Almost Ten Ways to Speed Up Your Mac Experience - The Part of Tens - OS X Mavericks For Dummies (2014)

OS X Mavericks For Dummies (2014)

Part VI. The Part of Tens


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image Ways to speed up a pokey Mac.

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Chapter 21. Almost Ten Ways to Speed Up Your Mac Experience

This chapter is for speed demons only. At some time in their Mac lives, most users have wished that their machines would work faster — even if their Macs have multiple cores or processors. I can’t help you make your processors any faster, but here’s where I cover some ways to make your Mac at least seem faster. Better still, at least some of these tips won’t cost you one red cent.

Because this is the infamous Part of Tens, the powers that be require the word ten in the chapter title. But try as I might, I couldn't come up with ten ways to speed up your Mac. The nine tips that follow were the best I could do. So if you think of another great way (or two) to speed up your Mac, please send it to me at If your suggestion is really good, I'll include it in the next edition and give you full credit for thinking of it!

Use Those Keyboard Shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts (see Table 21-1 for a nice little list of the most useful ones) can make navigating your Mac a much faster experience compared with constantly using the mouse, offering these benefits:

image If you use keyboard shortcuts, your hands stay focused on the keyboard, reducing the amount of time that you remove your hand from the keyboard to fiddle with the mouse or trackpad.

image If you memorize keyboard shortcuts with your head, your fingers will memorize them, too.

image The more keyboard shortcuts you use, the faster you can do what you’re doing.

Trust me when I say that using the keyboard shortcuts for commands you use often can save you a ton of effort and hours upon hours of time.

imageMake a list of keyboard shortcuts you want to memorize, and tape it to your monitor or where you’ll see it all the time when using your Mac. (Heck, make a photocopy of Table 21-1!)

Table 21-1 Great Keyboard Shortcuts

Keyboard Shortcut

What It’s Called

What It Does

Command Key+O


Opens the selected item.

Command Key+. (period)


Cancels the current operation in many programs, including the Finder. The Esc key often does the same thing as Cancel.

Command Key+P


Brings up a dialog that enables you to print the active window’s contents. (See Chapter 15 for info on printing.)

Command Key+X


Cuts whatever you select and places it on the Clipboard. (I cover the Clipboard in Chapter 6.)

Command Key+C


Copies whatever you select and places it on the Clipboard.

Command Key+V


Pastes the contents of the Clipboard at the spot where your cursor is.

Command Key+F


Brings up a Find window in the Finder; brings up a Find dialog in most programs.

Command Key+A

Select All

Selects the entire contents of the active window in many programs, including the Finder.

Command Key+Z


Undoes the last thing you did in many programs, including the Finder.

Command Key+Shift+?


Brings up the Mac Help window in the Finder; usually the shortcut to summon Help in other programs.

Command Key+Q


Perhaps the most useful keyboard shortcut of all — quits the current application (but not the Finder because the Finder is always running).

Command Key+Shift+Q

Log Out

Logs out the current user. The login window appears onscreen until a user logs in.

Command Key+Delete

Move to Trash

Moves the selected item to the Trash.

Command Key+Shift+Delete

Empty Trash

Empties the Trash.

Improve Your Typing Skills

One way to make your Mac seem faster is to make your fingers move faster. The quicker you finish a task, the quicker you’re on to something else. Keyboard shortcuts are nifty tools, and improving your typing speed and accuracy will save you time, plus you’ll get stuff done faster if you’re not always looking down at the keys when you type.

As your typing skills improve, you also spend less time correcting errors or editing your work.

imageThe speed and accuracy that you gain have an added bonus: When you’re a decent touch typist, your fingers fly even faster when you use those nifty keyboard shortcuts. (I list a gaggle of these in the preceding section, in Table 21-1.)

An easy way to improve your keyboarding skills is by using a typing tutor program such as Ten Thumbs Typing Tutor ($25.95 at or any of the myriad of typing-instruction apps you'll find in the Mac App Store (search for typing.)

Resolution: It’s Not Just for New Year’s Anymore

A setting that you can change to potentially improve your Mac’s performance is the resolution of your monitor. Most modern monitors and video cards (or onboard video circuitry, depending on which Mac model you use) can display multiple degrees of screen resolution. You change your monitor’s display resolution in the Displays System Preference pane. First, click the Display tab and then click the Scaled button, which makes a list of resolutions appear, as shown in Figure 21-1. Select the resolution you want to try from the list below the Scaled button.

You see much more at native resolution, but everything is much bigger at lower resolutions, as shown in Figure 21-2.

