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How to use benchmarks to cut through marketing hype

Joe Kissell | Dec. 23, 2014
It’s not your imagination: your Mac’s overall performance can slow down over time. Most often this happens because we gradually add more apps and background processes, have more and more documents and browser tabs open, and don’t restart very often. All these things take a cumulative toll on your Mac’s performance. Cutting back on the number of things you have open is therefore one of the easiest strategies for putting some zip back into your Mac. Adding RAM (if your Mac supports it), switching from a hard drive to an SSD, and keeping your software up to date are also effective quick fixes for performance problems.

But before you jump in, remember that were trying to be scientific, so you must take steps to ensure that your measurements are valid. Heres what I recommend:

  • Eliminate any extraneous factors that might influence the results. Ideally, quit all apps, close all windows, and turn off any background processes (such as backup software) that might change your Macs resource usage during the test. (For good measure, I like to restartwithout reopening any appsright before running a benchmark.)
  • Run the benchmarking software and record your scores.
  • Change just one thing. This is the hard part! If you run the test, make lots of changes, and run it again, you wont know which change was responsible for your new score. So delete some large files, or uninstall an app, or turn off a background process or whateverbut do nothing else. Then restart your Mac if whatever you changed involves software that runs automatically.
  • Now rerun the benchmarking software and again record your scores. Small changes are to be expected for any of numerous random reasons and arent significant. If you see numbers go way up or way down, whatever you changed was most likely the cause.

Of course, the fact that a benchmark number goes up significantly doesnt mean your Mac will necessarily feel faster or make you more productive. But if the numbers dont move significantly, youll know whatever you changed doesnt affect its performance, and you can save time and effort by not worrying about that thing in the future.


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