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May 31st, 2000

[Tip] Optimize Your Mac's Performance And Stability, Part 2
by Michael Munger

This is Part 2 of Michael Munger's optimization tips for your Mac. If you have not already, check out Part 1!

Does your Mac crash too often? Do you think that its performance is unacceptable after investing so much money in it? Wait, you called Apple's technical support line and they drilled into your head that you should clean install your system yet one more time to try to get rid of those bugs. Annoying, eh?

Well, here are a few solutions and tips to get the most out of your machine and to keep it running for days without a single crash.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it

This is extremely important. Nowadays, it seems fashionable to upgrade whenever a new software version is available. I'll tell you what. Forget this. If your computer is completely crash free, wait before upgrading your system, shareware and other software. You never know if a new version is going to introduce bugs that will force the developer to write a fix for it. No matter how much effort companies may make to convince you, keep what you have and wait to see if the bandwagon jumpers hit a tree when falling for the upgrade frenzy. The most important delay you have to impose is for the operating system. Wait at least a couple of months and monitor newsgroups, forums and mailing lists to see if people complain about anything annoying in the latest version. One big exception to that is USB and FireWire drivers. Both technologies are still pretty new to us and are not fully mature yet.

Add some RAM, know how to use it

Yes, buying RAM can be expensive at times, but it is well worth it. Not only does it let you use more applications at one time at full speed, but it allows you to allocate more memory to your memory intensive software. Anyone should know that software like Internet Explorer and Photoshop can work properly with default memory settings, but will rock your world if you give each some extra breathing space.

Keep track of your installs, read the Read Me file

Try to keep a small registry of your software installations. Installing software is one cause of instability because new versions or whole new products can introduce bugs or other slowdowns. If you know when you installed that new word processor and that, coincidentally, your problems started the same day... it can save you hours of troubleshooting. Always read the Read Me file - yes, you have to! - to get pertinent information.

Manage your extensions and control panels

The more you fill the two above mentioned folders, the more you slow your Mac down because the operating system has to deal with more active components. Make sure that what you use most of the time is what you need most of the time. Make sets in the Extensions Manager or Conflict Catcher so that you enable different sets, depending on what you need to do. It is useless to keep a control panel enabled all the time if you need it only when doing desktop publishing... once a month.

Find the bad file

There is a way to find a file that got corrupted during a crash. If a bad crash happened and that your system (or application) never recovered, remember the exact time of the crash and use Sherlock (or Find File) to look for files with the right modification date. Look for the day of the crash, and see the results for files with the same time of the day than when it happened. If, in that list, there are files related to the software that doesn't work anymore... you could have the culprits in front of you!

Rebuild the desktop, zap the PRAM

If any of the two gets corrupted, your life will be difficult. Plus, rebuilding your desktop will ensure that it is as slim as possible, and that file really affects your Mac's performance, especially in the Finder. Do not assume that rebuilding the desktop and zapping the PRAM will solve all your problems. Too many people seem to think that this is a universal way to heal your Mac while it is not.

Utility software

Always keep some utility software around, just in case. My solution of choice is Norton Utilities - which saved my butt so many times - and its best competitors are TechTool Pro and DiskWarrior. All three will allow you to fix a sick hard disk and help you to prevent problems. You should not run a Mac without one of them. Norton's Speed Disk is the very best at optimizing your disk for better performance.

Norton Utilities - TechTool Pro - DiskWarrior

Ask a pundit

Hey, there are a few experts who write columns dedicated to troubleshooting. These people have their heads literally under the water and they know the Mac more than most of us. The best two columns with that focus are Ask Dr. Mac (Bob Levitus) at MacCentral and our very own Ask Dave (Dave Hamilton) at The Mac Observer. These people usually make an effort to send you a personal answer as well as writing their columns about the recurrent problems. If you consider me a pundit, then call them "technical superpundits" :-)

Dr. Mac - Ask Dave

The final two: Clean install and disk reformat

They are not the final two for nothing. Those are the solutions that will bring you the most work and trouble while taking a lot of time. You always risk losing files and data while doing it. If these two did not work, then you are using plain incompatible software or you have a hardware problem...

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