Advertisement
  1. Computer Skills
  2. Maintenance
Computers

How to Keep a Mac Efficient and Well Maintained—Part 1

by
Difficulty:IntermediateLength:MediumLanguages:

Macs, like any machine, are prone to break down eventually. With continuous use, its efficiency can degrade and the machine may start behaving erratically. 

This may be a failing physical component such as a logic board, RAM, or an internal fan.

Files may no longer open due to errors in filesystem, search may become slower or irrelevant, apps may start misbehaving and more.

You can minimise both the number and the severity of problems with a maintenance regime. 

This tutorial shows you the maintenance steps to follow to keep a Mac efficient and well maintained. Consider these instructions as a set of guidelines to determine your own maintenance regime.

In this, the first part of the tutorial series, I’ll show you how to:

  • Keep apps up to date
  • Remove apps, junk, and unneeded files

In the second part of the tutorial series, I’ll show you how to:

  • Develop healthy habits while working on the Mac
  • Turn off unneeded login items

Keep Apps Up to date

Developers often release new versions of their apps either by removing bugs, patching security vulnerabilities or by introducing new features. Updates to the third-party apps, Apple default apps, and macOS can be done through the App Store app.

When an update is available, you’ll receive notifications either as a badge on the toolbar or on the App Store icon in the Dock

Press Command-Space to launch Spotlight and type in App Store. Click the Updates button to display the available updates of default Apple apps and apps purchased from the App Store.

Download updates from App Store
Download updates from App Store

It is possible to configure the App Store to download updates automatically. 

Go to System Preferences > App Store and check Automatically check for updates. You can then check any or all of the following:

  • Download newly available updates in the background—The App Store notifies you about updates and downloads them automatically so you can install them as and when suits you. Click Install to install the update immediately. Click Later and choose Try in an hour, Try Tonight, or Remind Me Tomorrow from the pop-up menu to snooze the reminder.
  • Install app updates—The App Store silently updates apps automatically after they’re downloaded except for those requiring you to quit an app or restart the Mac.
Configure App Store Updates
Configure App Store Updates

While apps downloaded from the App Store can get updates through the App Store app, many third-party apps downloaded from indie developers' websites may not have a built-in automatic update system.

Keeping up with the updates is also challenging because some developers may not communicate with its customers.

MacUpdate Desktop is by far the fastest, easiest, and most cost-effective option to automate the process of updating apps. Install the app and sign-in with a MacUpdate account.

Click the Apps option from the sidebar, and from the menu click Apps > Check for Updates. The app will then automatically scan the Mac for all installed applications, check for any available updates, and then display them for you. Available updates will appear in red.

Update all the installed apps with MacUpdate Desktop
Update all the installed apps with MacUpdate Desktop
1. Updates tab showing all the updates available
2. Updates all button to update all the apps with one click

Click Update All to download and install all the updates. To update only selected apps, double-click the target update, in red, from the main window and click Update

If you’re a free user then you can update five apps for any given month. Premium membership cost $20 for six months and give you some premium benefits.

Remove Apps, Junk and Unneeded Files

Remove Apps You Don’t Need

Take a look in Applications and in Applications/Utilities folder for apps you’ve installed over the years but never use. If you’ve hundreds of applications, then it may be difficult for you to remember the apps you last opened.

Click the Applications button located on the sidebar of the Finder app. Secondary-click on the column view header and check Date Last Opened. You’ll see date and time next to all the apps, if you display them in list form.

Check Last Opened from the column header in the Finder app
Check Last Opened from the column header in the Finder app

You may also arrange the apps into related clumps, separated by headings that identify them. 

On the list view, click View and select Arrange By > Date Last Opened. When you do this, your apps will arrange in the following way:

  • Today
  • Yesterday
  • Previous 7 Days
  • Previous 30 Days
  • Current Year, and 
  • Last Year

This will you give an idea which apps you use everyday, as a part of your workflow, often, or rarely such as only for a particular task.

Arrange your apps accordingly in the Finder app
Arrange your apps accordingly in the Finder app

Make a list of apps you wish to remove and save the license keys, of apps purchased, in 1Password or password manager app of your choice. Uninstalling an app is easy, drag-and-drop the app icon to the trash icon on the dock.

Some apps will prompt you for a password when you try to move them to the trash or some may come with their own uninstallers. The developer will include a separate uninstaller app in the software package. For example, Adobe offers a separate uninstaller app to uninstall Flash player. Little Snitch for Mac offers a separate uninstaller app too.

According to the Apple Developer Library, apps store there various files in groups and in specific places.

  • Application directory—This is the installation directory of all the apps
  • Library directory—It’s the top level directory for storing private app-related data and preferences. There are several such directories but you should always look in the Library folder in the Home directory
  • Application Support directory—This is where the app stores any type of file that supports the app but is not required for the app to run, such as templates or configuration files
  • Caches directory—This is where the app stores cached files and other temporary data that the app can re-create as needed. This directory is located in the Library folder

As evident from this support document, when you uninstall an app it leaves behind all or some of the files located in these directories. 

These support files don’t do any harm to the Mac, but if you leave them around then disk space may become a concern. Consider using a utility that will remove all the support files without requiring you to find them manually.

AppCleaner is a free utility which allows you to uninstall apps and their support files. Drop an app onto the application window or search for the app you wish to uninstall.

AppCleaner will find all the related files and delete them when you click the Remove button. With AppCleaner you can also remove widgets and plugins. Go to AppCleaner > Preferences, and turn on SmartDelete. This will let you remove support files while uninstalling the app.

