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Mac 101: Keep Your Mac Running with Regular Maintenance

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If your Mac (s aapl) is running slow or things don’t seem to be working as they should, it may just be that you need to give your computer a little bit of TLC in the form of regular maintenance. Here are a few ways to look after your Mac to make sure it doesn’t get too ill.

Before you start, it’s always a good idea to do a backup of your system, or at least your sensitive files. These are very basic steps that don’t incur much risk, but you’re always better off having a backup than not.

Do It Every Day: Empty the Trash

It might seem obvious, but emptying the Trash is a great way to claim back hard drive space, which can, in some cases, speed up your Mac. To do this, simply click and hold (or right-click) the Trash icon in the Dock. Then click Empty Trash in the pop-up menu which appears. You’d be surprised how often you might forget to do this for days or even weeks at a time.

Do It Once a Month: Give Your Battery a Break

If you’re like me, and you never completely shut down your MacBook, instead only closing the lid occasionally to put it to sleep, then your battery might be getting a bit worn out. It could even be losing the ability to charge completely. Once in a while, turn your laptop off completely to give the battery a rest. Apple even suggests regularly running the charge down until the notebook turns off, then waiting a while to let it run out completely before recharging.

You can check the condition of your battery if you’re running Snow Leopard (10.6.x) by holding Option and clicking the battery status icon in the Menu Bar. If it shows ‘Replace Soon’, your battery may be losing the ability to hold its charge. If “Replace Now” or “Service Battery” is displayed, you should contact Apple about getting the battery replaced, especially if you’re still covered under warranty or AppleCare.

Do It Once Every Couple Months: Verify and Repair Disks and Permissions

Repair Disk Permissions
Repairing disk permissions can sort out strange goings-on, particularly those related to starting up your Mac. Open up Disk Utility (Found in the Applications>Utilities folder) and click on the disk you’re interested in using the source menu on the left. Click the button on the left, Verify Disk Permissions. Disk Utility will automatically take care of the rest.

If you need to, you can click Repair Disk Permissions to iron out any errors that get picked up. I’d suggest doing this before restoring and erasing disks and so on. Oftentimes repairing permissions will sort out the problem, without having to resort to a disk repair.

Verify and Repair Disks
If something strange starts happening on your Mac, it’s a good idea to verify that your startup disk is okay. If the structure of the disk’s file system is changed in some way, then your Mac might start behaving strangely. In order to check that everything is as it should be, you can once again use Disk Utility. Select your startup disk from the list of drives on the left and hit Verify Disk. Disk Utility will go ahead and check the status of the disk you selected. Don’t worry if your computer is unresponsive during the test; that’s normal.

If Disk Utility finds an issue with a disk, you can use the Repair Disk button to have your Mac try to repair it automatically. Most of the time, a simple repair will sort out any issues you’re having with a disk.

Sometimes, though, you will have to boot your Mac from your OS X install disc in order for Repair Disk to work. To do that, make sure your OS X install disc is in your Mac’s drive, reboot your computer, and hold C. Don’t reinstall OS X, but instead choose Disk Utility from the Installer menu and try to verify and repair once again.

Getting It Done Automatically

It can be a pain to remember to carry out maintenance on your machine regularly. Luckily, there’s an application, OnyX, which can perform maintenance such as checking permissions and cleaning out temporary files automatically. OnyX can perform daily, weekly and monthly scripts which do all the boring things for you. Plus it’s free. OnyX can’t empty the Trash, but it can clear caches and temporary files. It also checks the status of your startup disk whenever you launch the application.

Got any maintenance tips of your own? Share them in the comments.

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10 Responses to “Mac 101: Keep Your Mac Running with Regular Maintenance”

  1. I have a maintenance schedule that I keep track of in a spreadsheet. Pretty basic but works great for me. It’s as follows:

    -Verify disk every 6 months.
    -Clean fan from dust every 2 years (well, I have only done this once since I bought my macbook but the second clean is coming up in a month). It did wonders for making the processor in my macbook run cooler (not surprising given how much dust that was actually stuck there) and I would think that overheating due to dust building up in the fan must be one of the main reasons for computers breaking. There’s a good article detailing the procedure here:

    Other things that I do as needed include recalibrating the battery and reformatting the hard-drive (the latter I’ve only felt the need for once and it turned out that it wasn’t necessary in the end as it was some other software conflicts that caused the issues).

    There is also the Apple Hardware Test which seems to be a good thing to do if you’re having hardware issues but I have not included that in the regular maintenance.

  2. One other thing with MacBook batteries: don’t leave the laptop closed in standby for any great length of time (c3 weeks+). If the battery depletes it can cause it to fail completely and it will no longer charge at all, although it will always display as being fully charged. I had this happen twice.

  3. For periodic maintenance and troubleshooting, Applejack is a small, simple, no-fuss program that can be run from the command line in single-user mode. Simply install, then restart and hold down command s.

    At the command line prompt type “applejack” and you’re ready to perform a myriad of maintenance tasks …

    Type applejack AUTO restart and go get a cup of tea/coffee while Applejack runs all periodic maintenance tasks, repairs permissions, cleans caches etc. The beauty of this command is that your computer will be rebooted when you return to it.

    It’s a small download and has helped me out numerous times. I wouldn’t be without it.


  4. When I/O errors / bad sectors started building up on my HDD 2 years into the life of my MacBookPro, I was told by the Genius Bar NOT to do something which I think was Verify and Repair Disks, because it would compromise the already weakened state of said HDD.

    If this is true, should this caveat be added (i.e. don’t do on a failing drive) ?

    • File System Expert

      If you have bad sectors, don’t do ANYTHING to the drive. Go out, buy a new one immediately. Make sure you get your files off of your failing drive as fast as you can before you lose them at all.

  5. I have an additional category: Do it once a year. I like to give Snow Leopard Cache Cleaner (or whatever the appropriate OS version is for you) a run at least once a year using the Deep Cleaning option to remove and rebuild all the caches. On systems with less than 2 gigs of RAM this helps speed stuff back up quite a bit (did wonders back when I had an iBook G4 running Mac OS X 10.4 with 1.25 Gigs of RAM). Doesn’t seem to make as much of a difference on my MacBook with 4 gigs and 10.6 but it can be noticeable sometimes.

  6. Sometimes, though, you will have to boot your Mac from your OS X install disc in order for Repair Disk to work.

    “Sometimes” being any time it’s your start-up disk.

    If you don’t have your install disk handy and don’t have a bootable flash drive with DiskWarrior on it (get it!) you can boot into safe-mode by holding shift down on startup and it will run a disk repair routine as it boots (‘fsck -y’ which is identical to Disk Utility’s Repair Disk unless your file system is UFS rather than HFS+). It also runs permissions repair and empties some caches as well as disabling login/startup items and non-system fonts which can greatly aid in troubleshooting.