Every now and then, I feel my laptop (MacBookPro 4,1) starts to feel slow again. There are a number of ways to improve the performance of it :
- clean reinstall of the OS and all programs (yuck! takes forever) : this should take care of all those unwanted programs running
- full backup to an external disk, and full restore : this should take care of fragmentation on the disk
- replace your existing hard disk with a faster one and of larger capacity. I've never done this, although sounds tempting :) and I'm pretty sure you'll be voiding your Apple warranty... (anyone has tried this already ?)
- add more memory (unless you've reached the physical limit like me), or use some smarter memory manager (there used to be some memory defragmenting tools)
- there's another way: step-by-step hard disk maintenance:
Here's how I do it :
1) full backup of your laptop (works for any desktop too) to an external hard drive using firewire or USB. I love SuperDuper (free for a full backup, $27.95 for incremental backups - well worth it in my opinion) for this. I wouldn't miss this step, as you never know what might go wrong in the next steps.
2) boot your laptop from another computer (Mac) in target mode (press T on your laptop keyboard when you boot it, after connecting it with a firewire cable to another Mac). Your laptop has now become just an external hard disk, it's easier to work with it, and you'll be using only programs on the other computer. Make sure you use the same operating system version on both computers !!! (I'm running Snow Leopard 10.6.2).
3) run a full disk check with Disk Utility (a standard tool on OSX). Make sure you run "repair" on your external laptop disk, until there are no more errors left. These tend to occur every now and then (bad directory count, bad file count, etc.).
4) Now, let's optimize the directory structure so that the OS finds your files really fast. DiskWarrior 4 ($99,95 - a very expensive tool, but sometimes necessary for other purposes, such as a crashed disk) will do this for you. Think of it as a directory defragmenter, although it builds it from scratch.
5) now let's defrag your disk. Indeed all official Apple literature will tell you it makes no difference, but indeed, the disk tends to become fragmented, and therefore add the milliseconds for reading, moving the disk head, etc. and it starts to slow down. Another utility, Drive Genius 2 ($99 - very useful, and it does other things for you too) will do that for you.
This operation might take a long time (sometimes a few days), so make sure you won't need your laptop for that period (or otherwise plug it in several nights in a row), and that NO ELECTRICITY problem might occur...
6) (optional). Drive Genius also has an option to find useless files (PowerPC or x64 versions), duplicate files, etc. you might want to run this to free up some space, although it won't really impact performance.
7) one you're done, boot your laptop again, it should be faster and run as smoothly as before. If you get any problem after a while, just restore your backup to the previous state. If after one day everything is working just fine, then you can do a new full backup with SuperDuper to an external disk (unless you had 2 disks, then you could immediately do a new backup of your optimized laptop. It's actually a great idea to have 2 backups that you use on a rolling basis). Remember that in case your laptop is stolen, or your laptop falls and is broken (both situations have happened to me), you can immediately boot of this external backup, and start working. How much is your data and your time worth ? Much more than the small money and time spent doing regular backups I'm sure !
I know it's a chore to use all these different programs (that should have been included by default with OSX), but a proper power user should not live without them, and not have at least 2 backups of his data (in addition to a potential Time Machine backup drive for incremental versions of files). There's another program I use to undelete files I deleted by accident (mainly on my picture external CF cards, but you never know): Data Rescue 3 ($99 - save $49 if you buy it as a bundle with Drive Genius).
I'm eager to read about your power user tips as well.