Appcleaner uninstall apps and their support files
Appcleaner uninstall apps and their support files
1. Uninstall apps, plugins, and widgets
2. Search for the app you want to uninstall
3. Turn on SmartDelete option

Alternatives:

AppDelete is a paid utility, $7.99, to remove all the support files along with the app. The app lets you keep a log of all the activities and has the ability to undo a deletion. It finds items that are often invisible or hidden and also support third-party languages.

iTrash is a paid utility, around $8.50, to remove all the support files along with the app. The app lets you keep a log of all the activities and enables you to find related files that are obsolete. It also supports third-party languages.

Remove Junk and Unneeded Files

Junk files are the combination of temporary and support files located in various directories, sometimes invisible or inaccessible to you. Junk files are primarily log files, cached files (related to system and browsers), duplicate files and files you don’t need.

Log Files

Any Mac contains numerous log files, with all sorts of information, sent by various system processes and applications. You can use this information to keep track and analyse issues that occurred in the past. Log files are located in

  • /private/var/log ...choose Go > Go to Folder in the Finder and enter /var/log in the dialog box
  • ~/Library/Logs
  • /Library/Logs ...logs generated mostly from user applications

As a Mac periodically runs maintenance scripts and compress or rotate the older copies with new ones, you don’t have to worry about log files. 

The Mac will hold several generations of those archived copies until they get deleted. Cleaning the log files should not be the part of the regular maintenance regimen.

Run a terminal command to quickly check the date and time stamps of the log files associated with each maintenance script
Run a terminal command to quickly check the date and time stamps of the log files associated with each maintenance script

You should clean log files only when they grow out of control or use significant portion of the hard disk. In such case, examine the log file and find out the reasons for causing them to grow. Use a third party app to analyse the system and user library folder.

Cache Files

All apps running on macOS, be it browsers, system, or installed apps, make use of caches.

Caches are small files which store prefetched information. For example, Safari stores text and images, of sites visited, in a cache, so that the next time you go to the site it can display the pages more quickly.

Problems can arise if cache gets corrupt, especially after unexpected crash, network interruption, or problems with system clock. 

Due to the hidden nature of cache files, problems resulting from corrupt cache contents are difficult to find. A simple way to find out the root cause is to remove all the cache files and restart the particular app.

Although cache cleaning can be an effective maintenace step to resolve certain problems, it makes your computer slower than normal. Clearing caches is more of a troubleshooting step, it should not be the part of the regular maintenance regimen.

Location of cache folder in home directory
Location of cache folder in home directory

You should clean caches only when an application is not working as expected or when they consume significant amount of disk space. At first, you should always clean browser caches and see the amount of disk space you gain.

Unneeded and Duplicate Files

The Desktop, ~/Documents and ~/Downloads folders, are likely places for unneeded files such as application disk images, old version of documents, photos, videos, and more.

macOS requires a certain amount of free disk space—keep at least ten per cent free of hard disk total capacity for the purpose of writing virtual memory swap files, sleepimage file, log reports, caches, versions data and many more.

Without adequate free space the system can become slow or start crashing, ultimately leading to data loss. Clearing out caches or log files won’t help much as it make the Mac more slow. It’s also possible to have identical copies of a single file on the Mac.

All the duplicate copies take disk space which you might not be aware about it. You’ve to invest in external hard drive—at least 2 or 4TB—to keep all the valuable files and apps to detect big and duplicate files.

DaisyDisk is a paid utility, at $9.99, and gives you an overview of all the connected disks, be it Macintosh HD, Thunderbolt disk, flash, network storage and more in real time. Install the app, click Scan and see all of your files and folders as a visual interactive map.

Alternatives—You can also try out free OmniDiskSweeper and GrandPerspective.

Click Scan to see the visual interactive map of your hard disk
Click Scan to see the visual interactive map of your hard disk

OnyX has been around since the days of Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar. It’s a free, multipurpose, utility with bunch of features. 

The interface is divided into six primary panes with categories such as Maintenance, Cleaning and Automation and most of these are further subdivided into multiple views that group related functions.

You can clean log files, caches (system, browsers, and font related), run maintenace scripts on demand, re-index Spotlight and Mail database, change hidden preferences, and more.

This is just one of dozens of OnyX views each of which has more maintenance options
This is just one of dozen's of OnyX views, each of which has more maintenance options

dupeGuru is a free utility to find out duplicate files. It can scan either for filename or contents. It features a fuzzy matching algorithm that can find duplicate filenames even when they are not exactly the same. 

It can scan tags and exif data to detect duplicate music or pictures hiding in your folder. It also gives you options to move or copy duplicates other than delete.

Alternatives—You can also use Gemini 2 or TidyUp for Mac. They give you lots of options to help find your duplicate files.

Detect duplicate files on your Mac with DupeGuru
Detect duplicate files on your Mac with DupeGuru

Conclusion

In this part of the tutorial, I've shown you how to:

  • Keep apps up to date
  • Remove apps, junk, and unneeded files

In the second part of the tutorial series, I’ll show you how to:

  • Develop healthy habits while working on the Mac
  • Turn off unneeded login items

It's not necessary to follow all the steps. Consider these instructions as a starting point to make your own maintenance regimen. In this series of tutorials, I'll continue to guide you to a more efficient and well maintained Mac. 

Advertisement
Advertisement
Looking for something to help kick start your next project?
Envato Market has a range of items for sale to help get you started.