Prevent Beachballs & Slow Downs in Mac OS X When External Hard Drive is Attached
Many Mac users have an external hard disk for Time Machine backups or other media storage purposes, and if you leave it connected to the Mac all the time you’ve probably noticed an annoying side effect: the drive will spin down when it’s not in use, only to be spun up again unnecessarily at random during unrelated operations.
That drive spin up time is waking the disk from its sleep state which can lead to some pretty serious system dragging even on the fastest Macs, and as a result you’ll often encounter a lengthy beachball cursor that slows down a Mac as you wait for the external drive to arise from sleep. There are a couple possible remedies for this problem, read on to understand the pros and cons of both choices.
Option 1) Stop Hard Disks from Sleeping
By checking this option the external (and internal) hard disks will not spin down to sleep while not in use, this will completely prevent the drive waking lag time and beachballs, however it can also reduce the lifespan of traditional spinning hard disks. For that reason it’s best to use this option sparingly unless you don’t mind the possibility of a shorter drive life for both the internal and external hard drives. If you leave your computer turned on all the time rather than sleeping or shutting down, this is probably not the best option to use.
Option 2) Unmounting Hard Disks When Not in Use
Another solution is to simply unmount the external hard disks when they’re not in use, this will also prevent them from spinning up at random or when a open/save dialog box appears. The downside to this approach is you’ll have to manually mount the drive when you do want to use it, and Time Machine backups will not take place when the drive is unmounted.
You can unmount a hard disk without physically detaching it by either:
- Dragging the external disk to the Trash
- Or, using Disk Utility to unmount the drive
Remounting the Hard Disks
If you choose this option, you can remount the drives again using the Disk Utility app to regain file system access. Remounting is just a matter of doing the following:
- Launch Disk Utility and select the unmounted drive from the left side, unmounted drives will be grey
- Click the blue “Mount” button in the toolbar to remount the drive
- Exit Disk Utility
You can also physically disconnect external disks which has an added benefit of providing for a faster boot time, but that’s a pain and really isn’t a valid fix.
None of the solutions outlined above are particularly ideal and hopefully a revision of Mac OS X will change the behavior of how external hard drives are accessed so they are only spun up specifically when they are selected or used. I have encountered several individuals who mistakenly think this drive accessing behavior is their brand new Mac somehow being slow, which tells me this is a problem that should be addressed in a better fashion.
If you’ve found a better way to handle this speed problem, chime in with your thoughts or solutions in the comments.