Performance Speed Tweaks to Get More Out of Leopard

With a ton of features and improvements under the hood, OS X 10.5 (Leopard) is a worthwhile upgrade. However, let’s face it – on an older machine, it could get a little demanding. Whether you are running OS X on an older machine or just demand the most out of your system, here are some Leopard performance tweaks you can do to get the most out of OS X 10.5.

Make sure you have adequate RAM.

Before we even get started, let’s make sure you have enough memory in your system. In an older computer, not enough RAM is a major slowdown. As the years went by since your system was new, applications and the OS got bigger and need to store more information in memory. As standard memory grew, these applications upped their minimum requirements. What was once a ton of RAM, is next to nothing now.

To put it in perspective, the base model MacBook comes standard with 1gb and my four year old iBook’s base memory was 256mb. Running OS X Leopard, you really should have at least 768mb to keep the system from choking. Nine times out of ten when I’m asked to “fix” an old and slow system (either Mac or PC), I look at the RAM and see it’s some ridiculously small amount. The minute I pop in an additional stick of RAM, the difference is astounding.

So, check your RAM by clicking on the little apple in the upper left hand corner and choose “About this Mac”. If it’s less than 768mb in a PPC or 1GB in an Intel system, consider an upgrade.

Note: MacBooks and MacBook Pro’s require matched pairs for memory. This means that if you have two 256mb chips for 512mb total, you will need two 512mb chips to go up to 1gb total. It will not run properly with unmatched pairs. One 256mb and one 512mb will cause problems.

I also wouldn’t recommend upgrading the RAM in an iMac unless its one of the models that are easy to access. The rest of them could be more trouble than its worth to upgrade.

Finder Tweaks:

The first batch of speed boosts come from minimizing the Finder’s system load.

1. Turn off Spotlight.

This will save an older system with a slower hard drive the pain of indexing. Even after the first index, Spotlight needs to continue updating its indexes. It also uses resources to cache searches and be ready for use.

– Go to the System Preferences and choose Spotlight
– Click Privacy
– Click the Plus sign at the bottom
– Click on Macintosh HD on the left at the top
– Click “Choose”

or, just shut it off completely by moving these two files to an alternate location:


2. Shut off Icon previews.

I like the how OS X uses Cover Flow to make your icons look like the insides of your files. Its really great with pictures. However, on an older machine it can be a bit much. Its easy to turn off but you need to do it in two places.

– Click on the desktop to change Finder’s focus to the desktop
– Choose View from the menu bar and click on “Show View Options”
– Towards the middle there is a checkbox next to “Show icon preview”
– Uncheck that box.
– Now double click on “Macintosh HD”.
– Show view options again.
– Uncheck the “Show icon preview” box and click on “Use as defaults”.

3. Minimal desktop icons.

OS X treats each icon on your desktop as an open window. This can get ugly if your desktop is full of them.

Clean up that desktop. What I personally do is have one folder on my desktop. Everything goes in there. If I need to look inside, I open it. With Leopard’s introduction of Stacks, Its even easier to pop it open and look inside.

4. Dock tweaks.

Set these settings for a lean and speedy dock:

– Minimize using: Scale Effect.
– Turn off “Animate opening applications”.
– Turn off Magnification.

Push this further in Leopard by going back to the 2D dock:

– Open Terminal and type the following:

defaults write no-glass -boolean YES
killall Dock

Display Tweaks:

These graphics tweaks also free up processing time and memory. Use them depending on what you are doing. Gamers and designers may want to skip the color settings.

1. Desktop Background.

Have a plain solid color desktop background. Less background means less for the graphics system to deal with.

2. Display Colors Setting.

Change your display’s colors settings millions to thousands

– Open System Preferences and choose “Displays”
– Click on “Colors” and choose “Thousands”.

3. Turn off BeamSync.

BeamSync is for those who are using CRT monitors to time drawing cycles to the vertical refresh of the electron gun. Technical explanations aside, if you have an LCD monitor, BeamSync isn’t necessary and may actually slow performance.

To turn it off:

– Open Terminal and type:

sudo defaults write /Library/Preferences/ Compositor -dict deferredUpdates 0

To turn it back on, change 0 to 1.

Background Process Tweaks:

Turning off or taming background processes usually results in most noticeable results. Some of these processes take up memory without stressing the processor, others slow down data flow from the hard drive. All of these tweaks are easy to do and can be reversed if you need to.

