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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip Desktop
Here's a tip I was made aware of recently that I thought I'd share (though I'd like to take credit, I must give that to some Smart Friends of mine); it'll help speed up your Mac, and may reduce the appearance of the SPOD (the rainbow cursor). It's not a hack, and there are no modifications necessary to any of your software; there's nothing to download, and there's a fringe benefit (subjectively speaking, of course) of cleaning up your Desktop.

The tip: Reduce the number of icons on your Desktop!

That's it. Really. No, really, try it and see. If you only reduce it by a few, you probably won't notice much of a difference, but the more you remove, the snappier it will feel (dependent on your machine, of course).

Why? Well, every icon on your Desktop is a little window, and as such, has a corresponding backing store allocation in the window server. Lots of these little windows apparently can put a strain on the window server, especially when you've got lots of other (normal) windows open as well.

Don't believe me? Well, you can see for yourself, by running Quartz Debug found in /Developer -> Applications -> Performance Tools (assuming you have the Developer Tools installed -- you do have the Developer Tools installed, don't you?). Show the window list (Tools -> Show Window List), order by Application, and click on the various Finder entries to highlight each "window." You'll soon see that each desktop icon is treated as its very own window. See, I told you so.

No no, no applause necessary, cash donations will suffice...

[robg adds: I thought we had something similar in the archives, but I couldn't find it. Using Quartz Debug was somewhat enlightening for me; I don't have a ton of icons on my Desktop (about 10 or so), but each one clearly uses up a chunk of memory. I didn't notice any speed bump from reducing the number, given the small number I had to begin with. However, I suspect that if your desktop looks like the landing zone for 400 daily flights of icons and folders, then you would see a nice speed bump -- if you fall into this category, and try working with a clean desktop for a bit, please post your experiences.

For those who don't have Xcode (Developer Tools) installed yet, I wrote a very detailed how-to for Macworld a while back...]
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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: Jahnoth on Nov 23, '05 07:41:10AM

I also read somewhere that if you use a solid color background instead of a picture, that can also affect your speed performance.



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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: leamanc on Nov 23, '05 07:55:06AM

Has macosxhints.com been hacked? I can't believe rob would let a comment like "Well, screw you" appear in a hint on this site!



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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: robg on Nov 23, '05 07:57:51AM

Actually, I glossed right over that when editing -- I guess the ^Ws worked on me, as I mentally erased the words :).

It was clearly in there as a joke, but since it could offend some, I've now removed it. Thanks for the heads up...

-rob.



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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: sveinbjornt on Nov 23, '05 07:58:10AM

Quitting the Finder will give you a nice boost as well -- saves the Window Server the trouble of drawing the Finder layer on top of the background image. I ran Let1kWindowsBloom repeatedly with and without the Finder running, and benched between 10% and 15% difference in speed...



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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: sveinbjornt on Nov 23, '05 08:00:05AM

Try it out yourself: http://www.vgg.com/rob/WindowsBloom.html



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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: earthsaver on Nov 23, '05 07:58:26AM
When Mac OS X was first released the ability to size icons up to their full, beautiful 128-pixel glory, I jumped at the opportunity. Doing so has naturally and happily prevented me from keeping too many items on my Desktop. I have three folders that have remained their relatively permanently: Downloads, Desktop Files, and News to Read–Share. There are a few other items there now that need to be cleaned up, but for the most part my Desktop is clear. I tend to keep my Dock that way, too. Only the applications I'm likely to have open all the time (eight of them) stay there permanently. I have easy ways of starting (LaunchBar) and quitting (LiteSwitch) the others.

