I’ve been using the same core install of OS X since April 30, 2005, the day I received my copy of 10.4 Tiger and did a fresh install on my Power Mac G5. Over the past six years I’ve installed the two subsequent releases of OS X as upgrades (Leopard and Snow Leopard), and planned to do the same with 10.7 Lion when it arrived this month. During those six years, I’ve switched my main computer hardware five times: Power Mac G5 > Power Mac G5 Quad > 17-inch MacBook Pro > 24-inch iMac > 15-inch MacBook Pro > 15-inch MacBook Pro (yes, my last two machines were 15-inch MacBook Pros). In each case, I would remove the hard disk from my new machine, hook it up to my old machine and clone the drive, thus creating an exact version of my old computer in new hardware.
After several attempts in the past to find the ideal hardware setup, I recently settled on the idea of an iMac in the office and a MacBook Air on the go. Over the past year I’ve rarely used my MacBook Pro in anything but clamshell mode, and if I’m not using it portably I’d rather reap the benefits of a stationary machine (more disk space, faster, et cetera). Late last year I upgraded my MacBook Pro’s drive, replacing the stock 7,200 RPM HDD with an OWC MercuryExtreme Pro SSD. It was outrageously expensive, but I spend all day on my computer and I knew it was worth it. But after waiting several months for the drive to ship (due to fulfillment issues), when I finally cloned the old HDD to the SSD and installed it, I wasn’t as thrilled with the speed as I thought I would be. Sure, it was fast, but it wasn’t quite as crazy-fast I had expected based on OWC’s specs.
When the new 27-inch iMac arrived last month, I immediately cloned the SSD in my MacBook Pro over to the new iMac (I ordered the BTO option featuring a 256GB SSD + 1TB HDD) and restarted it. It was fast, but something didn’t seem quite right. Earlier in the day, before cloning, I ran Xbench a few times to see how fast the new machine was, and it was averaging a total score of 460. (I am aware that Xbench isn’t particularly great for testing the speed of machines these days, but it was the only way for me to get a somewhat direct comparison between the iMac and the MacBook Pro.) My MacBook Pro was averaging 270. After I cloned to the new iMac and felt something was off, I ran Xbench again and kept averaging around 270. The same score the MacBook Pro was getting. Something’s wrong with this picture.
I wiped the iMac’s SSD drive and did a fresh install of Snow Leopard, then ran Xbench, and it was averaging 460 again. Figuring this must be something to do with the iMac being a pristine system with no applications or files or configuration, I decided to test the theory and began configuring the machine anew. After every few installations or large chunks of copied data, I ran Xbench. No change—average score of 460.
Eventually, I realized something was funky with my older core OS X install. Whatever it is, it happened—I would assume slowly—over the past six years. Various configurations, application installs, terminal messes… nearly a decade of computing had created a completely bloated and unnecessarily slow machine. That OS X made it so simple and safe to upgrade to each major release, and that Macs made it so simple to clone the entire filesystem onto an entirely new machine was a godsend for computing. But it also made me 100% unwilling to start over. That is, until I started doing it this week and realized just how much bloat there was:
- 215 apps in my Applications folder, over 140 of which I hadn’t used in as long as I could remember
- 400MB of content in ~/Documents, not a single bit of which was anything I wanted or needed, including five years of iChat transcripts
- Freelance client work from 2002 (!)
- 18 PrefPanes, only three of which I had touched in recent memory
- 26 Login Items, some of which I didn’t even recognize and had to research
- Three versions of the Apple Developer tools, including Xcode 3, Xcode 4 beta (ugh, seriously?) and Xcode 4
- A complete user account I used to use for presentations at conferences with random junk all over the desktop
I was also using a lot of tools for no good reason, or in addition to other tools which did the same thing, leading to extra CPU and memory usage.
I decided when setting up the new machine that I would only install something if I needed it. The initial pass of application installs was limited to essentials—Adobe apps (Photoshop, Illustrator and Lightroom), Xcode et al, TextMate, Dropbox, Sparrow, Skype, Propane and Reeder. I started using the iMac for real work and slowly installed other apps I needed. Did some web work—installed CSSEdit, Transmit and Google Chrome. Needed to share a screenshot with the other guys at Karbon—installed Cloud App. Wanted to get at my upcoming calendar events easier—installed Fantastical. Needed to access my television Mac Mini from the new iMac—installed ScreenSharingMenulet. As I went along, I realized a few things could be combined or improved as well:
- Rather than running LaunchBar for keyboard control of launching apps and files and Spark for global shortcuts, I installed Alfred and bought the PowerPack. Now one app does both things with a smaller memory footprint and only has one Login Item instead of two.
- I used to be very anti-Cloud App because I wanted my screenshots to go to my FTP server. But then I looked at the directory I’ve been uploading to over the past few years and there are over 2,000 PNG fragments there. I’ll never look at them again. Why waste the space and effort when Cloud can store them for me and it’s free? So I got rid of my hacked version of FileShuttle and installed Cloud. The nice thing is that Cloud is configurable and works better.
- Where available I bought everything from the Mac App Store, including software I already owned. It seemed strange to re-purchase things like iWork, but I realized that the MAS is the future and it’s so much easier. The benefit of this is that when you set up a new Mac you can simply open the Purchased tab on the new machine and install everything you’ve bought with one-click. It’s terrific.
- I didn’t customize folder icons. This might change, but after years of managing this I’m appreciating the change of pace of just using the stock set. I did, however, change a few application icons (swapped the Skype icon for a green version because otherwise my dock is nearly completely blue).
- Re-installed the YouTube5 Safari extension but did not install Adobe Flash at all. This covers 90% of the video I watch on the internet and anything else I can open in Google Chrome. The benefit is that Safari runs faster, more stable and with less memory. Should have done this years ago.
After a full week of slowly adding only what I need, I’ve got a completely usable machine. I’m sure more installations will occur, but I’m going to try to hold myself accountable and only install what I need. If I try software and don’t use it after a few days, I’m going to zap it (I also installed AppZapper). And guess what? The Xbench score is still 460.
A few fun tidbits about this machine:
- Building a recent client project on my MacBook Pro took 10 seconds. On the iMac, it builds the same app in 4.
- Opening every application on the iMac (at once) takes 2 seconds for 98% of them to be completely launched and then 3 seconds more for the remaining big apps to finish (Final Cut Pro, et cetera). Apps open so quickly the dock can’t even keep up and it keeps adding icons for apps that have already been on the screen for nearly a second.
- The iMac cold-boots from shut off to logged in and ready to use in 14 seconds.
It was a bit painful to start fresh, but the advantages are immediately noticeable. A faster, cleaner machine that’s easier to get work done on.