Take Control of Maintaining Your Mac

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Deciding which files to delete

If you’re running desperately low on disk space, it may be time to buy a larger hard drive. In the meantime, you can delete files you no longer need. Another section of this ebook offers some suggestions on deleting unnecessary files, applications, and widgets. But if you’re still left with too little free space and you’re stuck for ideas, try removing these items:

  • Cache files: Mac OS X automatically re-creates these if needed, so feel free to trash the contents of /Library/Caches and ~/Library/Caches.
  • Downloads: Do you hang onto installers or other downloaded files that you could simply download again if needed? If so, out they go.
  • Classic resources: If (and only if) you never use Mac OS X’s Classic environment, you can get rid of the Mac OS 9 System Folder (but not the folder named System, which belongs to Mac OS X!) and Classic applications (usually stored in a folder called “Applications (Mac OS 9)”).
  • Developer tools: If you installed Apple’s Xcode Tools but aren’t developing any software, remove the Developer folder at the top level of your hard disk. The proper way to do this is to double-click the file /Developer/Tools/uninstall-devtools.pl.
  • Re-rippable music: As a last resort, look in ~/Music/iTunes/ iTunes Music for music you still have on CD (and which, therefore, you can reimport). Be careful not to trash music you purchased from the iTunes Music Store!
  • When you’re finished deleting files, don’t forget to empty the Trash (Finder -> Empty Trash) to free up the space formerly occupied by those files.

    Monitoring utilities

    Although this is by no means an exhaustive list, the following utilities all provide one or more monitoring services:

    Activity Monitor, included with Mac OS X, displays CPU and RAM usage, among numerous other statistics.

    • Activity Monitor: This utility, included as part of Mac OS X (in /Applications/Utilities) displays CPU load, RAM usage, disk activity and usage, and network traffic. Activity Monitor also displays memory and CPU usage statistics for each running application, and enables you to quit individual applications. Although it includes an optional floating CPU window, Activity Monitor is not the best choice for background operation.

    • Amnesia: This tiny application displays current CPU load and free memory (only) in its Dock icon (free).

    • App Monitor: If you want to keep an eye on the CPU usage of one application at a time, try App Monitor, which displays a customizable usage graph in either a window or a Dock icon (free).

    • Hardware Monitor: This utility can display a wide variety of statistics in your menu bar, a Dock icon, or several other formats. Information includes heat sensor readings, power supply voltage and current, fan speeds (in RPM), battery level, and other data, depending on your Mac model (€7).

    • Mac HelpMate: In addition to performing many maintenance tasks, this utility displays free RAM, internal temperature readings, disk usage, S.M.A.R.T. status, and system uptime (free; donations accepted).

    • MemoryStick: This simple utility from Take Control’s own Matt Neuburg displays a floating bar graph showing your current RAM usage (free).

    • Memory Usage Getter: Somewhat like Activity Monitor, this utility displays overall RAM usage, plus per-application RAM and CPU usage, and enables you to quit individual applications ($10).

    MenuMeters can display RAM and CPU usage, as well as numerous other bits of information, in highly configurable menus.

    • MenuMeters: My favorite of the group, MenuMeters adds tiny, customizable indicators to your menu bar to display any or all of the following: CPU load, RAM usage, disk access activity (with usage on a drop-down menu), and network traffic (free).

    • miniStat: For Dashboard fans, this collection of six widgets displays CPU load, free RAM, free disk space, CPU temperature, battery level, and system uptime (free).

    • SysStat: Another Dashboard widget, SysStat displays a single panel with the following information: CPU load, RAM usage, network traffic (and bandwidth), disk usage, battery level, and system uptime (free).

    • Temperature Monitor: This application displays readings from your Mac’s internal heat sensors, and even produces a graph of the temperatures over time (free).

    • ThermographX: This utility displays the readings of all internal heat sensors in your Mac and even keeps a graph of the temperature over time. But it’s not compatible with every Mac model ($7).

    • X Resource Graph: XRG provides highly customizable graphs of CPU usage, RAM usage, disk access activity, network traffic, internal heat sensors (up to three), and battery level, plus the weather (in a city of your choice) and even stock market data (free).

    Check your drives’ S.M.A.R.T. status

    Disk Utility shows a drive’s S.M.A.R.T. status.

    Most modern hard drives have built-in sensors and monitoring circuitry that form a system called S.M.A.R.T. (Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology). The idea of S.M.A.R.T. is to detect the warning signs of potential problems before they occur. Although S.M.A.R.T. cannot detect every possible drive problem, it can provide one very valuable warning: “Your drive is about to have problems, so back it up and repair (or replace) it now!”

    Note : As of early 2006, Disk Utility’s S.M.A.R.T. indicator works with internal ATA and Serial ATA drives, but not with external (USB or FireWire) drives. Some external drives, however, have their own built-in S.M.A.R.T. indicators.

    To check your drives’ S.M.A.R.T. status, open Disk Utility (in /Applications/Utilities) and select a drive in the list on the left. If the selected drive supports S.M.A.R.T., you should see this at the bottom of the window: “S.M.A.R.T. Status: Verified.” If you see “About to Fail” in red letters, back up the drive immediately. You can then use Disk Utility (or a third-party repair utility) to attempt to repair the drive, but more often than not, “About to Fail” indicates an imminent hardware failure that you cannot fix with software. Even if Disk Utility does appear to solve the problem, don’t trust the drive with important data; replace it as soon as possible.

    Tip : To monitor your drives’ S.M.A.R.T. status in the background (without having to remember to open Disk Utility), try the free utility SMARTReporter, which displays a status icon in your menu bar.

    [ Joe Kissell is a frequent contributor to Macworld and has written numerous books and ebooks about the Macintosh; his latest is Take Control of Maintaining Your Mac (TidBits Electronic Publishing, 2006). ]

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