Fix and Speed Up El Capitan / Yosemite on an Old Mac

Yosemite on the Mac included some great usability features, however bugs and slow performance can ruin your day. I’ve got fixes!

macbook abstract image 2010s mac

I love my mac and I’m eager to upgrade whenever there is new version. I never had major problems upgrading other versions but Yosemite has been very, very difficult. For my 2010 MacBook Pro I had a lot of graphics distortions that came up that led me to a full cleaning of everything on the machine. I’ve heard “Old operating systems should stay with old computers.” Well, let’s tweak some things and see if we can’t get some harmony.

Before we start, you need to get into the habit of thinking think like a developer. When a machine is new, what programs are installed? What are the default user settings? What is the expected page layout of various apps like Mail? If you deviate from a stock machine you might run into problems. If you deviate from expected hardware you might run into problems.

Reset Hardware

If you have a time machine or router, now might be a good time to reset it’s settings. You might want to use an additional disk for a backup and format a time capsule drive. If any other hardware has firmware updates, update those too. Eliminate as many variables before the core system re-install.

Non-Apple Hardware Firmware Updates

Sometimes, if you install a non-Apple provided piece of hardware, like a hard drive or SSD Drive, there is internal software called firmware that might need an update. Check the manufacturer’s website for updates to firmware. It could be that an update could cause a performance improvement or even fix some bugs you might encounter in Yosemite. Oftentimes, hard rives and SSD drives will have firmware updates after you purchase / install them in your Mac.

Yosemite Mac Pre-Install Procedure

Let’s get the internal chips cleared before we reinstall a system.

Special SMC and PRAM Reset Order

Luis Mercado discovered this great sequence to get your mac hardware in harmony. Let’s try these steps first.

First step: disconnect any external or secondary monitors, if any is present. The video memory allocation leak can also happen if you have a system with an integrated card, like Intel, with no external monitors attached.

Second step: Shut down your machine and enter Safe Mode (press shift once you turn on your computer again, more info below). Once you’re there, fix your disk permissions. Guide of how to access Safe Mode: OS X: What is Safe Boot, Safe Mode?

Third step: From Safe Mode turn off your machine again and reset your System Management Controller (SMC). There are different methods, depending on machine, to do this. To know what method applies to yours read the following guide. Intel-based Macs: Resetting the System Management Controller (SMC)

Fourth step: Once your machine completes a full boot after resetting the SMC turn it off again and reset your PRAM (THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP, BUT THE PREVIOUS ONES ARE ESSENTIAL FOR THIS ONE TO WORK). The PRAM stores small bits of data that indicate our Apple computer how to interact with the devices connected to it, including monitors and video cards. It also affects software.

To reset it you should hold the OPTION, COMMAND, P and R keys in your keyboard immediately after turning on your machine again.You’ll hear the start up chime, continue pressing the keys until the machine boots and the chime starts A SECOND TIME, then release. IF YOUR YOSEMITE INSTALLATION LOCKS UP AT A BLACK SCREEN AFTER THIS, DONT PANIC! It’s normal, just turn off your computer and let it boot again.

More info about PRAM: Reset your computer’s PRAM / NVRAM

Voila, reconnect your external displays and enjoy your system.

Clean Install and Rebuilding of Your User Folder

You can’t really get everything perfect without a clean install. First, backup your files using Time Machine. You should also have another disk with a copy of your user folder just in case as a second backup.

  • Create a boot disk using an external drive
  • Boot to the boot disk
  • Run disk utility
  • Format your primary drive. Standard name for disk volumes is “Macintosh HD”
  • Install Yosemite
  • Create a new account with the same as your old account e.g. “Ken”
  • When Yosemite boots for the first time, copy all your documents from Time Machine manually (you’ll need to dig into the “data” folder and find your machine name – e.g. “Kens’ MacBook Pro”, and then double-click it to mount it in your Finder window. Once you do that, you can access all the files individually) to your documents folder. (I’ve been using iCloud Drive as my main documents folder.)
  • Migrate any other files to their appropriate locations in your users folder
  • Manually open apps and adjust their settings and preferences. You want to start fresh and not carry over old settings files.

