12 Tips for Making the Most of an Older Mac, Today
While the newest model 15″ MacBook Air is an amazing machine, and the 16″ M2 Max MacBook Pro is a dream to use, not everyone has the latest and greatest hardware. In fact, many Mac users rely on hardware and operating systems that are considered old by some standards, finding tons of life left in 10+ year old computers. Maybe you’ve got an adored 2015 MacBook Pro running outdated system software. Maybe you’ve got a favorite 2010 iMac that you still use every day. Maybe your 2009 polycarbonate MacBook is still good enough for your computing needs.
It turns out that using an older Mac can still be a very productive experience, and even be just plain enjoyable. If you’ve got an older Mac, or you’re considering getting one, this is for you, so let’s review 12 helpful tips to get the most and best use out of an older Mac.
1: Keep MacOS / Mac OS X and your apps updated
Most Mac users will benefit from updating to the latest available version of system software available for their particular computer, for increased compatibility, improved security, and sometimes even performance too*. If you can upgrade an older Mac to MacOS Sonoma, Monterey, or Big Sur, it’s generally a good idea for most users to do so, since those latest versions are still receiving important security updates.
But not all older Macs will support the latest and greatest macOS version, and some Macs are running much older versions of system software still today, sometimes even intentionally. For example, I have a beloved 2015 MacBook Pro 15″ model that continues to run MacOS Mojave – intentionally so, Mojave is the last MacOS version to able to run 32-bit apps, and the OS has notably lower resource overhead compared to later MacOS releases. Many Mac users have similar situations, preferring older system software to newer versions for various reasons.
Speaking of updates, be sure to update your apps too. Many apps will continue to run on older system software versions, and continue to get important software updates and security updates. This is particularly important with web browsers, where the newest versions of web browsers will have security fixes to help protect your computer as you navigate the web.
2: Clean up your hard drive
Whenever possible, remove unnecessary files, apps, and clutter from the older Mac, to free up hard disk space.
Macs perform best with at least 20% of the total drive capacity available as free storage, allowing plenty of room for swap/virtual memory, caches, installing updates, and working with files and apps.
One helpful app to clean up a hard drive and find large files is OmniDiskSweeper, a free tool that will help you to see what’s on your hard disk and where it’s located. Whether or not you should remove the items, however, is up to your discretion.
3: Clear out unnecessary startup items
Disable any unnecessary login items and/or startup applications, this will help to speed up the boot process of all Macs, but is particularly notable on older Mac hardware.
4: Use lightweight apps
Whenever possible, aim to use resource efficient apps that are lightweight, so that you can reduce the strain on available Mac resources.
An example of a lightweight and efficient app is something like BBEdit, which is a super powerful text editor for Mac, but it does not consume a ton of resources to use.
Another example of a lightweight app is Pixelmator (especially Pixelmator Classic), which is much more resource efficient than the big name image editors from megacorps that are powerful but notoriously bloated.
5: Max out RAM, if possible
While modern Macs all have RAM soldered in place and are not upgradeable, many older Macs offer direct access to RAM, allowing for memory upgrades.
Whenever possible, max out the RAM capacity on a Mac, which can significantly improve performance of the computer. This goes with all Macs, not just older ones.
There are many memory upgrade kits for older Macs on Amazon, and installing RAM is usually just a matter of undoing a few screws, snapping RAM into place, and putting everything back together again – a little patience goes a long way.
6: Use a solid-state drive (SSD)
If your older Mac has a spinning hard drive, and you can upgrade it to an SSD, you should do so. There’s nothing that will offer a performance boost like an SSD will, and it’s well worth the investment. Everything will feel faster, from apps launching, to file copying, and general workflow.
You can explore internal SSD options on Amazon and there are many upgrade kits available.
Combine an SSD with maxing out RAM, and you can make an old Mac feel like a brand new one!
7: Clean the hardware, and the dust
Keeping the hardware clean physically not only looks nice, but it also makes the computer more enjoyable to use. If you have an older Mac with grime on the keyboard and case, then wiping it down can make a big difference in how much you appreciate the computer.
You can get any number of computer cleaning wipes from Amazon if you need to. My preferred approach is to use a slightly damp microfiber cloth, but everyone has their own methods, and sometimes you have to use a stronger cleaner to get rid of grime or sticker residue.
Also, consider getting an air blaster canister and blast the keyboard, ports, and all around the Mac, to get rid of dust. And if you’re comfortable doing so, opening up the Mac and cleaning out dust from inside is great too. This may seem silly, but dust can clog up fans, reducing fan performance, which can lead to more heat, and reduced computer performance, so believe it or not, it matters!
8: Use a lightweight web browser
Safari is a great web browser for most older Macs, but if the MacOS version is old enough then Safari will no longer be updated, which can pose a security risk.
Using other lightweight browsers that are still updated can be an option, like Firefox, Brave, or Epic.
Chrome usually runs on older Macs, but it can be notoriously RAM hungry and resource intensive, so if you go with Chrome on older hardware then consider not using too many browser windows or tabs at a time.
9: Manage browser extensions
Speaking of web browsers, limit the number of browser extensions you use, since they can slow down browser performance and reduce your browsing experience.
Arguably the best browser extensions for older Mac hardware are content blockers (but please whitelist us to support osxdaily.com!) and AJAX blockers.
10: Disable all visual effects and eye candy
Disabling visual effects like transparency, and the various zooming motions, will improve your Mac performance by reducing load on the processor and GPU.
Usually you can turn off things like transparency and animations in System Preferences > Accessibility.
11: Backup regularly
Because older computer hardware is more prone to failure, it’s a good idea to backup regularly so that you can avoid data loss. This is a habit you should have with all Macs, not just older hardware.
Backup, backup, backup. You can backup with Time Machine, and it’s easy to setup on a Mac.
12: Bonus wild hair tip
Got an older Mac that can’t run the latest MacOS versions, but you want a secure machine? Consider running Linux or even ChromeOS on it.
Linux, like macOS, is based on UNIX, but because maintained Linux distributions continue to be updated with security updates and other improvements, you can have a secure operating system running on the Mac hardware.
No you won’t be able to run Mac apps from Linux, but if all you’re looking to do is browse the web, this may be a valid option for you.
Linux is generally considered advanced, and only appropriate for advanced users, so you’ll have to decide if this is appropriate for you.
These are some tips and ideas to get the best performance out of an older Mac. What do you think of these ideas? Do you have an older Mac you still put to use? Do you have any particular tips or suggestions that work for you and an older Mac? Let us know in the comments!