1. Lose the unnecessary login items.

There’s two types of login items in OS X. One is the type that usually gets set by installers within the Accounts panel and the other is set in the dock.

To turn off the Accounts panel login items:

– Open System Preferences and choose Accounts.
– Click on your username
– At the top, click on “Login items”
– Delete them all unless you need them.

Note: Unchecking the checkbox does not remove them from the list. They still start up on login.

To turn off the user set Dock login items:

– Open the dock
– Right-click or click and hold until the popup appears.
– Uncheck the check next to “Open at login”

2. Turn off unused System Services.

Services such as file / print sharing or web sharing start up processes, taking up some memory and CPU cycles.

To turn them off:

– Open System Preferences and choose Sharing.
– Click on the padlock and authenticate if it is closed.
– Next to each service, Uncheck any checkbox if it is checked.

3. Don’t use Filevault.

Filevault is wonderful and I use it heavily. However, if you need the most performance you can get, either turn it off or create a “Performance” account without any personal info. Since Filevault reads and writes everything to disk in encrypted format, there is a performance hit as the system encrypts and decrypts data. Especially if you are using a secure paging volume. For maximum performance, don’t use it.

4. Keep at least 10% of your hard drive free.

Even if you have a ton of RAM, OS X is still going to use swap space. Its just necessary for it to function. By keeping at least 10% (or 5-7 GB on a monster drive) free, you ensure the system has room to breathe. Also, with enough space, OS X can do its automated defragmenting happily in the background. When the drive gets too full you will notice your system getting slow.

5. Turn off Dashboard or Disable Widgets.

The Dashboard and runaway Widgets will drain your system if you let it. You can disable any unused widgets by clicking the plus sign at the bottom of your dashboard screen and then closing any unwanted Widgets. Or, you can shut off Dashboard completely by going into the terminal and typing:

defaults write mcx-disabled -boolean YES
killall Dock

6. Run Software Update.

I know, not really an obvious performance tweak but sometimes those OS X (and especially Firmware) updates fix things that slow down your system. In the interest of a healthy Mac, you should run these regardless. Speed results will vary depending on your system, OS and how behind you are on the updates.

7. Speed Freak and Fermata.

These two applications are incredible for performance boosts. Speed Freak from Big, Fat, Stinking Software will reorganize all of your processes so the active application gets priority. Fermata will pause “freeze” any application you specify to remove it from using any processor cycles.

Some of these tweaks may produce better results than others depending on your system. However small the gains may be, using them in conjunction with one another could result in a noticeably faster system. Also, most of these tweaks turn off certain features of OS X that you may want or require. As these features use up CPU, memory and hard drive resources, you trade these off for the convenience they produce. As always, feel free to share your own performance tips and tricks in the comments.

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7 thoughts on “Performance Speed Tweaks to Get More Out of Leopard

  1. Great guide, a few things that neede to be together on a single article!!


  2. HELP! I moved the files


    … in order to shutdown spotlight. It worked. However, moving these 2 files back to their original respective locations does not bring Spotlight functionality back, am I missing something??

  3. Hi Jeremy,

    Check your permissions, make sure they are (for both):

    1st – (Owner) – System, Read & Write
    2nd (Group) – wheel, Read only
    3rd (Everyone) – everyone, Read Only

    Then restart your computer.

    I’d say the safest way to disable spotlight is to go to System Preferences, select Spotlight and click the Privacy tab. Then, select and add Macintosh HD and your User Folder to the Privacy tab.

    Good Luck,

  4. disabling BeamSync Does not seem to work :(. I try type defaults read /Library/Preferences/ Compositor -dict deferredUpdates in terminal, and the value is definately 0 (which I have set it to be), but in quartzdebug, beamsync is still set to automatic

  5. Try typing the command exactly as so:

    sudo defaults write /Library/Preferences/ Compositor -dict deferredUpdates 0

    Don’t forget the sudo – it will execute the command with escalated privileges. You will need to enter your password. Make sure you have admin rights on the machine.

    Good Luck,

  6. Great guide!, have been looking for something like this to get a bit more speed out of my eee 1000H thanks. 🙂

  7. oh, btw. I also use Xslimmer, to trim app to a min. so they launch quicker.