RAW Computing

Reduce startup times in OS X and boot your Mac faster


How quickly does your Mac start up these days? Is it still as fast as the day you bought it or does it seem to take longer to get to the desktop than it used to when you first bought it? Lengthening startup times are a common problem for all users and a Mac that was really quick when it was new can take twice as long to boot up after a year or two's heavy use. Why is this and what can be done about it? Here are a few tweaks that you can perform to speed up the boot process and restore the Mac's original performance.

The main cause of slow starting computers, whether they are Mac, Linux or Windows, is software that is automatically loaded whenever we switch on and log in. A brand new computer will have few, if any, programs that automatically load with the OS and this is why it is fast and responsive. As we add software to the computer, sometimes it installs startup items that are run every time you switch on. Each item must be found, loaded and executed and that takes time. Each item adds a few seconds to the boot process and it gets slower and slower.

The solution is to remove the startup items, reducing the workload on startup. Of course, some programs that load with the operating system are essential because they provide services that we rely on. For example, Dropbox is a great file sync and share tool and it loads automatically with OS X when you start the Mac. Anti virus software (if you use it and not all Mac users do), should always be loaded automatically every time the Mac is started.

Not every startup item is essential though and sometimes you can live without them. Sometimes programs automatically check for updates every time you start up and this isn't necessary. You can always manually check for updates if you want to by visiting the software supplier's website or by using a Check For Updates menu option in the program. Removing startup items will speed up the boot process, so let's see how to do it.

View the login items

Go to the Apple menu in the top left corner of the screen and select System Preferences. Click Users & Groups in the System section (called Accounts in older versions of OS X), select your account and click the Login Items tab. All the applications listed here are automaticaly run every time you log in. Select any items you don't need and click the minus button below the list to delete them.

OS X login items

I don't know what's on your list or whether the items are useful to you. Everyone is different, so it's up to you which apps you decide to remove or keep. Sometimes you find entries for software you have uninstalled and these can definitely be removed. If you aren't sure whether you need something, then leave it alone and only remove items you definitely don't use.

Reducing the list to just the essential items you can't live without will speed up the Mac's startup.

View launch agents

The next task is to see if there are any launch agents. These are apps that are run in the background, but they don't appear in the Login Items list. Accessing these has changed in recent versions of OS X. Mac startup itemsIn old versions you could open a Finder window and navigate to your home folder, then Library/launchAgents. In Mountain Lion, go to the Go menu on the desktop, hold down Option and click Library. Open the LaunchAgents folder in the Finder window.

In here are files that are automatically run when you log on. Some items are essential, so don't delete things at rando, but others are not. Delete any that you obviously don't need (they can be moved back from the Trash if you find you can't live without them), but ignore anything you aren't sure about.

Those are your personal launch agents that apply only to you when you log in. There are global launch agents that apply to everyone and are loaded when the Mac starts up. Select the Mac's hard disk drive to go to the root of the disk and open /Library/launchAgents. As before, you can delete any items that you don't need, but leave any that look as if they may me useful. In particular, look for items that are for software you have deleted. There might still be a launch agent pointing to an app that doesn't exist.

In addition to /Library/LaunchAgents, there is also /Library/LaunchDemons. As before, look for apps you have deleted or don't need and drag the item to the Trash.

You should now find that your Mac starts up a bit faster than it used to. Obviously though, it depends on how much crud you've removed. If your startup is fairly clean anyway then you won't see much improvement, but if you've pruned a long list down to the essentials then it could be significantly faster. You will also find that the Mac has more free memory and this helps when running applications. They will start faster and more qore quickly, especially if the Mac doesn't have a lot of memory.

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