I recently purchased a Late 2013 Mac Mini Quad Core i7 2.6Ghz with 4gb DDR3 ram, 1TB 5400 rpm drive model APPLE HDD HTS541010A9E662 running OSX 10.8.2

I used Migration Assistant to migrate apps and files from Macbook Pro to Mac mini over gigabit Ethernet.

The Macbook Pro is an early 2008 model equipped with a Core 2 Duo processor at 2.4Ghz with 4GB DDR2 Memory and an (upgraded) 750GB 7200 RPM hard drive model ST750LX003-1AC154 running OSX 10.7.5 Link to model: http://www.seagate.com/internal-hard-drives/laptop-hard-drives/momentus-xt-hybrid/

Why does my 2008 Macbook Pro completely outperform my Late 2012 Mac Mini when switching applications? (CMD+TAB). The Mac Mini outperforms the Macbook on all other fronts.

I normally run Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop CS5, Adobe Bridge CS5, OpenOffice, and FireFox and I regularily switch between them all. Changing from Lightroom back to Firefox will bring up the beach ball for 15-30 seconds, and beachball again if I wish to open a new firefox tab.

This doesn't happen on the Macbook.

It is purely the hard drive RPM difference?

  • Hard to guess, but this should be easy to measure. Would you be interested in hearing how to use some tools to pin down performance?
    – bmike
    Commented Jan 24, 2013 at 14:40
  • Sure! The idea that a 4-year old Mac outperforms a week old Mac Mini is completely absurd to me.
    – Chris
    Commented Jan 24, 2013 at 14:43
  • My 2007 Mac Pro outperforms my MBPR 15" but not by much.
    – Ɱark Ƭ
    Commented Jan 25, 2013 at 13:46

5 Answers 5


4GB of RAM isn't much to be running all of those heavyweight apps at the same time. My guess would be that it's doing a lot of paging to disk. Check the size of the swap files on both machines.

  1. Go to the Finder's "Go" menu and select "Go to Folder…".
  2. Enter /private/var/vm/ into the box and press the "OK" button.
  3. Add up the sizes of the swap files.

If it's more than 1GB I usually reboot. That will clear out these files. I've seen these files up to 4GB on a machine with 8GB of RAM.

Since running out of RAM can cause writes to disk, the difference in disk speed may be what's causing the delay.

  • I think the disk speed has be the bottle neck; it's shocking to see such a huge difference in app switching between computers with specs spanning almost 5 years, but a faster HDD in the older unit. Really goes to show that hybrid HDD's are a significant performance upgrade.
    – Chris
    Commented Jan 24, 2013 at 18:15
  • Hmm - I've seen machines with 2+ G of swap run just fine with no paging whatsoever. Especially when RAM is 4 GB or less so lots of un-needed code can get paged out once and sit on the drive without impacting performance. Now, when the swap grows continually - that can be a sign of slowness to come or having already arrived.
    – bmike
    Commented Jan 24, 2013 at 18:55
  • I tend not to analyze too much and just reboot when things get too slow, if it persists I log in with the login items disabled so I can get back to work.
    – Ɱark Ƭ
    Commented Jan 24, 2013 at 19:00
  • Disk speed, I think, was the culprit. 16GB upgrade arrived in the mail and app switching instantaneous now.
    – Chris
    Commented Jan 25, 2013 at 13:28
  • Awesome. That's good to hear.
    – Ɱark Ƭ
    Commented Jan 25, 2013 at 13:40

Either Finder or System UI server handles the application switching and I agree with you that this shouldn't be something the system needs to go to disk to generate.

Let's break down the performance on each machine to be sure some other process isn't hung and if it's really IO or CPU or memory thrashing.

Open two terminal windows on the old Mac. You'll need to know a little about typing - and that these commands don't quit, so you click your mouse on a window and then press Control-C to quit these. Also, there will be a lot of data you don't need from these tools - so look at patterns and what changes rather than focusing on the absolute numbers:

  • iostat 1
  • vm_stat 1

After about 20 seconds of both tools running, fire them up on the second Mac and adjust the windows so you can see all 4. When the Mac is just sitting there, you should have no disk writing, the CPU should be 90% idle or more and most "page in" should be 0 with a few less than 5.

At this point you can poke the keyboard to pull up the app switcher. Watch for page in under vm_stat and also keep track of how many apps are open. The most likely cause is the slow Mac has little Inactive RAM as well as a tiny slice of Free RAM. The tiny slice of Free RAM is by design - but you want your Wired plus Active RAM to be between 50% and 66% of total RAM to avoid delays.

Let's stop there and see what your measurements show. There are many questions here on what free, inactive and other types of RAM are. My hunch is the slow Mac is paging and has too many Apps open for the RAM equipped.

If you open Activity Monitor, you might see something like this under System Memory

overcommitted RAM

If you see that, quit a few apps until your RAM looks like this and repeat the timing of the app switcher test.

proper RAM balance

  • Perfect - if you have paging issues, you can then decide if you want to upgrade your memory, change your workload or get faster storage.
    – bmike
    Commented Aug 29, 2013 at 18:42


Mountain Lion is a resource hog compared to Snow Leopard

  • Could you offer some context here? A clean install of both OS uses less disk and less RAM in my experience not to mention that ML generally runs on incredibly faster CPU/GPU than macs that run Snow Leopard.
    – bmike
    Commented Aug 29, 2013 at 17:41

The Problem is RAM. 4 GB is not enough for a Mac Mini to run Mountain Lion and your Adobe Applications. There are two ways to fix this issue.

  1. Buy more RAM (at least 8Gb). I have 12Gb in my Mac Mini, and it works phenomenally!.

  2. Buy a Free Memory App to release RAM every time you need it when running your Adobe applications.

  • My experience is that free memory apps are not worth the time you spend understanding them let alone the cost. If someone can post a repeatable scenario where it makes a measurable improvement I'd be happy to reconsider my opinion.
    – bmike
    Commented Aug 29, 2013 at 17:40
  • believe me, the cost for this app is only 0.99 dollar and the benefit and ease of release RAM with just one click, are incredible, I use this app on all my mac for 2 years and I worked very well. You can buy the Freememory app on the App Store. Commented Aug 29, 2013 at 18:05
  • I'd love for you to make a case for it being useful. So you pay $1 to have the program type purge for you and the "free memory" grows and you're pleased. Too much free memory is a waste and having not enough allocated as inactive slows down your system. What I'm seeing is you're advising paying money to slow down people's Mac? Help me understand what I'm missing here.
    – bmike
    Commented Aug 29, 2013 at 18:38

RAM issue. Free memory with just one click, this is an example how Freememory.App it works, download from App Store.

Freememory App, download from App Store

  • This is not really a specific answer to the OP's question. Commented Aug 29, 2013 at 21:24

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .