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Last Update Nov 27, 2004 Note, this is a work in progress, and I will accept commentary on this if you find something works better.
If you are interested in just tips for upgrading your Mac, the Mac OS X Updating FAQ is now available.
Mac OS X 10.3 (Panther) does increase speed markedly, however, suggestions for utilities, and backup below may not work, unless the developer of the software linked to below says they have tested it with Mac OS X 10.3. Panther has the Archive and Install feature in both the Upgrade disks that cost $20 USD, and the full install disks, and this is the only recommended  means of installing Panther. An Upgrade and Install will potentially yield incompatible system preferences from the previous operating system not working with the new operating system, and an erase and install may leave you with both an unreadable external hard drive, and nothing but an operating system on your internal hard drive due to a serious bug (links to mirror of User Contributed FAQ on the bug) found in Panther’s installation causing some Firewire hard drives to no longer be readable after Panther is installed.
If unsure as to which of these causes is slowing down your machine, ask a technician to help you isolate it before attempting to use any software to fix the issue. Many of the softwares recommended below have multipurpose functions, which may do other things you don’t want to do to your system. Only use the software to solve the known issue you are having.
FAQ, in case you didn’t know, is the acronym for Frequently Answered Questions. Note: This FAQ assumes you are using Mac OS X 10.2 or higher. If you are using an older version of Mac OS X visit the old version of the FAQ. A couple instances the FAQ may still make reference to Mac OS X 10.1.5.
Speed of Mac OS X is controlled by several factors:
reference files
6. Local Area Networks (LANs) 7. Graphics Card
8. Optical mouse (no ball) tracking slowly 9. Backups and disk utilities to run after backup including repair permissions and File System Check and Disk Warrior 10. Prebinding 11. Logfile cleanup 12. Web browsing and Java
13. Hung applications and spinning beachball icons 14. Caches
15. Classic, includes section on Mac OS 9 updates, how to install 9 from the Restore CDs, machines that can’t boot into Mac OS 9, Mac OS X native applications and hardware, more direct links to Digital Camara, Personal Digital Assistants, iTunes CD-RW and other devices, Printers, Scanners, and Webcams. Carbonlib 1.6 is available for running some Mac OS X native applications within Mac OS 9 16. Underpowered USB ports
17. Zapping the PRAM and fixing other startup issues which leave you with no startup screen. 18. Login items (a.k.a Startup Items in Mac OS X 10.3)
19. Remove shadow from window’s edge 20. Hewlett packard All in One printer drivers and scanners 21. Hard drive spindown 22. Force emptying trash 23. Retrospect’s Startup item 24. Startup Items 25. Use second user to test problems are not systemwide 26. Removing the Kextcache to avoid some startup problems 27. iMovie slowing you down?
28. Computer tells you it must restart or text appears across screen with cryptic messages cutting the graphics of the screen 29. Renicer – change the priority an application gets in memory 30. Fonts – removing unnecessary fonts. 31. Foreign Languages – removing foreign language installations. 32. 10.3.2’s slow boot 33. Eudora and Panther 34. Other optimizers 35. Books recommended to learn how to work with Mac OS X 10.2 (Jaguar) and 10.3 (Panther)

1. The wrong firmware may yield unpredictable results, check these updates to see if your firmware needs updating. Many iMacs and iBooks that have not had their firmware updated ended up with a non-working video chip causing the internal display to go dead, and if there is no external display port on your particular machine, a motherboard replacement is necessary to get video back. All DV iMacs and dual-USB iBooks have an external display port. Older iBooks and iMacs do not. This article will tell you where to find your firmware version. Note, if your computer has not yet installed Mac OS 9 first, you’ll need to apply for the update program CD. Per Apple Discussions moderator info, you may still apply and get the CD, and then install it using these instructions. This is even though the update program form expired in February. Supposedly it is available until December 2004. Please sign guestbook if you find otherwise.

2. RAM – When buying RAM, make sure it is to Apple’s specifications, and does not exceed them in amount or specs. And run the hardware test CD on your machine if it has one, or the Apple System Profiler in the Applications/Utilities folder of Mac OS X or in the Apple menu of Mac OS 9 to ensure the RAM got properly installed. If you are just running 128 MB of RAM, or need replacement RAM after finding the RAM has gone bad these vendors back their RAM with their own lifetime warranty: Lifetimemory ,, The Chip Merchant, Crucial, Macsolutions, Techworks, Kingston, Other world computing, Accord Memory, or TJS Electronics, RAM Jet.
The above statement was true as of the last writing of this portion of the FAQ. If you find they no longer back their RAM, please submit feedback to my guestbook. Note, the RAM in the Flat Panel iMac is only accurately reported by the hardware test CD and not the System Profiler. Even when RAM is to spec, sometimes it can be bad RAM for Mac OS X and at least you should remove any additional RAM the machine had installed to see if you suspect you have a bad RAM module. If the computer boots with a series of beeps and won’t move further, that usually means the internal RAM test of the boot process detected bad RAM. Before assuming the RAM is bad, check if deleting the contents of your /var/vm/app_profile folder (the virtual memory files of Mac OS X) fixes your problem. To delete those files, restart the computer holding down the SHIFT key. Then run Onyx to clean the virtual memory swapfile. Restart as instructed. The wrong RAM may yield unpredictable results. One of the most notorious of these symptoms of bad RAM is a kernel panic. System freezes that can’t be caused by the size of files being used, and the amount of free hard disk space being available being too low can frequently be the result of bad RAM. These freezes will in Mac OS X give you a spinning beachball that lasts for more than 10 minutes, and a force quit with command-option-escape (where command is the Apple logo key on your Apple keyboard) key combination doesn’t bring up the force quit window. If it does bring up the force quit window, attempt to force quit the non-responding program. Data will be lost from that program after the last save. Bad RAM

3. Hard disk space and backups – Mac OS X 10.2 installs in about 1.9 GB of space. For best speed, it is recommended that after installation of X, you have at least 1 GB + your physical RAM that is installed in free hard disk space. So if you have 640 MB of RAM, you should have at least 3.5 GB of free hard disk space before installing Jaguar or Panther. It is also recommended you use an external Oxford 911 firewire hard disk to backup your data prior to installing any updates. This makes it difficult for those without Firewire. An upgrade is available from Sonnet that offers Firewire to some iMacs that don’t have Firewire. For those Powerbooks and Powermacs with built-in SCSI, Mac OS X does recognize the built-in SCSI port, but not necessarily all SCSI cards. Thus if you have SCSI on the motherboard you may find it easier to backup to a SCSI hard disk before upgrading. If you need an internal hard disk for Powerbooks that handle the space requirements, check out MCE Products. While you can install Jaguar or Panther on an external hard disk, it is only recommended for recovery purposes in case you find the Mac OS X version you just upgraded to is incompatible with software you use frequently, or in case of hard disk directory damage you can’t recover from. If you have a 333 Mhz Mac or less, put it on the first 8 GB partition of drives larger than 8 GB.

4. Installing with Archive and Install – Before you Archive and Install, be sure your file system directory checks out to be OK as Apple has posted a knowledgebase stating an archive and install over a bad directory is a bad idea. Jaguar (10.2), and Panther (10.3) have an Archive and Install feature which should be the way you upgrade from older versions of X if X was already installed on your machine.
When doing an Archive and Install, preserve user and network settings to preserve your ISP setup and any saved LAN settings.
Doing a simple upgrade install often results in a slower system. The upgrade CDs purchased for $20, or gotten free with machines released between July 17th and August 24th 2002 do not include this Archive and Install option. Only the full retail, or full install disks that were supposed to come with all Macs made after August 24th (call 1-800-APLCARE if yours didn’t come with those disks), have the Archive and Install option.
This is not a problem with the 10.3 Upgrade disks purchased from October 8, 2003 through February 29, 2004. Also the 10.3 retail disks include Archive and Install. Archive and install when you save user and network preferences moves Apple’s own applications into the Previous System Folder’s Applications folder, and moves the previous Mac OS X operating system folders into the Previous System Folder, as well as the Shared folder in the users folder (which is necessary for AOL to function, if you have AOL).
IMPORTANT If you are unable to preserve user and network preferences with the checkbox in the Archive and Install, your personal folders in the Users – your username folder will also get moved to the Users folder stored in the Previous System Folder, and a new Users folder of your username will be constructed with no contents except the default folders. This means iPhoto, iMovie, and iTunes data which were stored in Users -> your username -Pictures, Movies, Music respectively will not be able to load your saved data in those folders until you move their content back to the newly constructed Users folder from the Users folder in the Previous System Folder. After doing an Archive and Install, should all other things below not work, attempt updating to the version of X that last worked using one of these updates. Please note, some people have found updating using the combo updater to the next version works better than the single version updater. Some have had success getting 10.2.5 and 10.2.6 to work better by archive and installing, then running the 10.2.3 combo updater, and then running either the 10.2.5 or 10.2.6 updater.

10.2.6 and 10.2.7 non-G5 update to 10.2.8* or combo update to 10.2.8* 10.2.7 G5 only update 10.2.8* 10.2.8* 6R65 to 10.2.8 6R73
* 10.2.8 release 6R65 was pulled due to an issue with ethernet on some G4 450s and 500 Mhz models. Other issues have been reported on Macfixit and Apple Discussions Board, and whether they directly correlate with the 6R65 10.2.8 update is uncertain. Release 6R73 is in the 10.2.8 updates above. You can tell the version of 10.2.8 you have installed by selecting About This Mac from the Apple menu and clicking on the Option button when you click on the Mac OS X version in the About This Mac window. Upgrading to 10.2.8 is not recommended for those who have a Mac older than 10.2.7’s release of August 2003. Instead if you need 10.2.8’s compatibility, purchase Mac OS X 10.3, and take the precautions for installing Panther.
Note that while the combo update lists it is only for 10.2.0 to 10.2.5 on the download page, its more detailed info page says it is for 10.2.0 to 10.2.7 non-G5s. The same is true of the download page for the 10.2.6 update to 10.2.8, listing itself as an update for 10.2.6 and 10.2.7 non-G5 more detailed info page. As both download pages link to their more info page, I would give Apple feedback if you find that confusing, so the pages are more consistant.

10.3.1, and 10.3.2 both only come in combo update variations. 10.3.3 once again comes in combo and single version updates.
please read the Panther caution note prior to installing 10.3. 10.3 updates:
10.3 update to 10.3.1
If you find what you think should be considered a bug in any version of Mac OS X, visit: Mac OS X Feedback page on Apple’s site and offer some there. 10.2.7 was an interim release that never got a downloaded update but appeared on new machines in August through October 8, 2003. If you purchased a Mac after October 25, 2003 which was sold as new, and did not get some form of Mac OS X 10.3 installer, call Apple Support immediately. Those machines should have come with 10.3 and you may have a case assuming your receipt says it was purchased after October 25th.

As some of these downloads will take a long time you may want to locate your local Apple retailer and have them burn you a copy of the update at the store.
If all you have is Mac OS X 10.1, it is recommended you upgrade to at least 10.1.5 so you can repair permissions. Apple’s knowledgebase 106713 explains what updates you need depending on your installed version of Mac OS X 10.1

5. Preference files which get corrupted may cause numerous unexpected quits and misbehaving programs which can make programs act slow. Removing those preference files with a utility like Check Preference Files will help solve unexpected quits and misbehaving programs which may slow down your computer. Note preference files may also get corrupted, if something has affected either the directory or permissions. Please be sure to head the warnings on the “Check Preference Files” utility page above.

6. Local area networking (LANs) – sometimes having another machine on a local area network that isn’t connected can slow things down. Turn off file sharing of all machines on network that are not in use for file sharing.
7. Graphics Card – Jaguar (10.2) and Panther (10.3) fixes this issue for the most part.

8. Optical mice – if you have a mouse that has no rolling ball, but instead has a shining light on its bottom, it needs a surface that is textured. Uniform color surfaces with no patterns make it difficult for optical mice to track, thus making any dragging of the mouse over the surface appear to have little or no action. Use a textured mousepad or smooth surface that gives the mouse something visual to tell the difference of which surface it is tracking over. If your doing this and your mouse tracking is still slow, go to Apple menu – System Preferences – Mouse to change your mouse tracking speed.
There is a third party software called Mouse Zoom which lets you increase your tracking speed further.

10. Backup before running any utilities for Mac OS X. Backup your data religiously prior to running any disk utility with Dantz Retrospect or Carbon Copy Cloner to an external Firewire hard disk. These functions after a backup may help you recover a hard disk without having to go through the recovery software of the backup, though in case it fails, the backup recovery should always be an option. If you have one of these machines backup becomes somewhat more problematic:

PCI PowerMac G4 – the graphics card used by these Macs use a PCI card and not an AGP graphics card (link tells how to differentiate PCI and AGP). These Macs can’t boot off Firewire hard drives which means backups may require working with a machine that can. The ease of recovering from a bootable backup is not there for these machines nor Blue and White PowerMac G3s.

