How to update a 10+ year old MacBook

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It was in the fall I was in high school when my aunt bought me my first laptop. A brand new MacBook Pro and I absolutely couldn’t believe it. Apparently, this computer is still in use almost 10 years later; but does it work most efficiently? With some tenderness, love, and care, the answer proved YES. Upgrading an older MacBook Pro may seem like a monumental task, but it can be broken down into two categories: software optimizations and hardware upgrades. 

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This article will focus on software optimizations and we’ll cover hardware upgrades in another article. It is important to note that if you have an older MacBook you should NOT upgrade the OS to Mojave, there are many programs that have compatibility and indexing issues. In most cases, you won’t even be allowed. These 7 simple tasks will significantly improve the speed and storage space on your MacBook Pro. Let’s get into it.

6. Restricting Startup Programs

Often, the most common reason an older MacBook might take longer to start up is because there are too many startup programs running in the background when the machine is first turned on. This is a simple solution and all you need to do is this:

  • Go to System Preferences
  • Click Users and Groups
  • Click the Login Items tab 

If you see anything in the Login Items tab that isn’t the ones started at startup, simply click on that item and click the minus sign (-) in the lower right corner below where it says To hide an application when signing in, select the checkbox in the Hide column next to the application. Disabling apps on startup has speeded up my startup time considerably and will do it for you too.

5. Clear the desktop

A simple solution that you might not think of right away is to clear all items taking up desktop space. If there are too many items and folders it might be worth consolidating all those folders and files into a single folder that you can direct somewhere besides the desktop. I had files scattered all over the desktop and even consolidating them into 7 folders greatly improves startup and runtime speed.

4. Deleting large files

Another huge problem known to curse the older MacBook is pretty obvious: Large junk files significantly slow down the performance of an older computer. Usually, to make sure that the annoying “beach ball of death” stays in its computer cage, you’ll want to make sure that at least 20% of your hard drive is free. To free up space you simply need to:

  • Click the Apple logo in the upper left of the screen
  • Select About This Mac
  • Go to Storage (the third tab) and click Manage
  • From here you should see the larger files and delete them accordingly.

If you’re running OS X 10.11 or earlier, unfortunately, you won’t have the Manage button. In this case, open Finder, click All My Files in the left sidebar, then sort by Size column. One important thing to note, the iOS files on the left were created before iCloud worked the way it does now. 

It’s an exact copy of an old iOS phone or device, which you should delete if you have iCloud enabled because iCloud does all of this remotely now. It’s also important to mention iTunes because old movies or podcasts will take up a significant amount of space, so if you’ve seen these movies before you might want to consider deleting them later. After doing this, I freed about 30 gigs from my hard drive. The “beach ball of death” is gone.

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3. Clear the cache

Clearing the system cache is something I haven’t done in a while and it helped speed things up. To clear the system cache, you simply need to:

  • Go to the Finder
  • From the Go tab at the top left of the screen, select Go to Folder at the bottom of the drop-down menu
  • To get to the cache directory, type exactly “~/Library/Caches” (without quotes)
  • Delete everything inside the Cache folder. Any files that your computer needs will be automatically downloaded again, so you don’t have to worry about deleting anything important.

After doing that, you should restart your computer and you will notice a dramatic change if you haven’t cleared the cache yet.

2. Disable FileVault

Of all the tips I’ve seen for speeding up an older MacBook Pro, this one made the most significant change for me. FileVault is OSX’s built-in encryption feature that encrypts all your files and data on your computer. Unless you’re a high-profile individual who needs a lot of security (like me), you won’t need to enable FileVault. To disable this feature, you will need to:

  • Go to System Preferences
  • Select Security and privacy
  • Choose the FileVault tab 
  • Click Lock Image in the lower left of the window to allow you to make changes to this setting and type the administrator password to confirm.
  • Select Disable FileVault…

An important note for this process. Decrypting your information will take a long time, so it’s important to do this when you won’t need your laptop for a significant period of time. I would recommend doing this before bed as it is known to take 4 to 12 hours. This tip made the most significant change for me because the decrypted data takes much less time to load. Disabling this also managed to free up 90.2 gigabytes of space for me, so I highly recommend it.

1. Reset SMC and NVRAM

Another very effective method of improving and updating MacBook performance is resetting SMC and NVRAM. SMC or System Management Controller is responsible for battery management, thermal management, and many other hardware management services. Resetting this could help resolve any overheating or battery issues that may occur. 

NVRAM or non-volatile random access memory is “the small amount of memory your Mac uses to store certain settings and access them quickly” according to Apple Support. Resetting this was incredibly valuable to me because my hard drive is partitioned and NVRAM manipulates the boot disk settings.

Your MacBook configuration will likely be different from mine, as will your recovery options.

To reset SMC you simply have to:

  • Go to this page and find the reset options for your specific machine

To reset NVRAM you will simply have to:

  • Go to this link and find the recovery options for your specific machine

These are the optimizations you can do within the OS X UI. Hope this helps you extend the life of your beloved MacBook! For hardware upgrades be sure to check out my next article, we’ll be replacing the machine’s internal components to speed it up. If you have any questions, feel free to send me a message and I’ll get back to you asap!

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