[HOW TO] 3 Simple steps to speed up Mavericks on an old MacBook

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I’ve been putting it off, but last week I finally took the plunge and upgrade my ageing MacBook to the latest version of OS X. That’s version 10.9 or, more colloqially, Mavericks. Quite an ask for a machine that’s nearly five years old.

I’d been avoiding the inevitable largely because I was fairly sure that the demands of a new OS would probably slow it down to a halt. And that would be a disaster for those little things like, you know, work.

Sadly, I was entirely correct. After waiting for most of the afternoon for Mavericks to download and install I was left with a MacBook that was barely functional it was so slow.

How did I do it? How do you make an ageing MacBook faster?

Buy more RAM. Just kidding – although that definitely wouldn’t hurt – I got my Mac back up to speed without cracking open the shell. Here are three things I did that gave it a huge performance boost:

1. Take out the trash

I’m an obsessive-compulsive (virtual) trash emptier. But it turns out that unless you’re hitting the Secure Empty Trash button every time, you’re not creating as much free space as you think you are. All those deleted files are recognisable and recoverable, kept on your hard drive as “free space”, but essentially still taking up precious memory and quite possibly slowing down your system.

Included in the Disk Utility tool is the option to erase this so-called free space. All you need to do is select the drive in question, click the Erase tab at the top and choose which Erase Free Space option you would prefer.


There are three ways to do it:

  1. Fastest – This provides good security and is quick. It writes zeroes over the unused space on the disk once.
  2. The unnamed middle option – This provides a DOE-compliant 3-pass security erase. It writes over the unused space on the disk three times.
  3. Most secure – This option is the most secure but also takes the longest to complete. It writes over the unused space in the disk seven times.

After choosing most secure – and waiting two or so hours – I managed to free nearly 10GB of memory on my newly defragged MacBook.

Another quick tip for iPhoto fans who use Apple’s (annoying) programme to organise and edit their photo libraries is to empty out the trash. It sounds silly, but iPhoto has it’s own deleted items folder which doesn’t sync to your regular Mac trash. Empty that out too – one of the biggest data takers are pics and videos.

2. Start up, clean up

Sure, I see it when my MacBook opens Chrome and Twitter the moment it starts up, but I didn’t realise it was also opening a plethora of unused applications I don’t use anymore, like TomTom Home.

To find out what you’re system is doing behind your back, go to the Users & Groups screen (under System Preferences) and click on Login Items. Every single thing on that list is loading, whether or not you realize it. Anything checked you don’t see happening. To make sure an item doesn’t start up every time you start up, select it and press the minus button at the bottom of the window.


3. Delete repeat

Drag and drop any applications you no longer use into the trash. To see which ones are the biggest space-stealing culprits (and when you last used them – I downloaded a lot in 2012) simply take a look at the Finder.

Next, find all your saved “user” caches. To do this, press Command+Shift+G from your desktop to bring up the Go To Folder. Type in ~/Library/Caches/ to see a very, very long list of small files that actually accumulate to quite lot of space. (My user cache comes to over 800MB.)


Removing app caches can help to recover disk space for apps that are no longer in use and, interestingly enough, deleting specific app caches can sometimes resolve strange behavioural issues with certain applications.

Everything in this folder can be safely deleted, but if you’d prefer to only remove specific caches, search by name or size before hitting delete.

[Main image – Shutterstock]

Tiana Cline

Tiana Cline

Tiana Cline is a business tech magazine and website editor with a penchant for cats, cooking and violent video games.