I'm writing this post on a "vintage" MacPro, model 1,1. I bought it in January 2007, SO IT'S ALREADY 4 YEARS OLD! how horrible ! :)
Actually, there are ways to make your Dekstop mac (MacPro) and laptop (MacBookPro) run faster without buying new hardware. Actually i recommend buying an OLD mac from a reliable source (refurbished ones on Apple Store, Apple resellers sometimes have them, display equipment, eBay, geek friends, etc., and refurbishing them for max performance. It will usually cost you less). I actually still have no reason to buy a new MacPro, as I never max out the CPU (check with Activity Monitor), and everything I do with the tips below runs fast enough for me. Should I need one day a faster MacPro, I could just unplug my disks and replug them ;), although I would need to change the extra memory as they would run on a faster bus clock.
These are the tricks I've used so far, and I recommend most of my tricks ;). I've used extensively the resources on macperformanceguide.com (MPG later in this post) and thank the author of that site for them.
1) try to use the latest version of Mac OSX for best performance. Old PowerPC mac (not recommended anymore) can only use OSX Leopard. Intel macs should use SnowLeopard. Update them with the latest version of the system update. I totally recommend tweaking the system thereafter with Onyx, a utility that allows you to play with several settings. MPG also has great tips on improving speed.
2) add the maximum possible memory on your laptop (4GB on MacBookAirs, 8GB on your MacBookPros), and between 12 and 16GB minimum on your MacPros. Prices have fallen drastically; get them from MacSales.com or Macway.fr. There's a little known mechanism on OSX : whenever your computer looks for a program to launch, it does so from the hard drive. It takes a bit of time (a few seconds). However, next time you launch your program, it will look for it first in memory, launching it much faster. So if like me, you seldom reboot your computer (just close it/open it), the launch of a program will be usually very fast. This is why a lot of memory makes sense. You can monitor how much memory you are using with 'Activity Monitor'. However, if you launch too many programs, you'll saturate your memory : on a laptop, it will start "swapping" back to disk, and you loose the benefit and will need to look below for a SSD boost. On a desktop, just add more memory.
3) add a SSD boot disk. Most tests show you the boot speed of a computer with and without an SSD. I don't care about those 20 seconds gained, as I seldom reboot. However, as mentioned above, if you saturate your 8GB of memory on your laptop, you'll start swapping. Swapping on a SSD is so much faster you will almost not feel it. And the original launch of your apps will be much faster. Overall, a SSD is a much better experience. Check MPG on discussions of quality of SSDs.
On your MacBookPro you can replace your DVD drive with a SSD, hence use 2 disks on it. On your MacPro you can add a SSD in the second optical bay. Ideally you want to separate your Boot drive from your data drive, and also move your home directory from your boot drive to your data drive. The SSD should be first for your boot drive.
4) Defragment your drive regularly. I use Drive Genius 3 (I've had problems with other programs). Although OSX is advertised with not having fragmentation issues, I found that the system optimizes only for files below 20MB. Since my photo or video files tend to be bigger than 20MB, I do get fragmentation. I wrote a post a while ago on how to defragment your disk.
5) upgrade your components :
- I use 2x24" display screens from DELL (model 2405FPW) on my MacPro. They were at the time BETTER and CHEAPER than the displays from Apple. MPG has recommendations for current screens. Mine still work great, hence you might want to buy old screens from eBay. You might need a calibration tool such as Spyder (I'm getting one soon) for accurate colours, particularly, if, like me, you deal a lot with photography.
- I also upgraded my internal video card to a new one (Nvidia GEForce 8800GT) because I was getting glitches when I upgraded to SnowLeopard. I have no need yet for a top-notch video card (I don't play games nor do video rendering).
- Finally, I added eSATA2 controller cards to my MacPro, and only use external disks with this technology (at 3Gb/s, it's faster than the 800Mb/s of Firewire800, 480Mb/s of USB2, 400Mb/s of firewire400). One caveat though : if you hook up your external disk to an internal eSATA cable, if you ever eject or turn off the disk, you'll have to reboot your system. This is why I have a PCI eSATA Card, so that occasionally I can turn off the disk (although it's now a bad idea).
- MPG has info on how to upgrade your CPU on some newer MacPro models.
As usual, don't forget to fully backup your mac before doing anything. I recommend using the free utility SuperDuper to do so.
Here are my current configs :
- MacPro 1,1 (jan'07) : 2x3Ghz Dual-Core Xeon; 12GB 667 Mhz DDR2 FP-DIMM memory; NVidia GeForce 8800 GT video card + 2 DELL 24" 2405FPW screens; 4x2TB Hitachi Deskstar 2K7000 (software RAID-0 stripe of 8TB for speed) for my data; eSATA2 external enclosure (OWC QX2) with 4x3TB Hitachi Deskstar 3K7000 (RAID-5 of 9TB available) for backup of my data with TimeMachine; 128 GB SSD drive (OWC Mercury Extreme) hooked to the internal eSATA on the main board.
- MacBookPro 6,2 (jun'10) : 2,66 Ghz Intel Core i7; 8GB 1067 Mhz DDR3 memory; 240 GB SSD Drive (OWC Mercury Extreme) replacing my optical drive for boot drive + photo partition, and the original Apple 500GB disk (for data).