Your Mac probably takes longer to go from the login screen to a usable state than it does for macOS to cold boot, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some ways you can get your Mac ready to use in record time.
Use Sleep Instead of Shutting Down
Shutting down your computer and Sleep mode aren’t the same. A shutdown first closes all running processes—including the operating system—and then cuts power to your machine. When you start it up again, everything has to be loaded into RAM. macOS also takes time to boot, and any software that starts with your machine has to restart, as well.
Sleep is a much faster process. Depending on whether you have a desk- or laptop, Sleep mode works a bit differently. On desktops, like the iMac or Mac Pro, RAM is left powered on during Sleep mode, while other components are powered off to save energy.
When you resume your session, your machine wakes up fast, as everything you left in memory is still there and ready to go.
For laptops, the process has an additional safeguard. Memory contents are left in RAM, and the RAM stays powered on, but your Mac also copies everything stored in RAM to the boot drive. If the power is interrupted (that is, you disconnect from power for long enough), the memory stored in RAM is lost, but it can be restored from the drive when you resume.
You can Sleep your Mac by clicking the Apple logo (the same as you would to shut down), and then clicking “Sleep.” You can also set your Mac to automatically enter Sleep mode under System Preferences > Energy Saver.
Sleeping Your MacBook? Stay Connected to Power
As outlined above, when you cut the power to your MacBook, the contents of the RAM is lost. This means it’ll take a bit longer to get back to where you were before, as your machine will need to copy data to the RAM. This can take significantly longer on older machines—especially those with little free space.
To get around this problem, leave your MacBook connected to power whenever possible.
Remove Unnecessary Startup and Login Items
Sometimes, you have to restart or shut down your Mac. If your machine takes a considerable amount of time to move from the login screen to a usable desktop, you might want to remove any unnecessary start-up items because these slow down your machine.
Head to System Preferences > Users and Groups. With your username highlighted, click the “Login Items” tab. You’ll see a list of applications that start up every time you log in. Highlight any you don’t need, and then click the minus sign (-) to remove them from the list.
You can also select the “Hide” checkbox for each item you want to start in the background without bothering you.
In addition to login items, you might have some system-wide startup items that boot whenever anyone logs in. These are stored in a hidden folder. To access it, open a new Finder window, click Go > Go to Folder . . . , and then type (or paste):
This folder might be empty, but feel free to remove anything you don’t want to start when your Mac does.
Maintain a Sensible Buffer of Free Space
macOS needs room to breathe as part of its normal operation. Routine operations, like downloading and unpacking system updates, or copying the contents of RAM into drive memory, can temporarily take up more space than you might have. When this happens, things slow down dramatically.
There’s no magic number for how much space you should try to keep free, but around 10 percent of your total drive space is a good starting point. When you start seeing macOS warnings about your drive reaching capacity, it’s time to start freeing up some space.
Disable “Reopen Windows” When Shutting Down
When you choose to restart or shut down your Mac, you get the choice to reopen your windows when you log back in. This is a useful feature, but many people can probably do without it.
As long as your apps are closed cleanly (which macOS takes care of whenever you power off), you shouldn’t lose any data. For example, if you close a Safari window full of open tabs, but choose not to reopen them when logging in, your tabs will all still be there; you’ll just have to launch Safari manually when you return to the desktop.
If you don’t need to see every app and window you had open the last time you used your computer, you can disable this option. You can toggle it on or off under System Preferences > Users and Groups > Login Options; just click the padlock and type your admin password to make changes.
If you haven’t reinstalled macOS for a few years, you might be surprised just how fast a squeaky-clean install can be. By removing all third-party software, you can start with a clean slate. This is a great way to remove outdated kernel extensions and other apps you’ve forgotten about.
First, back up your personal data with Time Machine. Note any software or apps you rely on and will need to redownload after the process is complete. Now, you can restart in Recovery mode and reinstall macOS from scratch.
When you’re done, you can restore your Time Machine backup, which copies your personal files back to your Mac.
Still on a Hard Drive? Switch to an SSD
If your Mac is especially old, you might still have a mechanical hard drive. To find out, click the Apple menu, and then click “About This Mac.” Click the “Storage” tab and look for “Flash Storage” under the drive’s capacity.
If “Flash Storage” isn’t listed, your Mac likely has an older drive. In that case, click the “Overview” tab, and then choose “System Report.” Select the boot drive under “SATA/SATA Express” and look for “Medium Type” in the bottom panel.
If this doesn’t say “Solid State,” your computer has a mechanical hard drive. You can massively speed up your computer’s boot time, as well as the time it takes for software to launch and file transfers to complete, by installing an SSD.
Finally: Consider Automatic Login
Another way to speed up the time between pressing the power button and being able to use your Mac is to streamline the login process. If you’re the only person who uses your Mac, you might want to enable automatic login under System Preferences > Users and Groups > Login Options.
If you’re encrypting your drive with FileVault, this option won’t be available. You’ll first have to turn off FileVault under System Preferences > Security and Privacy > FileVault, which we don’t recommend—especially on a MacBook you take outside your home or office.
If you have a Mac desktop in a secure location, and you aren’t worried about anyone else using it (or stealing it and examining your files), automatic login is an option for you.
The obvious danger here is, because a password won’t be required to log in, anyone can fire up and use your computer. Your files, browsing history, any websites you’re logged into, and more, are immediately at risk.
A safer option is to enable automatic login with your Apple Watch (if you have one). This way, you’ll have to be physically present for your machine to log you in automatically.