How To Make a 27″ Mac Faster.

One of my work desktop machines is a 27″ Mac running Lion. The display is wonderful, with a huge resolution. But despite having a four core i5 processor and 4Gb of memory the machine has often been irritatingly slow. I put this down largely to the way the memory management appears to work in Macs. Basically the memory seems to be doled out to all and sundry until the machine suddenly realises that it is about to run out. At this point it scrabbles around furiously to find what memory it can free up. At this point the machine will often slow to a crawl. After a pause (which can be excruciatingly long) the machine will have found some spare memory and all will be right again. All of this even though the machine has a good chunk of RAM (which would be suitable for Windows 7!).
I have considered purchasing more memory, but never got round to it. On those days where the machine seemed to be most badly behaved I would fire up the PC by its side, boot into Linux and use that instead.
Then the other day I paid a visit to a colleague. Peter works in a large research laboratory on the edge of Cambridge and runs their IT. His laptop is a MacBook Air and his desktop is a 27″ Mac.  But both of them run Windows 7 pretty much full time. And that got me thinking!

I began to read around. I wasn’t interested in running Windows 7 on the Mac. Why replace one dystopian system with another? But there were lots of guides on how to get Linux running on your Mac.
It wasn’t completely smooth sailing. Partitioning the drive to make space was easy, but having run the installation it wasn’t obvious where I should install the Grub boot handler, and it took a few reboots to get it working, but i now have Linux Mint XFCE running on the Mac. Most of the tools I need are here, with the possible exception of Microsoft Office.

There are some things I would like to add or modify. A Linux installation is always a little bit of a work in progress. But I already have the browsers installed and set up, email configured and Emacs well on its way. The projects are:

  • Configure Emacs using initialisation files stored in my Dropbox folder. Then I will be able to use common settings across platforms.
  • Configure the Conky system to display the system statistics on the desktop

And the important thing? Its fast! It really is. As I haven’t run Conky for extended periods I haven’t kept an eye on memory usage, but I haven’t experienced any slow down.

The Mac as it was meant to be… with Linux!


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