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Back in my Windows days, I used to fully format my PC once a year or so, to start fresh and get rid of some of the slowdowns. It helped.

Would you recommend the same for Macs? What's the recommended way of keeping the computer running smoothly?

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

I'd say a full format is almost never necessary, though the only thing you'll lose is time.

I've got an OS X install that I've migrated from computer A to computer B to computer C and back to B and upgraded from Tiger to Leopard to Snow Leopard (all upgrade-installs, no reformatting or anything) over the past 6 years and it works great.

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I find my mac accumulates cruft at pretty much the same rate as my windows box. This seems pretty much exclusively dependent on user behaviour, and OS independent. –  Fake Name Sep 8 '11 at 0:18
    
@Fake Name, that may be the case, but the cruft tends to localize itself as nothing more than preferences, software cache, or general support files. These, unlike Windows, do not slow down OS X over time, they just consume HD space. –  cksum Sep 8 '11 at 0:53
    
@cksum - Not in my experience. For me, both platforms degrade over time. –  Fake Name Sep 8 '11 at 3:51
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@Fake Name. I can't comment on what you're seeing, but I can tell you that the reason Windows degrades over time has to do with the registry and the linking of DLLs (among other things). OS X (and all Unix-based systems) do not contain these components. They consult simple files (many text-based) to support or power the system. They also leave behind very little cruft and why "uninstalling" isn't a "big deal" like it is in Windows (requiring the unliking and removal of dynamic libraries. OS X is far from perfect, but it's framework is substantially more resilient. –  cksum Sep 8 '11 at 5:27
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You can certainly do so, and it won't do any harm. The question is more of a matter of do you need to? On Windows it's necessary because it doesn't do a great job of keeping your hard disk clean. OS X however is much better at doing so and so it may not really be necessary unless you're experiencing any problems. There's a post on mac.appstorm.net which coveres this nicely.

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Best way to keep it running smoothly is avoiding installing shady software and most of all be very careful if you want to install some cracked stuff.

Keep your hard drive checked and from time to time verify it for errors (Disk utility -> verify) and fix them if needed.

That's what I do to keep my computers (no matter what OS safe).

Just for the statistics for the above method the last 3 OS's I had in chronological order:

  • Windows - 1.5 years on Vista (nothing wrong here and I actually still keep it on my old laptop)
  • Linux - 1.5 yeras on Gentoo linux (came after Vista on the same machine with dual-boot)
  • Mac - January - present (after Linux I migrated to Mac and still don't see any probs at all with the OS).
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+1 Avoiding shady software is good tip for any OS. It also cuts down a fair share of the real need for an antivirus software on Windows. –  koiyu Apr 8 '11 at 14:35
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For recommended ways of keeping your computer running smoothly, please see my answer to a similar question: "Why is my Macbook Pro getting so slow?"

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I'd say yearly is definitely overdoing. Macs don't have a registry, so you don't end up with it getting all krufty.

Since a new Mac OS X version is released every 1.5 - 2 years, I'd say it's not a bad idea to do a clean install and migrate your account from a Time Machine backup each time a new one comes out, or even a more rebuild. That's also a good time to clean out any odd extensions or launch items you added along the way but don't actually use. That's probably worth the effort in better speed and productivity.

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No, the cruft just goes somewhere else. It's still there. –  Fake Name Sep 8 '11 at 0:18
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