Both Beige PowerMac G3s, Powerbook G3s prior to 2000 can boot off SCSI hard drives, but it is hard to find a SCSI hard drive these days that will work with these machines.
The Tray Loading CD iMacs under 333 Mhz can have a Firewire port added to them, but that may not be bootable. Consult Sonnet as to whether that is possible.
The iMacs prior to the DV model that are not tray loading, and the iBooks prior to the DV model have no Firewire upgrade path, and USB is generally too slow to work with backing up Mac OS X entirely. For these Macs, a CD burner can be used for backup, but recognize media can deteriorate quickly with age, and you should frequently make duplicate backups to ensure you don’t lose your data. A full recovery is slower when you don’t have a machine you can boot from a backup.

A word of warning, don’t use Norton Utilities, as it is not 100% aware of the directory issues with Mac OS X and may corrupt directories of Mac OS X more often than save them:
You can boot into single user mode by holding down the command-S key combination and run /sbin/fsck -fy (/sbin/fsck -y for Mac OS X 10.2.8 or earlier) several times to fix the directory using File System Check (the abbreviation of which is fsck). File System Check can also be initiated by your Mac OS X installer CD, from the Installer menu -> Disk Utility -> First Aid tab -> select hard disk -> select Repair Disk button. For more on the directory, visit: the Mac OS X directory FAQ. A directory which is not repaired may cause a kernel panic.
When you boot from Jaguar (10.2) or newer Installer CD there is a Repair Permissions function found in its Disk Utility. The Disk Utility is called by selecting it from the Installer menu, and repair permissions or privledges is found in its First Aid tab. If you have upgraded Jaguar or Panther past the version on your installer CD, you should use the Disk Utility program found in your Applications -> Utilities folder instead. Do this repair when all other applications are quit. Be sure to also shut down the Classic environment from Apple menu -> System preferences -> Classic first. Permissions may get damaged by using Mac OS 9 applications either through booting into Mac OS 9 or running them in Classic.
Another utility that repairs permissions is Cocktail. Note, since Cocktail is an all purpose utility, only use it for the feature shown here, as using another part of it to solve your problem may cause more problems in the long run. It is best to repair permissions from the Applications -> Utility folder and not the installer CD if you have a newer version of Mac OS X on your hard disk. Though sometimes you may not have a choice, if the disk directory reports to be OK and you otherwise can’t startup your machine completely. Mac OS X 10.1.5 users can use the Repair Priviliges Utility for the same function as Jaguar and Panther’s Disk utility’s Repair Permissions.
Another utility which does directory fixes is Alsoft Disk Warrior 2.1.1 for machines bootable in Mac OS 9, and version 3.0 for machines only Mac OS X bootable. Disk Warrior 3.0.1 was released on January 22, 2004, and is available for $20.90 upgrade from Alsoft. The version 3.0.1 has Mac OS X 10.3.2 bootable system on its disk, the 3.0 version contains 10.2.6 as a bootable system.
You can only boot your computer from the operating system it came with or newer within limits Apple sets in the Spec Database.
Note some SCSI card and built-in SCSI machines may not accept Disk Warrior 3.0, but will accept Disk Warrior 2.1.1. If you need to create a bootable copy of Disk Warrior and add other system utilities, check this FAQ on how to construct a bootable CD.

See Zap PRAM for one other possible solution should you not be able to boot the computer after repairing the disk directory.

11. Prebinding – Jaguar (Mac OS X 10.2) was supposed to fix this issue, though it appears it hasn’t since Apple still uses this routine when installing new updates. Some other software may not perform a prebinding, and leave the system in a slow state after installation. XOptimize which you may need to expand with Stuffit Expander 7.01, and Cocktail are able to prebind the system. Note, since Cocktail is an all purpose utility, only use it for the feature shown here, as using another part of it to solve your problem may cause more problems in the long run. You can read a very interesting note from Apple’s Developer Website about prebinding for developers.

12. Logfile cleanup – happens in the middle of the night, though you can manually initiate it with Macjanitor. Note if you use Energy Saver to go to sleep in the middle of the night, it won’t run and you should use Macjanitor instead periodically if you can’t leave the machine on overnight using the screen effects (Mac OS X 10.2’s name for screen saver found in Mac OS X 10.0 and 10.1) found in the Apple menu – System Preferences – Screen Effects settings.
Another utility that does logfile cleanup is Cocktail. Note, since Cocktail is an all purpose utility, only use it for the feature shown here, as using another part of it to solve your problem may cause more problems in the long run.

13. Web browsing – Apple’s Safari web browser is the new standard in Mac OS X web browsing speed. Apple’s Safari has its own “Report Bugs to Apple” menuitem in the Safari menu itself, if you find a webpage that doesn’t work properly with Safari. Other web browsers which sometimes are as fast, or sometimes are more compatible with web pages are given below with their contact links for suggestions for improving their webpage compatibility: