4 techniques to check the health of your Mac

4 techniques to check the health of your Mac
Mac Tip #486, 11 May 2011

Your Mac should mainly look after itself and stay healthy, but you can help it along with some regular checks and clean-ups. These 4 techniques will help you along.

Check up on your Mac

A reader, Dave, recently asked:

Is there such a thing as a health check for Macs? My computer seems to be running OK but I just wanted to make sure it’s doing what its meant to be doing!

If you haven’t noticed any actual problems with your Mac then it’s probably doing just fine. There are some things you can quickly and easily check though, to make sure it stays in good condition.

Check installed RAM

One of the best things you can do for any computer is to add RAM. If your Mac feels a bit slow, especially when doing tasks such as editing photos, then more RAM could definitely help.

For a start though you might just be sure to actually Quit any applications you don’t need to have open. That’s an easy and free option.

Check how much RAM your Mac has installed.

Check how much RAM your Mac has installed.

  1. Open System Profiler.app from the Applications > Utilities folder.
  2. Select Hardware in the left-hand Contents column. A Hardware Overview is displayed on the right.
  3. Look at the memory line to see how much RAM is installed in your Mac. I’ve highlighted that line in my screenshot: my MacBook Pro has 8Gb RAM. I recently added 4Gb to the original 4Gb it came with and find my photo and video software works much more easily and quickly. See My Christmas RAM is a treat for details of how I did this at a low cost.

Get Tech Specs for your Mac

Just out of sight in my screenshot is the serial number for my Mac. Copy your serial number and go to Apple’s Tech Specs page. Paste the serial number in the Search box and a page appears telling you everything about your model of Mac. Look at the Processor and memory section to see how much RAM you are able to install in your Mac.

Check hard drive space

Most Macs these days come with gigantic hard drives.

I’ve had clients ask me if they should take files off because they’re worried they’re running out of room. Often these clients only have a few wordprocessing documents that would fit easily on an old floppy disc and they have no reason to worry.

If you have a lot of videos, music files, photos and other things that really do use a lot of space then how much remains empty could be an issue for you. Any computer needs plenty of free space for working with.

To check how much of your hard drive is used:

Hard drive size is shown here.

Hard drive size is shown here.

  1. Open System Profiler.app from the Applications > Utilities folder.
  2. Under Hardware in the left-hand Contents column select Serial-ATA. Details of the drives in your Mac are displayed on the right. Note: if Serial-ATA isn’t the right choice on your particular Mac read on and look for an item that does display the type of information I mention in the next step.
  3. Look for the Macintosh HD item. It will show Capacity and Available. On my MacBook Pro the Capacity is 499.76 GB — in other words it has a 500 GB drive installed. My screenshot shows I still have around 285GB available. That means the drive is around half full and I still have plenty of room.

If the available free space on your Mac’s hard drive is around 20% or less of the total capacity then consider how to free up more space. Some options:

  1. Trash files you actually no longer need. Remember to empty the Trash to make the space available.
  2. Move some files into long-term storage and trash the copies that remain on the hard drive.
  3. Buy an additional hard drive and move some files to there.
  4. Install a bigger hard drive in the Mac and move all your files to it.

Check the OS version

About This Mac.

About This Mac.

The Operating System is the basic software that runs your Mac even before you try to work or play on it. The OS runs the screen, keyboard and all the other features you take for granted.

The specific version of the Operating System becomes important when you consider running any other software. Some versions of some apps require a particular version of the OS.

To check which version of the Mac OS your machine is using:

  1. Choose About This Mac from the Apple menu. A window appears with information about the processor, RAM and version of Mac OS X. My Mac is running Snow Leopard (10.6), version 10.6.7.

Note too that clicking the More Info… button opens up the System Profiler app for you.

Install software updates

Most applications these days offer a Check for updates option somewhere in their menus.

Updating Skype.

Updating Skype.

Updates may offer new features or just better performance and security. See if any updates are appropriate for your Mac.

Make sure that updates will still run with your version of the Operating System, especially if you aren’t running the latest version.

Install Apple updates

Apple regularly issue updates to Apple software that may fix bugs, improve security or offer additional features.

While you may have your own reasons for not installing some of these, you should always promptly install any that claim to be security updates.

Choose Software Update… from the Apple menu. A window appears showing a progress bar for checking for updates. If any updates are available, they appear in an Updates window. Select the updates you want and follow the on-screen instructions to install them.

There are also a couple of routine maintenance tasks you can do for free to make sure your Mac is in tip-top condition. I’ll explain them in another Tip.

How often do you check for software updates? Please leave any Comments at the website.

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  1. dailytut said:

    thanks for the tips. i am going to replace my macbook pro 15 inch ram now. your site contains plenty of useful mac tutorials :) Thank you a lot.


  2. Stephen Tyler said:

    Great tips for those who don’t already do this. One question, though. I usually opt for the “secure empty trash”, rather than just “empty trash”. I was told that this wipes it completely from memory and frees up more space. Is this true? Also, I look act the “activity monitor” to check on disk space – is this also just another way to see how long before your memory gets full? Does it make a difference? Perhaps the pie chart is too easy for the non-techies….

    • Miraz Jordan said:

      Thanks Stephen. Activity Monitor’s Disk Usage tab is a great way to check disc space. I simply forgot about it. :-)

      Files take up the same space whether you simply erase them or erase them securely, so there’s no difference in space with either choice.

      I would only Secure Empty Trash for files that are particularly sensitive as the process removes them entirely. An ordinary Empty Trash just declares the space they occupy as available for use, so they could (probably) be retrieved if someone wanted to try.

  3. KiwiGraham said:

    If you’re looking to speed up an “older” Mac (ie. health checks show it’s OK but you feel it needs a bit more grunt) adding memory as mentioned above is the traditional easy way to help. However these days it is also worth considering installing an SSD (flash drive) and installing the OS on the SSD – keeping your data files on the existing drive. It gives a pretty significant speed bump to almost all the “routine” things your Mac does. On a laptop you can fit it in by removing the optical drive.

    OWC (and probably other vendors also) sell kits that allow you to do this yourself – including an enclosure to allow you to use the extracted optical drive externally. SSD drives are still pretty expensive which is why you probably wouldn’t just replace the main hard drive on your machine with an SSD.

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