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I know that upgrading my MacBook with extra RAM can help boost the general system performance.

Recently, I upgraded from OS X 10.5 to OS X 10.6.8. I thought that my RAM upgrade would speed up my MacBook, but it didn't.

What measures can I take to boost the performance of my MacBook?

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You will really need to know exactly what the limiting factor is for speed to make a good measurement of what performance is before and after any upgrade. You can test clean installs to external drives in most cases - even putting an SSD on a USB / FireWire enclosure to test can see if you need to attack the IO system or RAM alone might help. What specific things do you want to optimize? –  bmike Feb 24 '12 at 20:33
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4 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Upgrade your HDD with a SSD

The hard drive is a common bottleneck in computing these days. This is due to the fact, that processors have become faster at computing. The hard drive cannot keep up with the CPU. Because it's slow, the CPU is not stressed as much as it could be: bottleneck effect.

See these videos for a comparsion of a SDD to a HDD in a Macbook Pro.

Upgrade RAM

If your amount of RAM is insufficient, you will see lots of page-outs. Data which should be written to the RAM will be written to the hard drive instead. Because the hard drive's input/output operations are much slower than the RAM's, this slows down your computer.

However, if your amount of RAM is sufficient already, you will not notice a benefit from a RAM upgrade.

You can check how much page-outs there are using the Activity Monitor.app which is located in /Applications/Utilities/. There are no official recommendations I know of as to what the ratio of page-ins to page-outs should be. Generally, you need to know that the more page-outs you have, the better your system could perform if you were to upgrade your RAM. I myself aim for a ratio of no more than 5 to 1 (20%, page-in vs page-out)

Activity Monitor → System Memory:
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Clean install

If you installed the upgrade 'over the top' this will be like a 'software factory reset'. Mostly you'll notice a better performance because no other software has been installed yet.

Still, a clean install helps in removing remains of uninstalled software but should be an ultimate measure for tackling problems that do not want to be solved otherwise.

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Additionally, if your on a budget and need more space but can't get the right size SSD to meet all your needs, you should also consider getting a faster standard HD, since most MacBooks originally shipped with a 5400RPM drive. Getting a 7200RPM drive and maxing out your ram can work wonders... –  MrDaniel Feb 24 '12 at 21:30
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A standard solid state drive will outperform any HDD. The difference between 5400rpm and 7200rpm drives is comparably little so that differences in access time, I/O, data density and firmware are quite relevant. Some 5400rpm drives can outperform 7200rpm drives. A solid state drive is not just faster, but also shock resistant, quiet and draws less power. A 7200rpm drive however, will result in a louder Macbook with slightly shorter battery life. –  gentmatt Feb 24 '12 at 21:49
    
@gentmatt SSD Drives can be expensive. Do you have any recommendations on ssd drives 500gb - 1tb in size that won't break the bank? –  Ominus Feb 25 '12 at 18:19
    
@Ominus Sadly no. But you can combine a small internal SSD with a large external HDD. Most of the time, you won't need access to most of the data you keep stored, i hope. –  gentmatt Feb 25 '12 at 18:28
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When my 2007 MBP (also running 10.6.8) seems sluggish I check CPU usage in Activity Monitor. Typically it's a runaway flash process in Safari or Chrome. Find the offending page, close it, and the machine gets snappy again.

More ram really is a good idea though. I just put 6G in my laptop for $100.

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Here are some things you can do to pep things up without buying more hardware:

  • Repair your disk permissions using the Disk Utility. I try to do this monthly.
  • Check for start-up items that you do not need. See the blog post below for some tips on this.
  • When the Spotlight indexer is running it can make your computer sluggish. In System Preferences-> Spotlight (on the Privacy tab), you can tell the indexer to ignore directories-- I ignore most (I also do this in TimeMachine).
  • There is a nice little utility in the AppStore that allows you to FreeMemory on demand from the menu-bar. I am sure there are other similar utilities out there.

Here is a nice blog-post with some more tips: http://www.kaisblog.de/2010/02/03/speed-up-your-mac/ However, use caution and make sure you have a good backup before you poke around the Terminal. His tips increased my boot times by half and I had services running that I thought I had deleted a long time ago.

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Defragmenting ("defragging" for short) the hard drive (assuming it's not an SSD) can speed things up significantly, especially after it's been used a while. You'll need some sort of utility to do this with; you can find many options online.

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Do you do this? I've heard in the past that HFS (the commonly-used filesystem for OS X) doesn't require defragmentation for i/o performance to the extent that Windows-based systems do. –  bneely Feb 24 '12 at 21:06
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I did a search to see if there's any advice about defragmenting HFS, and found this archived Apple support article: support.apple.com/kb/HT1375?viewlocale=en_US&locale=en_US . The summary is that Apple suggested that defragmenting HFS is rarely necessary or beneficial due to the way it saves files. However, the article has been archived so it's possible that Apple no longer considers it accurate. I couldn't find a newer Apple support article on the topic. –  bneely Feb 24 '12 at 21:23
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Defragmenting an SSD does nothing. Do you mean "trimming"? –  Max Ried Feb 25 '12 at 9:50
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@TimothyMueller-Harder Again, if you defragment an SSD, you will gain hardly any latency decrease. The point of using an SSD is that it has hardly any latency. If you'd use a HDD it might decrease seeking latency a little bit. –  Max Ried Feb 25 '12 at 13:11
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@TimothyMueller-Harder I assume you meant "assuming it's not and SSD", as that is correct (Max is right), so I fixed your post. –  CajunLuke Feb 25 '12 at 15:26
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