Remove non-App Store Apps and Find Replacements for Old Apps

You might have some old apps from macs past. I find using only or mostly App Store apps provides a smoother experience and are generally more efficient with you computer’s resources. For example, Adobe Photoshop is a massive program and requires numerous ancillary software during install. Pixelmatr, on the App Store, runs with much less memory and uses native mac software enhancements. You might need to spend more money to get new software, but luckily Mac Apps don’t cost very much and it’s super-easy to bring them back when you re-install or upgrade.

Fix and Improve Video Performance in Yosemite

I had a lot of video problems with Yosemite. I think it was a combination of buggy code and an older graphics card. To speed up Yosemite graphics and the whole feel of the operating system, tone down some graphics settings. In essence, we want to make Yosemite work a little more like the old operating systems.

  • Remove Photos from desktop background and select a solid color (I picked a solid gray background)
  • In the Accessibility menu in System Preferences, place a check in the “Reduce transparency” option
  • Restart your computer
Yosemite Graphics corruption on a 2010 MacBook Pro
Yosemite Graphics corruption on a 2010 MacBook Pro

Let Your Mac Sleep

I checked some entries in the console application and noticed a lot of activity and errors when the computer was in sleep mode. In System Preferences, click Energy Saver and uncheck “Wake for network access.” Unless you are using your mac as a general server or media server or need remote access you probably don’t need network access during sleep. [UPDATE – with a clean install this seems ok now. You might want to leave this enabled because it allows you to find your mac if it is ever stolen using the Find My Mac feature.]

Additional Tips

If all these steps didn’t help much, try disabling Dark Mode if you turned it on and try reseting the SMC and PRAM again (see instructions above).

Apple wanted to charge me $500 to replace the logic board on my mac which they knew was part of recall. They wouldn’t replace it for free so I had to get resourceful with looking for other solutions.

[Update 2/2016 My MacBook started crashing more and more recently, and I found a permanent fix. Turns out some hardware fixes were also in order, but I was able to fix these myself for $20 and some of my time. My motherboard needed a “reflow” to re-establish the graphics chip connection to the motherboard. The fix? Placing the entire motherboard in the oven. After that, I added some new thermal paste, since the old paste was worn and caused the laptop to overheat. The older processors in macs are not efficient, so perhaps some simple hardware fixes like thermal paste and new RAM chips might be in order.

The problem with hardware issues is that a message doesn’t pop-up telling you that you need new RAM chips or thermal paste or a hard drive. Weird things happen with the computer and it could be any number of problems. I once built a computer from scratch and had an issue with it. I replaced just about every part before I realized it was just a defective mouse that costs $10.]

One thing to keep in mind is that Macs are expensive machines, but hold their value very well. I paid $1800 for my MacBook 6 years ago, and it’s worth $600 today. That’s pretty amazing. I think it’s worth the time to fix the machine from the software side and possibly the hardware side.

I hope my experiences help you with your mac problems. I found these tips all over the Internet and through trial and error came up with the best tips for me.

My mac is moving right along now… have any comments or solutions?

Comments From the Community

If you are using Yosemite on older MacBooks, chances are you have a failed battery that is causing the OS to crawl. I believe there is some charging status check on the battery. Once I removed the failed battery, performance went back to normal 🙂

Hi its nice to see people trying to update their Mac, well i did a simple Hard disk upgrade, ( used the quick throughput of Thunderbolt) used a Seagate Adaptor , and installed a SSD for the OS, it runs like new now.

Hope this helps, P.S. Found your plugin very helpful

Thanks Tom. I installed an SSD as well and made a huge difference. I have a 2010 MacBook Pro and it doesn’t have thunderbolt, so I am jealous of your setup… I try to develop WordPress plugins that I would want to use… look for more plugins in the future… Regards, Ken

Ken Morico
Tech enthusiast
Building a solo business while sharing personal + business development tactics. Advised Fortune 500, celebs, startups.

  • mac
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