Here’s the deal on display resolution: The first number is the number of pixels (color dots) that run horizontally, and the second number is the number of lines running vertically. It used to be that fewer pixels refreshed faster. But with LCD and LED (flat-panel) monitors and notebooks, this usually isn’t true, or if it’s true, it’s almost unnoticeable. Furthermore, because you can see more onscreen at higher resolutions, a higher resolution reduces the amount of scrolling that you have to do and lets you have more open windows on the screen. Finally, the highest resolution is almost always the “native” resolution of that display, which means it will usually look the sharpest. So you could just as easily say that higher resolutions can speed up your Mac experience as well.


Figure 21-1: The lower the resolution numbers, the bigger things appear on screen.


Figure 21-2: A screen shot of my MacBook Pro at its native resolution of 1440 x 900 (left) and at 640 x 480 (right).

On the other hand, if you can’t discern icons in toolbars and other program components, a lower resolution may actually speed your work.

imageChoose a resolution based on what looks best and works best for you. That said, if your Mac seems slow at its current resolution, try a lower resolution, and see whether it feels faster.

imageAlthough you can use OS X at resolutions of less than 1024 x 768, Apple has designed the OS X windows and dialogs on the assumption that your resolution will be at least 1280 x 800. So, if you choose a resolution lower than that, some interface elements in some windows or programs may be drawn partially (or completely) off-screen. Just keep that in mind if you choose a resolution below 1280 x 800.

A Mac with a View — and Preferences, Too

The type of icon display and the Desktop background that you choose affect how quickly your screen updates in the Finder. You can set and change these choices in the View Options window. From the Finder, choose View⇒Show View Options (or use the keyboard shortcut Command Key+J).

The View Options window, like your old friend the contextual menu, is . . . well, contextual: Depending on what’s active when you choose it from the View menu, you see one of five similar versions (shown in Figure 21-3). From left to right, the figure shows the options for folders in Icon view, folders in List view, folders in Column view, folders in Cover Flow view, and the Desktop.

A handful of settings can affect the speed of your Mac or your ability to see what you want quickly:

image Icon Size: The smaller the icon, the faster the screen updates, especially if the folder has many graphic files with thumbnails (those little icon pictures that represent the big picture the file contains).

In the Icon view of the View Options window, moving the Icon Size slider to the left makes icons smaller and faster; moving it to the right makes them bigger and slower. In List view, select one of the two Icon Size radio buttons to choose smaller (faster) or larger (slower) icons. The difference is greater if you have a slower Mac.

image Calculate All Sizes: If windows in List view take a little while to populate after you open them, try deselecting the Calculate All Sizes check box in the View Options window for List view. If you activate this option, the Finder calculates the size of every folder of every open window in List view and displays that number in the Size column. At least to me, the screen feels as though it redraws faster with this feature turned off.

imageIf you want to know how big a folder is, you can always just click it and choose File⇒Get Info (or use the keyboard shortcut, Command Key+I).

image Show Columns: When it comes to speed, don’t worry about the Show Columns check boxes in the View Options window for List view — Date Modified, Date Created, Size, Kind, Version, and Comments. The effect of these items on screen updating is pretty small these days, so your choice should probably be made according to the specific information you want to see in Finder windows, not on whether choosing them slows down your Mac.


Figure 21-3: Your choices in the View Options windows for Icon view, List view, Column view, Cover Flow view, and the Desktop.

imageThe Use as Defaults buttons at the bottom of the Icon, List, and Cover Flow View Options windows set the default appearance for all Finder windows of that type. If you don’t click the Use as Defaults button, any changes you make apply only to the active window (bobl inFigure 21-3). Note that Column view windows and the Desktop don’t have a Use as Defaults button; in both cases, any changes you make automatically become the defaults.

Get a New, Faster Model

Apple keeps putting out faster and faster Macs at lower and lower prices, and all Macs now ship with at least 4GB of RAM. Yes, it’s officially enough RAM to run Mavericks, but if you like to keep a few apps running all the time, it’s still not enough to run it at its best.

Check out the latest iMacs and Mac minis — they're excellent values. Or if you crave portability, MacBook Airs and MacBook Pros are rocking good computers and have never been less expensive. You might even consider a used Mac that's faster than yours. eBay ( has hundreds of used Macs up for auction at any given time. Shopping on eBay might just get you a better Mac at an outstanding price. Or try Craigslist ( if you prefer to see and touch the Mac before you commit. Give it a try!

Another excellent option is to visit the Apple website and search for refurbished equipment. You can frequently save hundreds of dollars by purchasing a slightly used Mac that has been refurbished to factory specifications by Apple. Another advantage to refurbs is that they come with an Apple warranty. If you’re on a tight budget, definitely check it out.

