How to speed up your Mac for free!

MacBookWe all know the feeling of a new computer… everything is super quick, and there are no bugs or problems to be found. Even if you have a Mac though, which are by reputation more durable than a PC’s (if only for their relative sparse nature on the internet), you often still find that a year later, that feeling is usually gone, only to be replaced by an entirely different one. This one is often frustration and confusion. How and why did this premium computer I bought get so slow, and how do I fix it? Plenty of services will do it for you for $50 or more, but why pay someone else to do things you can easily do yourself?

STARTUP/RUNNING APPS

One of the biggest things that can bog down someone’s machine without them even realizing is applications that run on startup.

The first thing to do is to make sure you’re not hogging system resources with unused applications. Open System Preferences (hit “Command + Space” and type “System Preferences”, then hit Enter) and go to Users & Groups in OSX Lion or Accounts in a later OSX. Choose your Login Items on the right (Lion), and hit the Login Items tab at the top. Check the list of apps, and be honest with yourself about how much you use them. I always say, if I don’t use something once a day or more, then it doesn’t deserve to be in the startup list. If there is something on this list that you don’t use often, highlight it and click the minus sign at the bottom to remove it.

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MAC-LOGIN-ITEMS

The next step is to look up in your Menu bar for things you don’t use. Again, be honest! If you haven’t clicked the icon in a week or so, you probably only need it running when you want to use it, rather than all the time. If there’s something up there that you don’t even know what it is, get rid of it! Quit the application! (You may even want to remove it completely, but we’ll get in to that later!)

The last step is to press Command + Space for the spotlight, but this time type in Activity Monitor and hit Enter. This will bring up a list all the processes currently running on your computer. Look for anything that you can identify and that you don’t use, and quit it.

Activity Monitor

QUITTING THE DASHBOARD

Don’t quit the Activity Monitor yet though! The last thing you want to check is the Dashboard. Even though its a built in part of OS X, it can be a serious memory hog. Dashboard runs with the Dock, but only once you start it up on purpose. The problem is that there is no way to quit it except by doing it manually. In your Activity Monitor, select Dock and hit Quit Process then Force Quit. This will restart your Dock, and shut your Dashboard off until you call it up again, possibly saving you a ton of memory if you’ve got a lot of Widgets running.

VIRUSES/SPAMWARE

I know what you’re thinking… Mac’s don’t get viruses. Unfortunately, this is a myth. Macs can be infected as well, even though it is not easy for virus to get onboard.

To get rid of any viruses or spam/adware your Mac currently has, I suggest iAntiVirus. It’s free, and does everything you could need it to, with a simple, understandable interface. If you really want to lock down network security as well, try Little Snitch. It can be downloaded for free too, and will alert you to literally all network traffic into and out of your Mac, allowing you to Allow or Deny any one application or service.

FREE UP STORAGE SPACE

One thing people don’t realize is that having too little disk storage space left on your Mac’s hard drive can really bog down your computer’s performance. There are a multitude of reasons this can have negative effects on your Mac’s performance, but without getting too technical, the more space, the better.

The most obvious thing to recover the hard disk space is to uninstall those applications that you no longer use. Go to your Applications folder and drag those applications that you don’t use anymore to the trash (you might consider installing AppCleaner).

The next thing you can do, and this is a biggie, is offload music, movies, and photos to an external hard drive. These media files probably took up tens, or even hundreds of gigabytes. Offload them to an external drive and keep your external drive close to your Mac.

Itunes

MAC-ITUNES-FOLDER

If you use iTunes, your Movies and Music are all in essentially the same location on your drive, and you can use Apple’s guide to move your collection. For many people, this will make a huge difference in their hard drive’s available space. To move your iPhoto library, follow Maclife’s tutorial. It’s super quick and easy, as Apple has realized people’s need to use external drives and designed the programs to cooperate with them.

WRAP-UP

So what do you all think? Know any other great ways to speed up a Mac? I know I didn’t hit everything, so let us know in the comments!

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BEST FREE PHOTO EDITING SOFTWARE PERIOD!

Acorn

So what to do for either users who don’t need the full version of Photoshop or have a limited budget? Quality, low-priced pixel-based image editors on the Mac are surprisingly rare.