---
- Ben Rosenthal
Q16 1.25 - Tiger

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Staying clean and light
Authored by: lujo on Nov 23, '05 02:00:48PM

Ben - if you really like to apply the most parsimonious approach, I'd suggest getting rid of LiteSwitch and just use the built-in Mac OS X application switcher--unless you actually use the additional features of LiteSwitch not available in the standard app switcher: Pressing COMMAND-TAB brings up the switcher, but while continuing to hold COMMAND, hitting Q will quit the highlighted app (additionally ` will cycle backward/left and H will hide the app). No extra software needed. Of course there is that nasty bug recently noted about the log file in 10.4.3 growing very quickly for WindowsServer.logfile if you use COMMAND-TAB a lot.



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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: zo219 on Mar 08, '08 06:29:55PM
You keep applications on your desktop?

You probably mean you keep an alias of each app. On your desktop.

Command-L. Alias.

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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: kyngchaos on Nov 23, '05 08:46:56AM

I recently moved to using the full 128px icon size - gotta have the full effect of my cute Sumomo HD icon ^_^ I never was much for too many things on my desktop, but this keeps me on my toes.

Does this hint apply to Panther AND Tiger? There are people where I work (all Panther Macs) that use the desktop as a convenient dumping ground, and this would be a good hint for them.

And a realted hint - the default download folder for Safari, and often for other internet apps, is the Desktop. Create a download folder off the Desktop and set it in Safari. Keeps things tidy, especially in light of this hint.



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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: pukku on Nov 23, '05 09:42:33AM

I can't comment on the speed gains, but Panther does have a separate window for each Desktop Icon.

---
-- Pukku



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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: pub3abn on Nov 23, '05 08:57:03AM

Can anyone quantify the benefit to be gained by removing icons from the desktop? (In terms of available memory or processor performance.)



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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: adrianm on Nov 24, '05 10:56:06AM

It probably could be quantified, but I doubt it'll come down to 43 icons is ok, but 44 will cause you trouble.

In general, the fewer resources you use, the more memory you'll have for running apps and the less swapping (memory to/from page file) will occur.

So keep desktop clean, clear out the Dock of little used apps, don't use dashboard, etc.

All generally common sense things, really.

Oh, and moving things from the Desktop to a folder, and then having that folder open, is just as bad, if not worse.



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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: hagbard on Nov 26, '05 11:08:44PM

well, it seems to use between 20-50k per icon (see kBytes column in Quartz debug). So if you have 100 icons, you'd save at most 5 megabytes of memory. woohoo, err that's not much.
Now we'd need to compare the refresh rate (or time spent drawing the desktop) when say a window is moved on top of the desktop when there are 1 or 100 icons.
I bet you'll only see a few % difference in CPU usage in Activity Monitor. At most.
Most of it is saved in quartz's buffers anyway, only the revealed regions need to be redrawn.
So you'd have to count : comparing 100 rects (not much), then drawing n icons (not much (remember the icons are already loaded (ok they may be swapped))).

Really, (I must say I removed all icons after reading the hint ^_^), it feels faster, but it's probably just tidier !



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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: zedwards on Nov 23, '05 09:24:45AM

This is something that I have done in the past. I usually have hundreds of items on my desktop and then I eventually organize it into a dump folder on the desktop, which now contains almost 600 items.



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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: pukku on Nov 23, '05 09:44:27AM

I've just looked at this, and while I was paging through the window list, I discovered that iCal has a _tremendous_ number of windows open. Does anyone know what it's doing with all of the windows (none of which are visible on screen)?

---
-- Pukku



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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: rhowell on Nov 23, '05 09:52:34AM

Certainly drunkenbatman will benefit from all of this:

http://www.drunkenblog.com/drunkenblog-archives/i/wmd_desktop.jpg



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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: ChrisH3677 on Nov 23, '05 01:27:27PM

Make your life easier. Get sterCleanDesk
http://www.macupdate.com/info.php/id/16481

It automatically moves everything on your desktop to the location of you choice.

It's only drawback is the maximum time interval is 15 minutes. So I don't leave it running but run it every couple of weeks.

Veru useful app.

