12 Replies Latest reply: Feb 6, 2009 9:25 AM by jbischke
jbischke Level 1 (0 points)
Hi all. I have a MacBook Pro that's a couple of years old. I'm running 10.5.6 on a 2.16 GHz Core 2 with 2 GB of RAM. As of late I've been noticed some very poor performance, specifically a lot of lag and sluggishness.

This manifests itself in a few ways. I notice when I'm playing music through iTunes or streaming sites that it gets very choppy. My mouse tends to lag at times and I also notice it when using Expose (the windows don't move smoothly). I've also had a couple of system crashes lately which I rarely had previous to the last couple of months.

I've searched some forums and tried some of the fixes (e.g., repairing disk permissions) but these things haven't helped. It's possible that I just need to up my hardware although when I check Activity Monitor I sometimes, but don't always, see the CPU spiked when I'm noticing problems.

Are there any steps I can take to diagnose what's going on here and potentially fix this?

MacBook Pro, Mac OS X (10.5.6)
  • Carolyn Samit Level 10 (102,845 points)
    Hi Jon,

    "As of late I've been noticed some very poor performance"

    Plenty of available hard disk space? Here's how to check: http://www.thexlab.com/faqs/freeingspace.html Good rule of thumb is to make sure the boot disk has a minimum of 10% available disk space.

    Mac Maintenance Quick Assist: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1147

    Mac Tune-up: 34 Software Speedups

    Tuning Mac OS X Performance

    The Top 7 Free Utilities To Maintain A Mac.

    Mac OS X: How to force background maintenance tasks (logs and temporary items)

    " It's possible that I just need to up my hardware" How to perform the Apple Hardware Test - MacBook Pro

  • jbischke Level 1 (0 points)
    Thanks Carolyn. Here is where I'm at:

    I have about 13.3 GB free disk space of 111 GB available. Could possibly free up some more but that doesn't seem like it's the main issue.

    Have done everything on the Mac Maintenance Quick Assist except install anti-virus software...have never heard that that was necessary on a Mac?

    There didn't seem to be anything in the 34 Software Speedups article except maybe that I have a few Firefox extensions installed. However, I've noticed the sluggishness even when Firefox isn't running so again, probably not the culprit.

    The only thing I saw in the Tuning Mac OS X Performance article was possibly adding more RAM. However I'm currently at 2 GB which should be enough especially when I only have a few apps open (and nothing that's seem incredibly memory intensive).

    The Top 7 maintenance utilities look cool. I've installed Macaroni and will see if anything that it does is helpful.

    And I will run the Apple Hardware Test. Do I need the original Leopard disk to do that (the article you suggested references "bootable optical media"?).

    Thanks and if anyone has any other suggestions I'd love to hear them!
  • Carolyn Samit Level 10 (102,845 points)
    HI Jon,

    Available disk space on a Mac is very important. The less available disk space there is, the slower your computer will run.

    A/V software not necessary on a Mac. The information is there in case someone wants to read it.

    2GB of RAM is more than sufficient unless you are running memory hogging image/video editing software.

    Macaroni works like a charm.

    Yes, you need your original boot disk to run the Apple Hardware Test. Those disks are, "machine specific". Apple Hardware Test is located on the Mac OS X Install Disc 1 and should be included with your computer.

    If it were me, I'd free up disk space! It takes 10GB of disk space just to boot Leopard let alone run any applications and you are borderline: http://www.thexlab.com/faqs/freeingspace.html

  • a brody Level 9 (65,415 points)
    Macaroni works like a charm, until it accidently wipes out cache files as they are being written. Then applications start to fail to launch, and System Preferences fails, and sometimes a forced erase and install may happen. This can happen to any system level cache cleaning software. Using such software should be done sparingly, and only on a backed up system, in event you happen to run into this very elusive bug.

    Message was edited by: a brody
  • Spencer Wysinger Level 1 (0 points)
    When you see the CPU spiked, you should sort the process list by CPU usage (click the "CPU" column header) and see which program is the culprit. My cynical side says you might see either mds/mdimport or spindump.

    The mere fact that you saw a CPU spike suggests that the bottleneck you're seeing when you have problems is related to the CPU getting starved. Next step is pinpointing which program is eating all the cycles.

    I'd personally hold off doing blanket perf tuning and system cleansing right now (installing even more apps to basically shoot blindly at the problem). I'd keep the environment just like it is and wait for it to happen again so I could figure out what's to blame.
  • Carolyn Samit Level 10 (102,845 points)
    Thank you for the heads up on Macaroni. I'll save it for future use.

