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So Slow! Treating a Tedious Mac

Welcome to the first of a new series of posts about my experiences as a coach to Mac users. As I seek to build out my market and sustain myself with the pleasure of accompanying many new clients on a new journey, I have decided to share my experiences with you.

Many of my entries will feature the challenges that face my clients and my reflections on resolving them. I will also comment on articles I’m reading, offer tips about more efficient computing, and highlight additional ways I might be able coach you to computing confidence, productivity, and smiles!


Does your Mac seem slower than usual? Have you observed that it’s not as snappy as it used to be? Two of my clients have recently contacted me about system slowness and this article on MacIssues (formerly MacFixIt) inspired me to share the experience with you.

Tali’s aging MacBook Pro, whose keyboard I replaced 2.5 years ago, has been running tediously and unusually hot in the last several months. Tali, one of my biggest fans, patiently awaited my return from vacation earlier this month to call on me for help.

Drinking Tea at Tali'sWhen she brought her Mac over for its first checkup a week ago, it actually didn’t misbehave at all. Perhaps my calm presence set it at ease—at least that’s the excuse many clients have offered when I show up. So, I visited her Mac in its native environment later on and saw all the symptoms Tali had described. We installed a utility to monitor the CPU temperature and fan speed and there was little else I could offer.

As Macs go, a hard disk with not enough free space is often the first cause of this slowness. Experts recommend that users keep at least 10 percent of drive space available. As that remaining space gets used up, Macs tend to be less responsive, suffer from more frequent appearances of the infamous “beachball” cursor, and lead users to greater frustration. However, Tali has plenty of free space so that isn’t the cause.

A second possibility is a shortage of memory (RAM). Tali’s Mac is running OS X 10.6.8, which is now three generations behind. Apple has done a lot of work in the last few years to optimize its operating system and Mavericks (version 10.9) is particularly good at managing energy efficiently and reducing usage when unnecessary.

It’s possible that the free upgrade to Mavericks would be helpful here, however the computer only has 3 GB of memory. While Mavericks technically supports as little as 2 GB, most in the Mac world recommend a minimum of 4 GB. Although Tali does not use complex applications, she does use more than one at a time and among them are Microsoft Word and Excel, which are known to be a tad bloated and memory hogs.

As a memory upgrade is not in Tali’s budget right now, we took one alternative approach to this issue. Tali came over a few days ago and we initially took apart her Mac to ensure that dust buildup wasn’t the cause. It was an unlikely possibility, I explained, because Apple makes Macs smaller and smaller with less airspace in which to accumulate dust. And, we dusted it out but there really was very little since 2011 when I took it apart last.

DiskWarriorNext, I ran DiskWarrior, a utility that rebuilds a Mac’s directory structure, the data that tells the computer where to find all of the files on it and repairs any fragmentation therein. On a more severely damaged disk, this process often restores lost files. In our case, the hope was to increase the Mac’s responsiveness. I sent Tali home to continue her observations and see whether our interventions had any effect. I’m looking forward to her update this week.

This is just one example of a unique scenario a client brought to me. I look forward to the exploration, especially when the client is excited to share it with me. Tali is a hands-on gal and was not only intrigued by the process of dismantling her Mac, she jumped at the chance to put it back together.

Tomorrow, I have a session with Felix, whose relationship with me began because he wanted help migrating to a new email application. We’re also looking forward to talking about our respective sustainability endeavors. And then there’s Thomas, my newest client, who brought to me the beginning of a list of issues on his Mac and iPhone. As I help him get acquainted with iPhoto, we are still searching for the right app to manage his reminders.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the beginning of this new journey together. Please share this post with friends, family, and colleagues whom you think would benefit from my guidance. Would you like to be featured in a future post? Let’s schedule a session and start building some new memories!

To capture more of my day to day personality, follow me on Twitter @jamcycler. For more stories like these, subscribe to this blog with RSS in your favorite newsreader or sign up for my weekly digest below.

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