---
Computer: Powerbook 15" Titanium 1Ghz 512Mb RAM 60Gb HDD SuperDrive Jaguar 10.2.8

Windoze switcher (August 2003)



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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: ChrisH3677 on Nov 23, '05 09:59:01PM
Ok, turns out the download for sterCleanDesk is a dead link so I've loaded it up on my site.

Just go to this page

http://www.qwertyrash.com/archives/mac-software-stercleandesk-for-mac/

---
Computer: Powerbook 15" Titanium 1Ghz 1GB RAM 60Gb HDD SuperDrive Tiger 10.4.3

Switched: August 2003

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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: wilton on Nov 23, '05 02:56:49PM

To date the most effective speed up is to delete as many file from the ~/Library/ as possible.

I spent a while doing this, and when I emptied the trash it said it was deleting 20,000+ files. This was from all caches, preferences etc.

After that my machine performed MUCH better. I know this shouldn't make a difference, but it was the best thing I ever did.

Will



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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: jasenko on Nov 23, '05 04:34:29PM

This was true since 10.1 days. It's a huge difference, who doesn't believe it can check it easily, just create a new user account and start your normal applications and see the difference. Off course, the better the machine you have, the speed-up boost is smaller. Don't expect miracles. This is especially true for laptops with slower hard drives.



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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: archinla on Nov 27, '05 09:24:01AM

"...delete as many file from the ~/Library/ as possible..."
Do you mean the User's Library folder?
Can you be more specific about what files would be safe to delete? There are so many files and folders in there that look like they're essential.



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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: kps on Nov 23, '05 06:59:23PM
defaults write com.apple.finder CreateDesktop -bool false

You still have a Desktop folder; it's just not shown on the screen background. The disadvantage is that you can't drag things onto the background. An alternative is a folder action that moves anything put on the desktop to some other location.

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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: nollam on Nov 24, '05 05:58:29AM

Thanks for this. I had O(400) items on my desktop and I was beginning to notice the performance hit---even a ball when selecting an iTunes track, and that's on a dual G5. I dumped everything into a junk folder and the machine is notably faster! Thanks for the hint.



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Clutter free!
Authored by: MacDuff on Nov 24, '05 02:37:17PM

Yeah, I've had a "junk drawer" in my Dock for a long time that I dump crap into. I also have a "WEB URLs" folder in the dock for those, too. Both have custom icons. Recently, I've gone solid blue on my desktop, although solid black is apparantly the bet way to go.



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Clutter free!
Authored by: genericuser on Nov 25, '05 08:40:46AM

How do you select solid black?



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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: machint on Nov 25, '05 04:17:15AM

What about USING ALIASES OF FOLDERS on the Desktop instead of the original folders? Does it affect performance? Because if it does not affect performence, then it is AS SIMPLE AS REPLACING THE FOLDERS on the Desltop WITH THEIR ALIAS FOLDER!

That would be my tip!



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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: RandyMan on Dec 06, '05 11:50:32AM

It doesn't matter what type of items are on the Desktop; whatever they are, they are represented by a window backing store, which is the issue.

Replacing everything with aliases would gain you nothing.



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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: gcastaneda on Dec 25, '05 05:52:43AM

While my desktop is already uncluttered I noticed with Quartz Debug that one of the aliases was constantly refreshing (also the time with seconds indicator and flashing ":" in the menuu bar). So I removed the alias and placed the original document instead and the refresh stopped. I also removed the seconds and flashing ":" from the menu bar.

I'm no expert, but it is my guess that some aliases would make a difference, especially if you have many of them.

Cheers!



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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: burtman on Nov 25, '05 04:58:52AM

You people can see your desktops to dump icons onto them? I allways have to many apps and windows open to see the desktop! I only see it when i hit f11 or when a software update forces a reboot!



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finder# also?
Authored by: kissedsmiley on Nov 25, '05 06:41:32AM

I'd often wondered what on earth WindowServer was doing using up so much space/cpu!!! Thank you!

I have about 40 apps on my dock bar, is that too many?

