How to Fix a MacBook Air Running Slow: a Step-by-Step Tutorial

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macbook air running slow

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Is Your MacBook Air running slow? Try these steps to speed it back up.

Editors note: this post was originally published in August 2015 and was updated in 2017 to reflect new reviews and experiences.

We get it: you expect your MacBook Air is to boot and operate quickly so you can do your work on the go. A slow MacBook Air puts a damper on your work. Luckily, there’s a lot you can do to fix issues with a MacBook Air running slow!

Step 1: Make sure you’re running the latest macOS and have the most recent updates

As of September 2017, the latest macOS is Sierra. However, High Sierra is coming soon! We recommend preparing your computer for the upgrade and making the jump to the latest and greatest macOS in order to have a fix your MacBook Air running slow. MacPaw has an excellent tutorial on how to prepare your MacBook Air for High Sierra.

 In addition to installing and running the latest macOS, check to make sure you’ve installed all updates. Apple periodically releases bug fixes and software improvements. To check for updates,

  • Open App Store
  • Click on Updates in the upper menu
  • Download and install any available updates

 

Step 2: Check Your Disk Space and Clean Your Mac

MacBook Airs don’t come with huge hard drives because of their compact sizes. Dealing with a full hard disk is never fun—nobody wants to delete things every time you download a new movie or album.
 
To check your free disk space,
  • Open Apple icon 
  • Select About this Mac 
  • Select Storage
macbook air running slow
If you’re running low on storage, we recommend two actions,
  1. We recommend downloading CleanMyMac 3 from MacPaw.
  2. We recommend moving large files to an external hard drive.
CleanMyMac 3 is simple: it rids your MacBook Air of useless junk files, thus giving you more storage space. 
 
Though there are many software programs out there, CleanMyMac 3 is the most popular among the Mac user community. It won reader’s choice awards from CNET.com thanks to its ability to fix issues for hundreds of thousands of Mac users around the world. Best of all, you can try it for free and see what you think. 

 

Save space on your HDD with CleanMyMac 2!

If you have many large files (movies, music, photographs, etc.) sitting on your hard drive, you’re likely to see a decrease in speed. An external drive will relieve your Mac from storing huge files and once it’s not a parking garage, you’ll notice the speed and performance increase. We recommend Western Digital external hard drives for most Mac users.

 

Step 3: Use Activity Monitor

This free tool from Mac allows you to see which programs pull the most processing power from your machine. Activity Monitor will live among your Mac apps.
macbook air running slow
To review activity,
  • Open Activity Monitor
  • Select View > All Processes
  • Click  “% CPU” to sort by the percentage of CPU capability used by each program

This information helps identify programs that may cause your MacBook Air running slow.

macbook air running slowPrograms that pull high percentages of CPU should not run on startup. To check which programs run at startup,

  • Go to System Preferences
  • Users & Groups
  • Login Items

Remove anything you don’t absolutely need by clicking the check box next to the item and then then minus (-) sign.


Running down this list should reduce any problems you have a with your MacBook Air running slow. Please leave a comment if these steps didn’t help and we’ll try to find a fix for your problem.

About the Author
Kylie Larson is a content wrangler, helping both small businesses and large organizations get their message up and out. When she's not writing and organizing online, you'll find her walking the dog, with a camera in hand, riding the Chicago blue line, and in the midst of a home renovation project that never ends. Connect with her at ShorewoodStudio.com.
  1. The Alchemist Fan

    The resets definitely helped. I don’t know which particular reset helped the most but thanks for the share!

  2. SimonSays

    Carried out all the suggestions made in this tutorial and have to say that my MacBook Air is back to normal. It was crawling along and making me pull my hair out before I fixed it though.

    Appreciate the tutorial! Thx

  3. Danno

    Please excuse double post above.
    Was really interested in reading the “detailed tutorial” about moving OS X to a SSD, but the link goes to an article about Windows OS, not OS X. Is there an article for Mac?

  4. Michelle Smith

    Hi Danno. Thank you for pointing out that error. We have now updated the link to correctly point to a tutorial that shows how you can move your OS X from an HDD to a SSD, to allow for faster performance.

    Thank you for pointing out the other points as well! We really appreciate it.

  5. PizZaManiaC

    I have clean my mac installed on my MacBook Air and iMac. Pretty useful for quickly clearing out junk on your hard disks, to keep them light and with a lot of free disk space. It is quite useful in cleaning up your iPhoto folder as well.

    Btw, would you recommend a SMC and PRAM reset even if there wasn’t a significant problem with performance?

  6. Michelle Smith

    Both SMC and PRAM resets do not delete any user generated data. The only negative that comes out of these resets is that system preferences can sometimes change, needing to be reset.

    If you are up for that little task, you can definitely carry out these resets once in a while. It can only help. That being said, there’s also a pretty famous saying “Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke!” 🙂

  7. Khalid AlSharif

    Can someone please confirm that the reset won’t delete anything? I have lots of important files and applications that I cannot afford losing. Thank you

  8. Andy Bird

    My MacBook Air has suddenly started running slow.
    Activity Monitor shows that the Kernel_task is taking up most of the Processor usage.
    Currently the only applications running are activity monitor and Google Chrome.
    System usage is around 77%, User 10% and Idle 13%.
    I have 57Gb of store available.
    Opening applications takes a long time, internet access slow and Playing movies are very jerky.
    Any suggestions or do I have to take it to an Apple centre?

    Bets regards
    Andy

  9. www.hotelvalenciaferrol.com

    Very good article. I am facing a few of these issues as well..

  10. Jennifer

    Thank you for this article!!!! My MacBook Air was running so slow, I just purchased the CleanMyMac 3 and it’s back to like new. Thank you so much!

  11. Chris Owen

    My Mac Air was running really slow, and shutting itself down randomly. So I tried resetting SMC and PRAM, and it really worked. Thanks so much. As regards Clean my Mac, do you recommend the free download, or the paid version ?

  12. Abigail Smith

    This an easy method to fix and speedup MacBook air. Thanks for pointing out errors and solving issues.

  13. Mohammed Arif Khan

    Nothing’s working with the above solutions

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  15. CHELLE

    THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!

  16. sharon

    As a complete computer idiot with an almost full Macbook air – so far, BEST 40 bucks I’ve spent. It cleaned up almost 1/3 of space for me, quickly and easily. So far, I haven’t found anything I “need” that is missing, either! 🙂

  17. Melissa

    For the disk repair option, there is nothing to click for run (did click first aid)

  18. Kylie Larson

    Yes! On some operating systems that’s all you need. Hope it helped!

  19. Ben

    whenever I open up my MacBook, it goes so sluggish; even the cursor goes choppy. whenever I try to play games like terraria, it’s like I’m in slow-motion. also, if I go over 480p on youtube, it loads the video again every 2 seconds. does anyone else have this problem, or knows how to fix it? I’ve tried the resets and downloaded cleanmymac3, but they don’t help very much.

  20. Greg

    WOW, my machine sped up in an unbelievable way, thanks. PRAM and SMC reset made a huge difference in performance.

  21. Kylie Larson

    Hi Ben – Have you checked your free disk space (this article explains how: http://machmachines.com/imac-running-slow-easy-common-fixes/)? I’m not familiar with Terraria, but check the minimum system requirements first and make sure your machine meets those.

  22. Rajesh

    Thanks a ton. PRAM reset did wonders. The kernel_task CPU usage dropped from 400% to sub 10%. Machine has become super fast. Took me just 10 secs.

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