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Cleaning Up Macintosh HD

Updated on March 14, 2013

How To Clean Your Mac - Both Inside and Out

As with Windows computers, Macs can seem to run more slowly as time passes. This is because each new version of the operating system and the software that runs on it are more processor-intensive than those that preceded them.

If you feel compelled to upgrade your operating system each time a new one is released (or simply because you need to in order to run the latest version of an essential program), you can expect your Mac to run more slowly over time.

Unlike Windows computers, however, Macs do not tend to slow down because their hard drives get filled up with kruft. Macs, for example, do not have a registry that must be cleaned out periodically.

Mac users should, however, do some basic routine maintenance and troubleshooting on their Macs from time to time to keep it running at peak performance. The following 6 tactics will help you to keep your Mac in tip-top condition.

1. Organize Your Files

Apple has made it known to Mac users that they need not follow a strict organizational procedure for their files and documents. After all, finding documents is supposed to be what Spotlight is all about.

However, in my experience, Spotlight has long had reliability issues and it cannot always be counted on to find the files you want. Better is to create folders and subfolders inside your documents folder inside your User folder. That way, you're treating your Mac as a bookcase Instead of one big junk bin into which you throw all your files.

2. Delete Unneeded Files

The new solid-state hard drives that some Macs, such as the MacBook Air, come equipped with are fast and efficient, but they come with a cost: smaller capacity. If your hard drive is filling up, you will want to delete unneeded files, whether they be images, music files, or other unnecessary items.

Software can help with this. Smith Micro's Spring Cleaning 11 Deluxe can Search for redundant files, find hidden and unneeded application files and track down and identify any corrupt files. CleanMyMac by MacPaw Inc. can remove unneeded language files, uninstall applications and remove useless log files.

There are more specialized file cleaning applications as well. For example, GrandPerspective shows what files are taking up what space in a graphical format.

You should be careful in using any file cleaning application in that you don't delete any necessary files. Read the documentation of whatever software you're using carefully so that you know what you are doing.

3. Leave 10% To 15% of Your Hard Drive Free

PC users are told that their computers are not a "waste bin" and they should not allow too many files to accumulate on their hard drives. However, in these days of terabyte hard drives, this advice seems to be misplaced. After all, storing your files is what the hard drive is for.

Even Mac users, however, should be sure to leave at least 10 to 15% of their hard drive free at all times for maximum running efficiency. This is because Mac OS X writes temporary data to the hard drive as part of its virtual memory routines. You will get much better performance if it has some hard drive space to write to. Move those files you can't bear to delete to a DVD or external hard drive.

4. Clear Unneeded iMovie Files

These days, photos, documents and even music files are not usually the big culprit in wasted hard drive space. Today, it's movie files.

While you should delete any applications you don't need, especially the larger ones, you may gain a greater benefit more easily by going into iMovie and seeing which video clips are no longer needed. You may be surprised to find a few huge clips there that you had completely forgotten about.

Buy CleanMyMac on Amazon

5. Clear Unnecessary Clutter

Do you have a lot of unnecessary applications in your Mac OS X dock? You can remove these by dragging them off of the dock (as long as they aren't running) and you will see them disappear from the dock in a puff of “smoke” (don't worry, this doesn't delete the actual application from your hard drive).

To me, however, the dock has always struck me as a cartoonified version of the Windows taskbar, and I greatly prefer the third-party DragThing, which is been a part of the Mac ecosystem for over a decade

You probably shouldn't keep a lot of documents on your desktop, either. Due to some quirk in the Mac OS X operating system, files on the desktop with custom icons consume memory–as much memory as windows that are open unnecessarily, an important consideration if your Mac's memory capacity is limited.

6. Clean the Outside

Not only the inside but the outside of your Mac needs occasional cleaning. It is a good idea to clean your keyboard, mouse and monitor occasionally.

If you have a Mac Pro, you may wish to shut down the computer, open the tower, and clean out the inside with a can of compressed air; dust can accumulate on the fan and other internal parts. Follow Apple's directions carefully whenever cleaning the inside of your Mac, and if you are unsure of what you are doing, have an Apple genius do it for you.

Your Mac is a super-sophisticated machine that works practically like magic. Like any other mechanical device, however, it needs occasional maintenance. Your Mac will last longer and give you better performance if you occasionally optimize it.

Video - Spring Cleaning 11 Deluxe Overview

A quick overview of the Mac cleaning program I use.

Video - Cleaning Your MacBook Pro

Software won't clean the exterior of your Mac, but this video shows how one user does it.

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