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Intel Mac Running Slow After Updating to Sonoma? Check Out These Fixes

If you’re like me, you like to try and keep your devices up-to-date. As a lifelong Apple user (including several iPhones and two MacBook Airs), I get excited about updates that can make my devices run smoother and do a bit more for me. 

That doesn’t always go as planned.

I downloaded MacOS Sonoma on my personal computer, a 2019 Intel MacBook Air, about a month after it was released. I was looking forward to the new features, like desktop widgets, slow-motion screensavers that transition to your desktop background and impressive upgrades to Safari. It didn’t go so well.

To be fair to Sonoma, my computer is approaching the end of its lifespan. My Intel Mac saw me through four years of college, and these days, I’m used to some issues with performance. I understand that a few MacOS Sonoma features, like Game Mode or Presenter Overlay, require a Mac with Apple silicon

That said, this update felt different. My Mac was freezing, crashing and running absurdly hot. As it turns out, I’m not alone in my experience. Some users in r/MacOS, a subreddit discussing MacOS releases and fixes, had similar experiences. 

If your Intel Mac is straining with Sonoma, you’re probably going to want to see what you can do, unless you plan on upgrading to one of Apple’s M1, M2 or M3 laptop computers. Read on to find out which settings you might want to consider tweaking and other tips to keep your computer running smoothly. 

For more, here are the Sonoma features that equalize your iPhone and your Mac and how Safari just got a bit better.

Keep an eye on storage space and memory use

Apple doesn’t have specific guidance on what to do if your Intel Mac is straining under Sonoma. It does have general tips that could help speed up your computer. 

For example, Apple recommends either deleting files or transferring them to an external storage device to free up space and avoid apps that use up too much memory. You can check Activity Monitor to see how much memory your Mac and apps are using.

Here’s how.

screenshot of sonoma's settings

Checking your storage is a great way to see where you can alleviate some pressure on your Mac. 

Screenshot by Mary-Elisabeth Combs/CNET

Check your computer’s storage space

All you need to do is click the Apple menu (which is marked by the Apple logo at the top left corner of your screen) and then select System Settings. Once in the settings, click General and then select Storage. There, you should see a breakdown of how much space you’ve used and what you are using it on. 

When I checked my storage, I found lots of things taking up space that just didn’t seem very helpful or necessary. I deleted some, but I don’t feel like that moved the needle in a major way. Note, be careful what you delete so you don’t remove a file or app you or your system actually needs.

Check out your computer’s memory usage

You can do this in the Activity Monitor app. Essentially, this app provides a breakdown of which apps are eating up the memory. Making sense of the information in this app can feel a bit overwhelming, but you’ll need to know which programs are using up too much memory and slowing down your computer.

At any given moment, your computer is running tons of programs in the background to, well, run your computer. Know that Macs are pretty efficient at using memory, so you want to look for an app like your web browser that seems to be putting a lot of pressure on memory and then try restarting it. 

Stay up to date with MacOS Sonoma and apps

Another fix that could work is to stay up to date with MacOS Sonoma, which is now 14.1.1. While it’s usually best practice to wait a couple of days or even a couple of weeks before you update, if your Mac is seriously slow, you might want to go ahead and pull the trigger on updating. Also, make sure you’re running the latest versions of your apps.

Take a break from Sonoma’s visual elements

screenshot of sonoma's settings

Changing your desktop background to a more basic, static option, can alleviate some of the performance issues Intel Macs are facing on Sonoma.

Screenshot by Mary-Elisabeth Combs/CNET

If none of these recommendations help, Redditors on the r/MacOS subreddit suggest you disable moving screensavers and desktop backgrounds. While these are pretty, they can put a strain on your Mac. I changed my desktop background to one of the available static backgrounds and switched out my screensaver to a more basic option. If you want to access your wallpaper settings, you can either right-click on your desktop and select Change Wallpaper or you can go to System Settings and select the Wallpaper section

Just for me, this (in conjunction with some of Apple’s suggested performance fixes) did make a noticeable difference in my experience. I’ve noticed video streaming is a bit smoother and apps and websites seem to open with a bit less lag. 

Disable features that aren’t necessary to your Mac’s regular function

Another fix from the subreddit suggests reducing visual transitions in the Accessibility menu, selecting a black background and disabling the genie effect. According to those on the subreddit who said they’d made these changes, their Macs now run better. 

Now, if you’re wondering what some (or all) of these things are, you’re not alone. 

The genie effect is a hallmark of Apple products, and you probably already know what this is if you’ve been using Macs for a while. It’s the visual effect that Apple uses when you minimize a tab and send it to your dock: It looks like a genie being sent back to its bottle). It’s pretty easy to disable this effect and reduce other visual effects on your Mac. 

screenshot of sonoma's settings

Disabling the genie effect might help your computer run a bit smoother.  

Screenshot by Mary-Elisabeth Combs/CNET

All you need to do is select the Apple menu and then click System Settings. To disable the Genie effect, go to Desktop & Dock and under the “Minimize windows using” section, select Scale Effect. To reduce visual effects go to Accessibility, select Display, and select Reduce Motion

As for me, I tried reducing the visual transitions, selecting a simpler, static, background (as I mentioned above) and disabling the genie effect. Individually, these changes only moved the needle a little bit. When combined, they do make a noticeable difference, and I feel like my Mac went from borderline unusable to slow, but workable. 

For more, here’s the best MacBook of 2023 and the best M3 Mac deals ahead of Black Friday

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