Observe Acorn

Flying Meat Software has a fantastic alternative: Acorn. Priced at only $49.95 (with a stand alone FREE version). It’s a surprisingly powerful app with some features Adobe could learn a trick or two from.

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If you’ve used Photoshop, or any image editor, you’ll get up to speed quickly with Acorn. It’s got everything you’d expect, and some things you won’t.

I’d have to say Acorn’s “signature” feature is it’s all-in-one Tools panel. Here you access all the standard pixel editing stuff: Move, Zoom, Crop, Brush/Pencil, Eraser and the like. I wasn’t expecting to also have vector shape tools.

The tools panel consolidates not only your tools, but also your Layers. Again, I was surprised to find not only Layer Groups, but also a huge range of blending modes for layers as well.

All the tools for which you’d want tablet support indeed have tablet support, although I’d have to say Photoshop comes out on top here. The anti-aliasing is limited to a checkbox. Opacity levels can be set for drawing/painting tools as well.

I didn’t find the pressure sensitivity to be all that great, and I also experienced brushstroke lags at times. I’m working on a dual quad-core MacPro with 14GB of RAM, so I have plenty of power.

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The Awesome

Live Filter Preview Animations: This blew me away—open up the Filters window, and start clicking around. A small preview window in the panel will show you an animated preview as the filter is run through the gamut of it’s option. So much easier to see what a potential candidate filter will do to your image. Big thumbs up here.
Screenshots: Acorn has a lot of excellent tools for taking screenshots and having them pop open right into Acorn for editing. And need to grab a quick snap from your webcam? Acorn has you covered. And even more amazing, Acorn can grab a layered screenshot, where every last element on the screen is saved into it’s own Layer/Layer Group. Impressive.
The Brush Editor: Acorn has a pretty full-featured Brush editor, with plenty of flexibility as far as what you can tweak. Not as full-featured as Photoshop, but more than enough for the target users of this software.

The Not-So-Great

Drawing tools & Tablet Support: As I mentioned above, I didn’t find the drawing tools to be standout. They do the job, but there’s no way I could use Acorn as a replacement for Photoshop for my main drawing/sketching software. At least not as-is. Too much lag, and the tablet support is passable. That said, this isn’t a power-user app so I can’t be too hard on Flying Meat.
Web Export: a big disappointment was the Web Export feature. Acorn seems like a perfect app for prepping a screenshot, however there was no way I could find to resize the image when exporting for the web. Seems you need to resize the document itself before saving for the web, which to me is a big downer.
Photoshop compatibility: I have no idea if it’s even possible for Flying Meat to offer the ability of saving layered files in a .psd format, but if so it’s not there. It’s stated on the Help that Acorn can open some very basic Photoshop files, as long as nothing fancy is going on with the image/layers etc. No layered TIFF files either. Again, I’m not sure this is a major issue for the target customer of the app, but it’s worth noting.
Guides: There are none. As of version 2.3.1, just enable the Rulers and then you can drag down guides just as you can in Photoshop.
Keyboard Support: while there are extensive keyboard shortcuts throughout the app for choosing tools and applying commands, one odd omission is the ability to toggle numeric fields up on down using the up/down arrows on the keyboard. You need to either enter the specific number, or drag the slider.

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Sure, Acorn has it’s limitations if you’re making a one-to-one comparison to Photoshop. But considered on it’s own, Acorn is a mind-blowingly awesome pixel editor app for $50. If you don’t need Photoshop or the full Creative Suite but do have a need for a pixel-based image editor at times, Acorn is an absolute no-brainer.

The number of features that are packed in to this seemingly simple graphics editor is really quite amazing the more you start working with it and digging into everything it offers.

Free?

As I mentioned at the start, Flying Meat is offering up a reduced set of features for free after the 14-day trial period runs out. You can still open images and crop, filter, rotate, add layers, add text, and touch up images. Here’s what’s disabled in the free version:

Web Export
Brush Designer and Brush tool (the Draw/Pencil tool is still enabled)
Layered Screen Shots
RAW Image Import
Copy Merged
Clone Tool
New Layer Groups
Free and Perspective Transform tools
Custom Plug-ins
Levels
AppleScript support
Bézier Curve tool
Shortcuts for adjusting layer opacity
Start Window always comes up at launch

I’d have to say that’s a pretty generous list of features that are still included in the free version. Head on over to Flying Meat and download Acorn. I think you’ll be quite impressed.

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