Notes on improving Macbook Pro performance

When I received my MacBook Pro at work last year, I knew that it was an entry-level configuration (the lowest you could get at the time, in fact). It was, in fact, unusable, at least until I got the RAM upgraded to 8 GB. For those of you who don’t care to follow the link, here are my machine’s specs:

MacBook Pro (MD101, mid-2012)
Intel Dual-core i5 2.5 GHz
4GB 1600 MHz DDR3 SDRAM (since upgraded to 8 GB)
500 GB (5400 RPM)
running OS X Yosemite

Even with the memory boost I continued to do whatever I could to improve the performance of the machine. Speaking with other people at MPOW who have the same machine with 8 GB of RAM, it appears that my machine is performing considerable better than the average. I thought it would be a good idea to start to keep track and share some of the things I’ve done to speed things up.

Disclaimer: I am still relatively new to the Mac and far from being a Mac expert. The tips I’m sharing here are based on experimentation and my likely flawed understanding of how things work. I don’t have a sense if each of these improve performance, or to what degree. All I know is that taken together, they apparently make things better.

These are some of the recommendations that I can share based on the things that I have tried to improve and maintain the performance of my MacBook Pro:

  • Upgrade to 8 GB RAM. The base 4 GB was very difficult to work with, more or less unusable. 8 GB is the minimum you need to get any work done.
  • Only use one display. Why make the machine work harder than it has to?
  • Use the wired network connection when at your desk. It is much faster and more reliable than the wi-fi network. I actually turn off wi-fi entirely so that there is no chance my computer will try to be helpful and blend traffic over the two networks. Keep in mind that a poor network connection won’t just affect web browsing and downloads. Accessing shared network drives becomes problematic (see below), and some apps who rely on a network connection to work behind the scenes may be slow or stop responding if the network connection fails. For example, MS Office apps may be slower to load if they can’t connect to the central license server.
  • Never work off a network drive. I don’t trust my Mac to be able to maintain a stable connection to our file servers, and believe that some performance issues I have with apps happen because the app is having problems reading and writing to the file on the server. This could be because of a poor network performance, or because the connection between my Mac and the MS-managed file server is wonky. Whatever the case, working on files locally remove both variables from the equation.
  • Keep the number of items in any of my Outlook folders to less than ~5000 items. Even with the new database architecture, Outlook 2016 starts to drag when it has to index/display/work with folders with too many items. For each of my big folders (Sent Items, Archive (i.e. all received email)), I create subfolders for each year and regularly move items into those subfolders.
  • Manually clear out Deleted Items and Junk E-mail folders in Outlook on a regular basis. (Microsoft removed the ability to schedule the emptying of these folders in Outlook 2016.)
  • Uninstall the OneDrive for Business client. I’ve you’ve never installed this, don’t. Its scanning consumed too much CPU and it would crash regularly. Similar applications that are constantly syncing (Dropbox, Google Drive) are, I believe, more stable and less resource intensive, but might be something to look at removing if you don’t need them. Of course, this makes it a lot harder for me to make use of the 1 TB of cloud storage that I have via the uni, but the performance trade-off isn’t worth it. (I still use Dropbox without any noticeable problem — personal files only, of course!)
  • Uninstall old versions of MS Office. I originally had kept Office 2011 when I installed Office 2016 and everything seemed ok at first. However, I eventually noticed that Office apps were crashing or hanging far too often. Since uninstalling Office 2011 those problems appear to have more or less gone away.
  • Avoid installing background apps or other things that are always running in the background. I have a few (Dropbox, Pomodoro, Antidote, Time Machine, and of course the Trend Micro a/v app) but I try to avoid anything I don’t need.
  • Shut down every night, restart every morning. If it starts to feel sluggish, restart.
  • Upgrade to an SSD hard drive. Now, I haven’t done this myself, and MPOW doesn’t currently have the budget to fund this kind of upgrade, so I would have to pay for it out-of-pocket or use some of my professional development fund to cover the costs. The current 5400 rpm drive is pretty horrible, tho, so I’m sure that the performance boost would be significant, probably more than all my other tweaking combined. Something I’ll be seriously considering doing next year!

I’m going to try to keep this list up to date and add in any new tips/practices that I come across. I’m stuck using this machine until 2018, so I’ve got to squeeze every bit of performance out of it that I can!

Finally, if you have any performance-related tips or recommendations to share, please feel free to post them in the comments below.

Searching for a print item

Following up on my previous post on using various tools to try to find a book published in the 1800s, I thought I would try a similar experiment and try another known-item search, this time to find a book that we have at the Library but that is not in the public domain.

I had to try a few titles before I hit upon one: Lave and Wenger’s Situated Learning: Legitimate peripheral participation, published in 1991.

Again, I’ll start with a basic search in WorldCat, searching for “situated learning.” The book I’m looking for comes up second in the list.

Clicking through to the details page, I see that we have three copies at the Library, but that none of them are available (two are out on loan and one copy is missing).

I could click on the Request button here which would allow me to have the book recalled, which means that one of the people would get an email notice to return the book within a week or two instead of the original due date.

If the book was on the shelf, I would be able to retrieve it myself by noting the location (branch) and the call number, and then going to the branch and using the signage there to make my way to the book. Alternately, I could click on the Request button to have the book retrieved from the shelf and delivered to the branch of my choice. That process takes a bit longer (a day or two) but saves me from having to hunt for the book. It all depends on how urgently I need the book.

(Note: The recalling and retrieving functionality is actually provided by our Classic Catalogue, or more specifically, on Aleph, the integrated library system (ILS) that we use to run the Library. WorldCat relies on Aleph for all information and functionality relating to circulation.)

Repeating the same search in the Classic Catalogue, the book I’m interested in is at the bottom of the first page of results.

Here again I can see that we have three copies. While I know from experience that students are not always able at first to understand the information here to figure out if the book is available. For a student or user who knows how to use the Catalogue, though, it is fairly straightforward.

To access the recall/request functionality, I need to click on the location/holdings information.

Once advantage the Classic Catalogue has is that there is a Map icon that users can click on to see an interactive map that shows exactly where the book is located in that Library branch.

Now, if I search for ‘situated learning’ in Google, unsurprisingly all the results are pointing to information on the topic of situation learning, and not the book of that title.

Google does pull up what looks like a book as a sidebar item, but that only launches a new search with the complete title of the book. Regardless, most folks who are searching for a specific kind of thing with Google will choose the facet that interests them: images, videos, etc and in our case, we’re looking for a book, so we’ll just click on Books:

Here, the book I’m looking for is first in the results. Lets click through and see what we get:


Here, I have an online preview of the book, which is not the full book, but could still do in a pinch depending on what you are looking for. But let’s say I want the book. Well, Google was good enough to put a big, red GET PRINT BOOK button on the page, so let’s assume that most people are going to click that.


So I have a list of places where I can purchase a copy of the book, along with the price at each for comparison. Better yet, there is a link above this list that says “Find in a library”. Clicking that takes us to the WorldCat page for the item.


Actually, since I am currently on the McGill network, WorldCat detected that I was on the McGill network and offered to redirect me to the McGill-localized version of WorldCat, but I declined since I wanted to consider a ‘worst-case’ scenario where the patron was from McGill but not necessarily on the McGill network (i.e. not physically on campus or connecting through VPN). And although this is the generic WorldCat UI you can see that it provides a note that I am on the McGill Network and gives me links to McGill services that interlibrary loan as well as a link the book’s page in WorldCat Local (WCL) instance.

The WorldCat page (above) gives me a list of libraries that have copies of the book. The page appears to be location-aware: there is a postal code entered in the location box that isn’t my postal code, so I’m assuming it was provided by Google or by my browser… or maybe it is WorldCat that is somehow doing the lookup?

I’d need to do more research to figure out how my location is being determined, but at the moment all that is important is that I have a list of libraries that have the book and McGill is at the top of that list. Clicking on McGill University I’m taken to the Catalogue entry for the book, with all the benefits and potential confusion that that entails.


Still, you can see that here again Google works just fine for a known-item search, even if that item is a book only available in print format at the Library.


I didn’t try this last time, but let me see what happens when I use the Books facet in Google to find Ville-Marie, the Alfred Sandham book I was looking for last time. Searching again on ‘alfred sandham’ then clicking on books, Ville-Marie is second in the list. Clicking through, I’m taken to the same book display as we saw with Situated Learning.


The difference here is that since this book has been digitized and is in the public domain I can flip through it right there on the page or I can again click the big, red READ EBOOK button in the upper left-hand corner of the page to download a PDF or EPUB version of the book.

Actually, you see these options if you hover over the button. If you click the button the book gets added to your Books on Google Play. You can easily read the book on the screen, and if you click on My Books to get back to your list of all books, you can use the context menu on the each book cover to download PDF or EPUB versions.

However, if you have the Google Books app installed on your tablet or phone, the book you’ve added will show up there and with one more click to download you can read it.

So for public domain ebooks, the known item search in Google is pretty slick.


Now that I’ve tried looking for books in the public domain ebooks and now print books, next I will turn my attention to searching for restricted ebooks, that is, ebooks that the Library pays for and that can only be accessed by members of the McGill community.

…but that will have to wait for the next post!