptop kits for less than £80 and 256GB kits for less than £150.

What about Mac Pros? Apple does a dedicated 512GB SSD kit for Mac Pros (typical price: around £600); third party offerings are appreciably cheaper. Such an upgrade for a Mac Pro produces astonishing performance but if it’s out of your price range, consider a faster drive. Install a 10,000rpm disk and use it for recording digital audio, video and as a Photoshop scratch disk.

Low powered, no moving parts and high capacity – upgrade with an SSD 

Add more ports

Older Power Macs and even more modern Mac Pros seem to have an endless supply of USB and FireWire ports but a peek under the hood reveals the problem here: they each use a single bus. It’s not just a matter of adding a hub if you run out of ports – that will exacerbate the bandwidth issue which can exhibit itself as data loss in one form or another. This is particularly true of recording studios with a number of FireWire input/output and dsp-based devices. And anyone using a USB hub is almost guaranteed to take a performance hit depending on the devices attached.

The solution? Add a card (PCI for older Macs, PCIe for newer ones) for additional ports. As this provides a signal path that bypasses the Mac’s own bus, the performance will improve dramatically. Sonnet Technologies offers a range of compatible cards for FireWire 400/800, USB 2/3, eSATA and Thunderbolt. USB 3 is particularly interesting, offering a potential 5Gbps as opposed to the 480Mbps for USB 2. 

Older MacBook Pros with an ExpressCard slot or PowerBook G4s with a PCMCIA slot can also benefit in this way from Sonnet’s various offerings.