I also have a lot of open finder windows ~30; I use them as work in process indicators. Are they bad too? There are so many finder-helper apps, I'm sort of lost on which one to try out to help me on that. I guess I'd like tabs, maybe that I could name, and then the usual finders column-view....

The finders are annoying because the window/list shows them un-alphabetized and by clicked-item rather than folder hierarchy...



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finder# also?
Authored by: chancer on Nov 25, '05 12:19:21PM
Maybe try this: DragonDrop

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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: plaguebearer on Nov 25, '05 02:41:42PM

I've been using an app called Tidy-it.app since 2001 With a push of the jpg button and all jpgs on my desktop are moved to a folder called jpg's on your desktop. press another button and all those files are organized. It trips over a few file types and reports that they do not exist. But, it gets enough of the common types to be useful.



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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: o_sleep on Nov 25, '05 07:12:45PM

You can use this opportunity to treat your computer in a whole new light. Use the desktop as a temporary storage are instead of a permanent one. If you empty out the Desktop every night, you will train yourself to store files in the places they should be stored.

To do this set up a cron script to automatically delete it every night at around 2 am.

crontab -e
0 2 * * * rm -r ~/Desktop/*

Of course, be careful when using rm as it will delete any files that you tell it to (consult "man rm" and "man crontab," prior to doing this).



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better?
Authored by: rhowell on Nov 26, '05 08:54:24AM

0 2 * * * mv ~/Desktop/* ~/.Trash/



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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: reeses on Nov 26, '05 12:08:27PM
I'm surprised this obvious lack of performance under normal use doesn't offend the bleeding jeebus out of anyone else. I used to keep just about everything I used on a daily or semi-daily basis on the desktop, because it's the most convenient spot. I felt the pain especially since I have a PowerBook, and I almost don't think any developers at Apple use PowerBooks except to make sure their software runs. I think that will be the case even more now that they can use quad-G5s and hyperthreaded dual Intel machines. This is the real cost of the gap in performance between the desktop macs and the portables -- the software is written on and for the desktops.

If I hadn't stumbled on a footnote to a post at drunkenblog, I never would have gone down that route. I have probably lost Apple at least fifty sales when various clients saw my PowerBook, said they were planning on buying one, and then cringed in horror when I exploded out of my seat to tell them now slow they are, and that it's a horrible mistake to buy one.

I've also been offended at how mdimport seems to get hung up very easily on .DS_Store files, but I haven't dug into that issue, since those files are so easy and undamaging to remove.

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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: jackchance on Nov 28, '05 12:01:09PM

I completely agree. Why would Apple design a feature that convenient to be so performance crippling.

If this was an XP issue people would be foaming at the mouth. But let us not criticize the esteemed macintosh.



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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: mek804 on Dec 15, '05 09:02:26AM

I've got a 3-year-old 15" Powerbook at work and a brand-new one at home. I have no performance problems. I have only aliases to two folders and whatever I happen to be working on at the time on my desktop.

I rotate some sort of slick, hi-res wallpaper every 5 minutes, and there is still no performance lag.

But then, I run MacJanitor (all tasks) and AppleJack (full auto, all tasks) once per week, need it or not. Just like your car, preventive maint. is what keeps it running in tip-top shape. I recommend running the full auto of Applejack just before going to lunch, though... ; )

mk



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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: ashishn on Nov 28, '05 06:14:58AM

I dont many icons on the desktop but startup takes lot of time. I clear the logs using macjanitor also but no change. How can i see which program in startup is taking time?



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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: albertoricart on Nov 28, '05 09:57:15AM

Sure, if you have more icons, you have more windows, and you consume more memory. If this really has an impact on the performance of your machine, you really need to buy more memory or get a faster CPU.