You Can Never Have Too Much RAM!

You get a lot of bang for your buck when you upgrade your Mac's RAM. Get an additional 2GB or 4GB; you can never have too much. Your Mac will run better with at least 4GB of RAM, which will cost you under $100 in most cases and can be installed by anyone. Yes, anyone — the instructions are right there in your User Guide booklet, or you can find them at the Apple Technical Support pages (; search for RAM upgrade and your Mac model).

imageUnless, that is, you own a MacBook Air or certain late-model iMacs. These models are exceedingly difficult to open, and Apple frowns upon users opening their MacBook Airs. You might want to opt for the services of an authorized, certified Mac cracker-opener to perform your MacBook Air or iMac RAM upgrade. Or not.

Get an Accelerated Graphics Card

An accelerated graphics card is designed to speed up one thing: the screen-update rate. They’re extremely popular with graphic-arts professionals and with gamers. Accelerated graphics cards blast pixels onto your screen at amazing speeds. And because the OS X Quartz Extreme imaging architecture hands off part of its load to the processor on an accelerated graphics card, it might even make your Mac’s other tasks faster because it does some of the work that your Mac’s main processor (CPU) used to do. That’s the good news.

imageThe bad news is that you can use a graphics accelerator only if your Mac has an accelerated PCI slot for it, which is where you install these suckers. Currently, only the Mac Pro models are capable of graphics-card upgrades. And while the next generation Mac Pro, expected in late 2013, will include a pair of powerful GPUs (Graphics Processing Units) which aren’t upgradable, and has no internal PCI slots, you’ll still be able to add an accelerated graphics or other PCI card via external devices connected via Thunderbolt.

Again, visit for information on the various graphics cards available and how they compare with one another. Cards start at around $100 and go up from there. And remember, the older your Mac, the greater the performance boost you'll see.

imageConsider ordering your next Mac with an upgraded video subsystem. Most Macs today are available with at least two video subsystems; consider ordering the higher-performance model. Let’s put it this way — if you are thinking about upgrading the video in your current Mac, you’ll probably be happier if your next one has the fastest video you can afford.

Get a New Hard Drive

Depending on how old your Mac is, a faster hard drive could provide a substantial speedup. Because you have a Mac with an Intel processor (’cause Macs with older PowerPC processors can’t run Mavericks), the internal hard drive that came with your Mac is probably pretty fast already. Unless you also need more storage space, a new hard drive is probably not the best way to spend your bucks.

On the other hand, if you have an older model, a faster (and larger) hard drive — whether FireWire, USB, or Thunderbolt — could be just the ticket. USB 3 and Thunderbolt are the fastest busses (data pathways) you can use for external devices on most Macs.

FireWire, considered (until quite recently) the state of the art in connecting devices that need fast transfer speeds, is used to connect devices that require high-speed communication with your Mac — hard drives, CD burners, scanners, camcorders, and such. It’s also the fastest bus that many Macs support natively.

imageNote that the most recent Mac models that had FireWire used the type called FireWire 800, which has a different type of connector than does FireWire 400, which was available on older Macs. If you get a device that has only FireWire 400, and your Mac has only FireWire 800 (or vice versa), everything will work as long as you get a FireWire 400–to–FireWire 800 adapter cable, available at the Apple Store and many other places.

Thunderbolt, which is available only on the Mac models introduced since 2012, is the fastest bus around by far. That said, there are still relatively few Thunderbolt peripherals at this writing, and I’ve yet to see a single device with Thunderbolt cross my desk for testing. Furthermore, the devices that are already out there are significantly more expensive than their FireWire or USB counterparts. So while Thunderbolt shows tons of promise for the future, I can’t tell you much more about it at this juncture.

Finally, just to confuse things, all new Macs use USB 3 (Universal Serial Bus 3), which is many times faster than the previous generations and FireWire. If you’re buying an external USB drive, make sure you get one with USB 3 if your Mac supports it. In other words, USB 1 and 2 drives run slower than USB 3 drives on Macs that support USB 3.

The good news is that whatever you choose, you can usually just plug it in and start using it. Ninety-nine percent of the time, there’s nothing more to it!

Get a Solid State Drive (SSD)

The latest and greatest storage device is called a Solid State Drive or SSD. It uses flash memory in place of a mechanical hard drive’s spinning platters, which means, among other things, that there are no moving parts.

Another benefit is that they perform most operations at up to twice the speed of mechanical drives.

The bad news is that they’re expensive — five or more times more than a mechanical hard drive with the same capacity. That said, many users report it’s the best money they’ve ever spent on an upgrade. I’m definitely getting one in my next Mac.