10 Ways to Speed Up Your iMac

Even an iMac with an Intel Quad Core i7 processor can always go just a bit faster . . . or can it? There’s actually a pretty short list of tweaks that you can apply to your iMac’s hardware to speed it up, and these suggestions are covered in this article.

You can also work considerably faster within El Capitan by customizing your Desktop and your Finder windows, which makes it easier to spot and use your files, folders, and applications.

Finally, you can enhance your efficiency and make yourself a power user by tweaking yourself. (Sounds a bit tawdry or even painful, but bear with me, and you’ll understand.)

#1 – Nothing Works Like a Shot of Memory

Adding additional memory to your iMac (by either replacing or adding a memory module) is the single surefire way to speed up the performance of your entire system.

That includes every application as well as El Capitan itself. With more memory, your iMac can hold more of your documents and data at once, and thus has to store less data temporarily on your internal drive. It takes your iMac much less time to store, retrieve, and work with data when that data is in RAM (short for random access memory) rather than on your hard drive.

That’s why your system runs faster when you can fit an entire image in Adobe Photoshop in your iMac’s system memory.

At this writing, you can cram up to 32GB of memory in a 27″ iMac model, and 21.5″ models can be configured with up to 16GB of memory as well when you order from the Apple online store.

Only 27″ iMacs can be upgraded with additional memory after purchase.

#2 – Use the Dictation Feature

Many Mac owners will attest that you can significantly increase your own efficiency by using the Dictation feature, which allows you to dictate text by speaking within many applications. Your voice is indeed faster than your fingers!

To enable Dictation, choose System Preferences➪Dictation & Speech and click the On radio button next to Dictation. Remember that by default, Dictation is active only when you press the Fn (Function) key twice. (You can change the Dictation shortcut from the Dictation and Speech pane in System Preferences).

#3 – Vamoose, Unwanted Fragments!

Apple would probably prefer that I not mention disk fragmentation because El Capitan doesn’t come with a built-in defragmenting application. (Go figure.) A disk-defragmentation application reads all the files on your magnetic drive and rewrites them as continuous, contiguous files, which your machine can read significantly faster.

To keep your hard drive running as speedily as possible, I recommend defragmenting at least once monthly. You can use third-party applications like Prosoft Engineering’s Drive Genius 4  to defragment your drive.

You should never try to defragment your iMac internal drive if it’s a SSD (solid-state) or Fusion drive. Only traditional magnetic hard drives benefit from defragmenting. To determine which type of internal drive you’re using, launch Disk Utility, click the internal drive entry in the list on the left, and check for the acronym SSD in the drive description.

If you see it, your iMac has an SSD or Fusion drive installed.

#4 – Keep Your Desktop Background Simple

It’s funny that I still include this tip in a chapter dedicated to improving performance. After all, I recommended using a solid-color background in my first books
on Mac OS 8 and Windows 98! Just goes to show you that some things never change.

If you’re interested in running your Retina 5K iMac system as fast as it will go, choose a solid-color background from the Desktop & Screen Saver pane in System Preferences. (In fact, there’s even a separate category that you can pick called Solid Colors. Someone at Apple has The Right Idea.)

#5 – Column Mode Is for Power Users

One of my favorite features of OS X is the ability to display files and folders in column view mode. Just click the Column button on the standard Finder window toolbar, and the contents of the window automatically align in well-ordered columns.

Other file-display options require you to drill through several layers of folders to get to a specific location on your hard drive — such as Users/thomas/Music/iTunes/iTunes Music, which I visit on a regular basis.

In column mode, however, a single click drills a level deeper, and often you won’t even have to use the Finder window’s scroll bars to see what you’re looking for. Files and folders appear in a logical order. Also, it’s much easier to move a file (by dragging it from one location on your hard drive to another) in column mode.

#6 – Make the Dock Do Your Bidding

Just about every Mac owner considers the OS X Dock a good friend. But when’s the last time you customized it — or have you ever made a change to it at all?

You can drag files and folders to the Dock, as well as web URLs, applications, and network servers. You can also remove applications and web URLs just as easily by dragging the icon from the Dock and releasing it on your Desktop.

I find that I make a significant change to my Dock icons at least once every week. I find nothing more convenient than placing a folder for each of my current projects on the Dock or adding applications to the Dock that I might be researching for a book or demonstrating in a chapter.

You can position the Dock at either side of the Desktop or even hide the Dock to give yourself an extra strip of space on your Desktop for application windows.

Click the Apple menu ( ) at the left side of the Finder menu bar and then hover your pointer over the Dock item to display these commands.

#7 – It All Started with Keyboard Shortcuts

Heck, keyboard shortcuts have been around since the days of WordStar and VisiCalc, back when a mouse was still just a living rodent. If you add up all those seconds of mouse-handling that you save by using keyboard shortcuts, you’ll see that you can literally save hours of productive time every year.

You’re likely already using some keyboard shortcuts, such as the common editing shortcuts ⌘+C (Copy) and ⌘+V (Paste). When I’m learning a new application, I often search the application’s online help to find a keyboard shortcut table and then print that table as a quick reference.

Naturally, you can also view keyboard shortcuts by clicking each of the major menu groups within an application. Shortcuts are usually displayed alongside the corresponding menu items.

#8 – Hey, You Tweaked Your Finder!

Here’s another speed enhancer along the same lines as my earlier tip about customizing your Dock: You can reconfigure your Finder windows to present just the tools and locations that you actually use (rather than what Apple figures you’ll use).

You can right-click the toolbar in any Finder window and choose Customize Toolbar, for example. By default, the OS X Finder toolbar includes only the default icon set that you see at the bottom of the sheet, but you can drag and drop all sorts of useful command icons onto the toolbar.

You can save space by displaying small icons, too. With Finder tabs, you can even open multiple tabs within a Finder window (making it just about as efficient as it can possibly be for operations such as moving files, quickly navigating between locations, and comparing items in different locations).

The Finder sidebar — which hangs out at the left side of the Finder window — is a healthy, no-nonsense repository for those locations that you constantly visit throughout a computing session.

I have both a Games folder and a Book Chapters folder that I use countless times every day (it’s important to balance work with pleasure, you know), and I’ve dragged both of those folders to the sidebar.

#9 – Keep in Touch with Your Recent Past

Click that Apple menu ( ) and use that Recent Items menu! I know that sounds a little too simple, but I meet many new Apple computer owners every year who either don’t know that the Recent Items menu exists or forget to use it. You can access both applications and documents that you’ve used within the past few days.

Consider the Dock and Finder sidebar to be permanent or semipermanent solutions and the Recent Items menu to be more of a temporary solution to finding the stuff that you’re working on Right Now.

#10 – Go Where the Going Is Good

Check he Go menu, which is located on the Finder menu bar. The Go menu is really a catch-all, combining the most important locations on your system (such as your Home folder) with folders that you’ve used recently.

Also, the Go menu is the place where you can connect to servers or shared folders across your local network or across the Internet.

Pull down the Go menu today — and don’t forget to try out those spiffy keyboard shortcuts you see listed next to the command names. (Press ⌘+Shift+H to go immediately to your Home folder, for example.)

And if a Finder window isn’t open at the moment, a new window opens automatically. Such convenience is hard to resist! Hold down the Option key when you click the Go menu, and you’ll be able to choose your personal Library folder (which is normally hidden) from the menu.

This comes in handy when you have to troubleshoot problems with applications that save files or store configuration data in your Library folder.

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