Back in January, I wrote a list of 10 Tips for Dealing with Unexpected Computer Slowdowns which I’ve posted on Small Dog’s Barkings! Blog.

Colleen Thompson, a reader of our Tech Tails newsletter and a Mac consultant, sent in some more advice for dealing with unexpected Mac slowdowns. With her permission, we are reprinting her advice. She definitely has some good thoughts here.

The original article began with the following, and she picks it up from there:

A friend recently sent me an email, questioning why his MacBook Pro with 4GB of RAM was “getting slower and slower, with an increasing frequency of the appearance of the SRWOD (spinny rainbow wheel of death).”

FWIW, I call it the SPOD (Spinning Pizza of Death.) Easier to remember and say, as in ‘Why is my computer spodding all the time?’ If you’re getting lots of SPODs, and nothing else is wrong with your computer, look into adding more RAM.”

Many apps install helper programs that run by default whenever you startup your Mac. This typically happens in the background, without the user having to confirm anything. Often these aren’t needed and can hog system resources without having anything to show for it. To disable startup items you don’t use, navigate to System Preferences > Accounts > Login items and uncheck the list.

“Actually, unchecking just hides that helper program when it automatically launches. To remove it from Startup Items, you need to click on the minus sign at the bottom of the list.”

Check the health of your hard drive. I depend on Onyx to verify the S.M.A.R.T. status of my Mac’s hard drive. Immediately back up your computer if you think there’s a real issue with the drive. Then consider using a dedicated drive diagnostic/repair tool such as Disk Warrior.

“The SMART check used by Disk Utility, Onyx, and other applications is pretty worthless, especially in the case of bad blocks, the most common type of disk failure I see. I am very enamored of SMART Utility from Volitans Software (look for it on versiontracker.com).

It directly accesses the SMART attributes of the drive and gives you advance warning that the drive is misbehaving; and it tells you exactly how many blocks have already been replaced so you can proactively replace a drive (once blocks start going bad, things almost always get progressively worse, and a Write All Zeroes reformat seldom fixes it for long). Unfortunately SMART is not supported by most FireWire and USB enclosures. But it’s great for internal drives.

As a Mac consultant, I’d say half the work I do these days is dealing with failing hard drives. I think of them as consumables—like light bulbs. When you buy a lamp (computer), you do it fully realizing you’re going to be replacing the light bulb at some point in the future.”

Thanks again for sending this in, Colleen!

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