The WindowServer in most cases is memory bound. That is it trades computation time for memory because most of the time it is faster.
For this reason, most applications use buffered windows (there are other options, non-retained, and retained). That is, for each window, there will be another window that is off screen. The reason for this is that when the window the user is interacting with needs updating (ie, you move the mouse over the window) the WindowServer simply needs to copy the damaged region from the offscreen window and blast it over to the visible one. Similarly when the content of your window changes, applications are only supposed to update the region that changed. This drawing is performed on the buffer, which then is copied over to the 'visible' window.

Desktop icons are both a nightmare and a convenience. Old NeXT machines didn't allow you to put things in the 'desktop'. Which was great because it forced you to file your stuff in the right place from the get go.

<http://www.smartsoft.com/products/dotfiles/dotfiles.html> provides a service that allows you to toggle the use of the desktop (you still can put your stuff there, you just don't see it).



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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: reeses on Nov 28, '05 08:35:10PM
Sure, if you have more icons, you have more windows, and you consume more memory. If this really has an impact on the performance of your machine, you really need to buy more memory or get a faster CPU.

And this is exactly the problem with the PowerBooks. I have a 1.67Ghz G4, I can't buy a faster CPU. I have 2GB RAM, I can't buy more RAM. All I can do to get acceptable performance while using the Desktop is to upgrade to a G5, which is not extremely portable, despite the handles. :-)

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Why treat desktop icons as windows?
Authored by: gsiarny on Nov 28, '05 11:39:20PM
What are the programming advantages to treating desktop icons like windows? They're not dynamic. Users generally resize them only infrequently. Users don't even *move* them all that often, if you consider the ratio of (seconds moving desktop icons / seconds using computer). Might it be preferable to treat them as bitmaps? You might have to redraw more of the desktop when you move windows that cover icons, but you would avoid the processor overhead of treating the icons like windows.

I have no doubt that breaking the symmetry of treating all icons (desktop or not) as windows would necessitate some hacks. It might not be as elegant. However, if treating icons as windows causes such a performance hit that using the Desktop extensively cripples a late-model Powerbook, then something is amiss. Though I keep my own Desktop uncluttered, you shouldn't *have* to. After all, the metaphor in play here is of a desktop - a place, where you, uh, put stuff.

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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: Fofer on Dec 12, '05 09:16:12AM

My uninformed clients always used to "think" that an cluttered desktop would make the computer slow. I argued it simply would make the computer harder to navigate and use -- but seeing as the Desktop is a folder like any other, it technically wouldn't make a difference in available CPU speed.

Interesting to note that they may have been right all along. :-)


A guy on The Unofficial Apple Weblog says this explanation is wrong, though:

http://www.tuaw.com/2005/12/09/simple-mac-speed-up-tip-for-desktop-pack-rats/

"Well MacOSXHints has it wrong. Sorry guys, what is slowing down your machines is the size of the Desktop memory being used up and having to hit the swap file. If you have one file @ 500 MB on your Desktop or 50 files @ 1K which one is going to use more memory to load the desktop?"

I'm curious to hear more discussion.



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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: robg on Dec 14, '05 08:56:34AM

I just posted a reply -- there's no way that the size of the files represented by the icon makes any difference at all! OS X doesn't care how large something is until it's opened. But each file added to the desktop is one more thing the OS must track.

-rob.



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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: katzwebdesign on Mar 07, '08 02:38:37PM
My Mac Pro was crunching hard drives and spinning beach balls and all sorts of horrible stuff until I did what this article said... Check it out!
Speed Up Your Mac - the only thing that worked for me

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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: zo219 on Mar 08, '08 06:39:25PM

Oh come on. The guy was running 700 fonts. Okay, maybe you do too—but I think this "hint" should be qualified as such.



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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: wantmore on Jan 24, '09 01:24:19AM

Works for me.
Thanks!



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A simple but effective Mac speed-up tip
Authored by: simplestation on May 28, '09 11:20:01PM
Here's a solid article on a couple quick things you can do to speed up Mac OS X. There are a bunch of good tips on a bunch of different applications you can use to optimize Mac OS X and also a few good command line tips to speed up ssh performance and tcp performance.

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