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True or False? Things that (don't) slow your Mac down

There is lots of good and bad, if well-meaning, advice out there about keeping your Mac as fast as the day you unboxed it. This article looks at some of the more things you should consider, and a few that you shouldn't.

Multi-core processors are faster

NEITHER TRUE NOR FALSE: This is only true when they are being used to run applications that are designed to make use of a high number of cores. There are relatively few applications these days that are designed to make use of more than four cores; so in these circumstances a quad core processor running at a higher clock speed (say 3.2Ghz) would out-perform a twelve-core processor running at a lower speed (say 2.4Ghz).

The more free space on your startup drive, the faster your Mac

TRUE: (and by 'startup drive' we mean the drive that holds the operating system). Traditional rotating drives will start to see some performance degredation (typically 4-8%) once they get to 50% capacity, and it goes downhill from there, with 20-35% loss of performance when the drive is full to bursting. Solid state drives (SSDs or 'flash' drives) however perform consistently well until they are 95% (or even more) full - another reason to consider investing in one.

More RAM always means a faster Mac

NOT REALLY TRUE: as is often the case, the devil is in the details. As a general rule, if the software you'll be running makes use of RAM (or is what is known as 'hardware-accelerated') then you'll see some benefits. Independent test results we've seen showed the following:

The bigger the SSD, the faster it is

MOSTLY TRUE: Test results we've read indicate that this is true when it comes to writing to the drive, but not when reading from it. Depending on the manufacturer, some bigger drives are over twice as fast as smaller ones in the same range - and smaller drives also offer a more erratic, spiky writing speed too.

Gaming-spec graphics cards only help speed up games

MOSTLY TRUE (BUT NOT FOR MUCH LONGER): In the past this was completely true, but non-games software companies are getting on board - two notable bits of software that take advantage of what's called GPU acceleration are Photoshop and Final Cut Pro. However the test results we've seen don't demonstrate amazing performance gains, so this is still far mroe true than false.

External monitors slow your Mac down

BASICALLY FALSE: This is technically true, but even on a MacBook Air the difference is about 2% - worth the sacrifice we feel!

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