  • jbischke Level 1 (0 points)
    Thanks guys. This has been really helpful.

    Re: disk space. OK, I'll take that on and see what I can do. Makes sense.

    Re: Macaroni. Does it really have the potential to bugger up a system? That's no good. Anything that can be done to minimize the likelihood of that?

    Re: CPU usage. I've noticed that Firefox is a big hog at times. Other than that there's nothing that stands out. I something run Adobe Connect sessions on eduFire and that's a very CPU-intensive app but that's only a few hours a week.

    Feel free to keep any suggestions coming. I'd really like to get this nailed.
  • Barney-15E Level 8 (45,330 points)
    Are most of the hang-ups while surfing the web?
    You could try turning off IPv6 in the Network (Advanced...) settings.
    Or, try using a different DNS. On the DNS tab of Network Prefs, put and in and see if that works better. Those are the OpenDNS addresses.

    However, as mentioned, you've almost hit the bare minimum of free space for OS X to be comfortable.
  • jbischke Level 1 (0 points)
    Cool. Did both of those things.

    Off to work on the disk space thing!
  • Spencer Wysinger Level 1 (0 points)
    Heya... Next time you are in the middle of a slow spell, definitely pop open Activity Monitor and if those CPU meters are maxed, it's because the CPU percentages of all the processes are hitting 200%. Anytime (ever) you see the meters peaking, you most definitely will be able to see who's eating it up, because the meter/graph is directly tied to the sum total of the usage of all processes. Sort it in descending order and the top apps are the prime offenders.

    If you notice the CPU is mellow, check the RAM. If the pie chart doesn't have a shred of green, then you have no more free RAM and the system is now resorting to swap space. You can jump over to the disk activity meters and watch them thrash as the system is paging data from RAM to disk over and over. If you /then/ decide to try and close some husky program (aka Photoshop) that's been sitting open but unused for the past 3 hours, you're now going to wait while the system pages all that data in (while pushing something else out) before it can even just quit.

    If you see all the meters totally freeze up for a few seconds, you might be having IO failures (disk drive is dying, etc.). To elaborate: if it's updating the graph every second but sometimes pauses for 5 seconds and jumps back to life.

    The stuttering graphics have happened to me even on Macs with the highest specs possible. It's a pain to try and pinpoint... All the eyecandy is offloaded by the GPU so the CPU is not affected by it. It could be anything from video RAM running low to the bus getting swamped, to something causing Quartz to go wacky. I have found that simply logging out and logging back in (restarting the WindowServer) almost always fixes it. That's a lousy answer and I would love to get off my butt and find the 'what' there.

    If the audio starts skipping, that can also be a number of things. Maybe the disk is overtaxed, thus your player can't read the audio data fast enough, or maybe some program is going crazy and doing things to trip up the audio pipeline. Something as simple as an app neglecting to write *one bit* of audio data can cause endless static since everything's now misaligned. It's usually software related.

    If you start with the "CPU, RAM, disk activity" process of elimination, you'll generally be able to figure out what's going on. The important thing is to try and avoid trying solutions that are totally unrelated... not to mention that today it might be one thing, tomorrow the next. There is no list of things that'll work every time. =)
  • a brody Level 9 (65,415 points)
    Re: Macaroni. Does it really have the potential to bugger up a system? That's no good. Anything that can be done to minimize the likelihood of that?

    Yes. As I said, if you backup your system, before doing any "tuning" of your system, you are less likely to find yourself in a lurch. Essentially, "tuning" of your system should follow this order:


    Only use cache cleaning and update prebinding as troubleshooting measures, and not as a measure of regular maintenance.

    While many people don't think of backing up as "maintenance", it is maintenance in that it is a regular action ALL people should do to avoid failures leaving them in a lurch. See my FAQ* on backing up:


    If you are unhappy about Firefox's CPU usage, see my browser FAQ*:


    - * Links to my pages may give me compensation.
  • jbischke Level 1 (0 points)
    I think I figured this out. I noticed in Activity Monitor that Firefox was spiking every few seconds and that this spike correlated perfectly with my mouse lag/freeze. I switched to Camino and the problem has not returned. It's a bit of a bummer because there are some things I like about Firefox that Camino doesn't have. However Camino is a much faster browser and that plus curing my system of the freezes and choppiness is well worth it.