If you have an older Mac, you may be noticing something funny.
Something…sinister <insert thunderclap here>
Apple release its most recent incarnation of OS X known as Mavericks (10.9) a while back, and of course, it being free and all, I jumped right on it.
The iMac I use for writing is fairly old — think 2009 — but was the best of the line at the time, and as such, still hold up quite well today. It is stuck at 4gb of ram, which makes me sad, but hey, whatever.
However, as well as it works, something was immediately amiss once Mavericks was installed.
Apps bounced on the dock for minutes before opening.
Navigating the disk became a chore.
Chrome with a few tabs open swallowed the computer’s very soul.
This was a real problem. Being a writer and web designer and generally unorganized oaf, there are few times where I have less than ten tabs open in Chrome, a piece of writing software open (Byword, iA Writer, Scrivener, Aeon Timeline), my personal wiki (in WikidPad), maybe a git repository doing something in the background, Thunderbird waiting for emails that never come, Photoshop CC doing what Adobe products always do (eat all available RAM), etc.
Keep in mind, this was happening with both an upgrade and a clean install. Same problem. All. The. Time.
If you are noticing this issue yourself, I suggest dropping Mavericks like the screw-up it is.
Wot I fink is goin’ on
Here is my personal opinion, backed by a little scientific exploration of the issue as well as rampant, uncontrolled guesswork via a magic 8-ball.
The major difference between Mavericks and prior OS X versions, at least when it comes to RAM, is a newfangled memory compression dohicky thingamabob.
Basically, so Apple can continue selling computers with 4gb of RAM in an age where budget Walmart laptops come with 8gb, they worked up a compression scheme that shrinks the size of programs you aren’t using at that moment in memory. This keeps those minimized apps from hogging up all the RAM and prioritizes the app you are using at that very moment.
This sounds nice and all, but here is the catch.
Compression takes processing power. It take memory. It takes time.
And if you have an older machine, well, it ends up taking away from performance rather than improving it.
Last, but not least, I noticed Mavericks seemed to always want to keep the RAM topped off. I suppose that is part of how the new system works, but all it did for me was kill my machine.
And, of course, since Apple knows what’s best for you and I, forget disabling this feature. You have Mavericks (and, I would bet, the future Yosemite), then this feature is on and there is nothing you can do about it.
How to “fix” it, sorta…
What I ended up doing is rolling that screwball Mavericks down the hill and into the ditch where it belongs, and reinstalling 10.8. And guess what?
A dozen Chrome tabs? working fine.
Scrivener and Aeon Timeline open? Yep, A-OK.
All the issues have gone away, files are loading fast, and nothing is amiss.
So, if you are in the same boat as I was, do yourself a favor and roll back.
- Back up via Time Machine. You should be doing this anyway, but if not, do it before you go any further.
- Procure OS X 10.8. But, good luck buying it if you are already on Mavericks as it is hidden in the app store.
- One issue to remember with 10.8 is it was sold via the app store, and not on DVD. In fact, it is not easy to make a 10.8 DVD, as the files are just large enough to require a dual-layer 9 gig DVD, which are more expensive. But a quick googling will net you a million ways to put 10.8 on a USB stick, or even, for the brave, a single layer DVD.
- If you cannot get 10.8, most modern Macs can be restored to the original OS X via internet recovery. Read about it here. Then you can upgrade to 10.8 via the app store or any other method.
- 10.7 may be a little too old, so 10.8 is your best bet. But Scrivener, iA Writer, and most other writing apps (not Byword, though) work just fine on 10.7, so if that’s what you got and you don’t want to deal with upgrading or finding 10.8, just do it.
- Once you’ve rolled back, create a different user than what you normally use. Something temporary is fine. Tempadmin, something like that. The reason for that is it makes restoring your old user profile and apps easier since you are considered someone else for now.
- Once in the older version and things are working, run Migration Assistant located in /applications/Utilities and restore everything from your Time Machine backup. When it gets done, your Apps, your settings, your dock, everything should be exactly as you left it.
- And always remember the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy slogan: Don’t Panic. As long as you have a current Time Machine backup, all your files are safe. If you restore, and then log in only to find the Applications not installed or your documents folder not exactly right, simply restore again. They are all there, but sometimes if something interrupts the restore you may not get everything back the first time.
- Last but not least, if you cannot get this to work, just go to a pro. It will cost money, but it is a hell of a lot cheaper than a new Mac.
Now, keep in mind, some apps will only work with 10.9. Sometimes for no good reason, in fact. They were simply compiled to work with 10.9 and that’s that. Sunrise calendar is one example. But most apps work on 10.8, at least for now, including Scrivener, iA Writer, Byword (will not work on 10.7 or below, however), Aeon Timeline, etc.
OK then, bye bye now.