Tips Learned From Living With An Older Mac

Tips Learned From Living With An Older Mac

We love writing about all things shiny and new, but often what we write these missives on is rather old. As much as we'd love to always use the latest computer, sometimes that is just not in the budget. Being the thrifty group that we are, it's all about getting as much use as possible out of the machines we have, even if they are quite a bit old. Here are some of the tips we've learned over the course of using a computer that's more than a few years out of date.

1. Rethink Your Browser
The best browser for an older machine is not surprisingly most likely not going to be the one you'd use on the latest and greatest machine. If you are using a G3, try Camino or iCab (they even have an OS 9 version) and don't even think about Firefox.

2. Choose Your OS Wisely
Surprise, surprise your operating system makes a huge difference. Do you need 10.5 or can you cope with 10.4 or 10.3? Downgrading the OS can bring back performance. If you don't need newer software or features, consider backing up your files (manually, not with Time Machine) and downgrade (Erase & Install) to 10.4 (especially if you only have 512mb, 10.5's minimum requirements). For Intel based systems it's not so much an issue, but G4 users should take it seriously and G3 users should strongly consider 10.3 as their OS, even if it'll take 10.4. The exception to this is 10.6. If your machine is older, but is Intel with 2GB of RAM, consider Snow Leopard. With 2GB of RAM 10.6 will be faster than 10.5.

3. Flash & YouTube Are Not Your Friends
One of the biggest daily struggles we have when using an older machine is dealing with Flash and YouTube. How to get around this? For YouTube we've opted in for the HTML5 trial, which does still require a bit of processing, but much less so than the standard flash heavy YouTube page.

If your machine is more than 4 years old, consider uninstalling Flash completely from your system. This will yield a faster and more reliable machine as a result of being Flash free. For the rare occasions you might need Flash, use Chrome. Chrome has Flash built into the browser rather than being installed into the OS as a browser plugin.

Another way we've made our time browsing the internet on our little dinosaur more pleasant is by modifying Safari. In a nutshell, we're "tricking" Safari into thinking we're using it on an iPad. Safari let's you enable the develop menu, in which you can switch user agents. User agents tell a site what browser you're using, so that they can format the page accordingly. This is why Google looks different on your iPhone than on your Mac. We've gotten very familiar with the develop menu and not only because of changing to a different user agent, but also for opening certain pages (when we needed Flash) in Chrome. By using Safari and Chrome in this way, Flash resources are removed once you quite Chrome after viewing the Flash site from RAM without filling up Safari's resources or us needing to quit Safari anytime soon. It's very smart memory management and a good way to deal with the internet of 2010 on a machine from 1999.

4. Get Friendly With Terminal
We're serious. Get friendly with Terminal. Did you know there are Terminal commands for disabling Dashboard, Spotlight and for turning the dock from 3D to 2D? Why would you want to do this? Dashboard loads itself into RAM on boot regardless as to whether you use it or not, turning it off on a G4 and earlier boosts performance a LOT. Rendering the 3D dock with all its reflections is also hard work for some older machines and Spotlight does a lot of background indexing. If you don't need Spotlight, disabling it will give you a nice performance boost.

5. UniTasking Is The New Black
We're so guilty of trying to run several things at once on our machine and are often confronted with the little beach ball. We don't like the beach ball and because of our dislike of the beach ball we've learned to only run the apps that we really need to use at one time. Stopping applications from launching by removing them from login items in the accounts pane has also been a nice boon. Other things we've disabled for performance, Bluetooth, Internet Sharing, Universal Access, Speech Recognition, and 3rd Party Preference Panes (disable in ~/Library/PreferencePanes).

We've also gotten very familiar with using Activity Monitor to show our memory usage.This allows us to see when we're running low on RAM and lets us know when we should restart Safari or our machine. In case you were wondering, Activity Monitor doesn't use much processing power, but can let you quickly see what's taking up your resources.

6. Hard Drive Update Will Go a Long Way
Consider upgrading the hard drive with a newer one if you're able to. Depending on your model, the hard drive can be easily accessible and user serviceable. Remember to always use ESD safety precautions before ever opening a computer up or handling hard drives or RAM. Good rules of thumb, do NOT wear any fleece-like material and DO touch a radiator (this will discharge static). Clothing wise, if you could make your hair stand on end by rubbing a balloon against that item of clothing, you should not be wearing it when working on a computer.

Great Resources for Older Machines:
For finding alternative versions of software, for example ones that have similar functions to 10.6 applications but run on 10.4, go to AlternativeTo. Low End Mac and Mac OSX Hints are also excellent resources.


For more helpful tips on getting a longer life out of your devices, check out these posts:

(Image: Flickr user Jon Rawlinson under license from Creative Commons, Flickr user Patryk Dwórznik under license from Creative Commons, and Flickr user Benjamin White under license from Creative Commons .)

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