Interlude Concerning SLOW iMac on Yosemite…

I thought we’d take a break from the potted history series for a while to talk about my experience over the last couple of months since upgrading to Yosemite (the latest version of OSX) on my 2011 iMac. Now, I’m not usually one to rush in to any major version upgrade, as all sorts of attendant issues tend to crop up that can cause problems. Printer and scanner drivers usually top the list, but more recently I have been finding that various apps need to force an update too, which is great…if the app happens to have been updated by the author as well. Anyway, I’m used to dealing with the standard issues associated with upgrades now; what I was not expecting during my upgrade to Yosemite was an apparent go-slow universal sluggishness that seemed to accompany that very upgrade. Initially I thought it was just a problem with my broadband connection, and I played around with various DNS settings and what-not for a good number of weeks – even going so far as to install DNSCrypt, which turned out to be a surpsiginly good little app anyway (so I left it on: it encrypts DNS, preventing your upstream internet provider from hijacking requests and diverting them to a string of annoying marketing or social media intermediaries…an irritating practice that can, and DOES dramatically slow down web page lookups.) Occasionally, and after a particular tweek things would get fast again, and I’d be encouraged to the point of jumping around crying ‘EUREKA’ at having solved the problem…only for things to revert to their usual go-slow sluggishness only a matter of days later. I just couldn’t put my finger on this one. The main symptoms were:

  1. Very slow build-up of web page elements: each thumbnail or mini graphic item would painstakingly build up, taking me back to the days of 56K modem access! Disturbingly, it was surprising how quickly I became accustomed to this sluggishness, and had to slap myself back to the real-world by stating out loud that this was NO longer acceptable in the epoch of fibre broadband!
  2. Checking speedstest.net would return NORMAL down- and upload rates; although ping times would often be atrociously long. (cf. normal 18-20ms to 200+ ms)
  3. All apps would take an absolute AGE to start up. The bottom-bar icon would bounce around for a good 10 or so seconds before the main app splash screen would appear… then another 30-45 second for the app to start!
  4. Opening and saving files took forever. When periodically saving a file (as I do), I would need to wait for 30-45 seconds before control of the app was returned to me, thereby stopping me from typing (very annoying!)

OK, so given points 1 and 2, you may well understand why I initially thought it was something to do with my broadband connection, right? But, considering points 3 and 4 in with the mix, how could this be so? In a bid to resolve the problem once and for all, I opted to reinstall my machine so that it was the freshest as-fresh-as-a-daisy install of Yosemite that you could possibly get. Heck, I even toast-formatted and repartitioned my hard drive to zap any rogue elements that could still be lurking around, even after an upgrade. In theory, I should now have a factory-reset iMac after all this. A blank slate, if you will. So, how did it go? Well, same old thing…First couple of days or so it seemed fine, then things begain to crawl again. Even more worrying was my acceptance of this state of affairs…I suppose I had just become accustomed to it. And so, for a number of months I have been putting up with a very sub-standard daily computing experience. As the old anecdote goes: “put a frog in boiling water and it will jump out; but put one in cool water and gradually heat it to boiling, and it will quite happily boil to death.” Well, I was the second frog, and the existential frog-ness was me, gradually accepting the slowing-down of everything, to the point of unusability (/death?). Maybe it’s a totally incongruous analogy, possibly having more to do with an impending mid-life crisis, or entropy, or even a combination of both – or…maybe…just maybe… there is a much, much simpler solution.

And there was. I snapped out of my creeping hypnotic acceptance of this systemic slow down suddenly one Saturday morning, and decided to scour all the forums and user groups out there, checking to see where people had complained of a slow down since upgrading to Yosemite. Wow, was I in for a surprise…there were quite a few contenders…but one thing I did notice in common with all the nuggets of advice out there was this: many of the more involved causes had something to do with utilities that run periodically, either as permanent backrgound tasks or scheduled jobs.

A quick look at activity checker proved that my iMac’s CPU and network adapators were not being overly taxed, so I began to dismiss the notion of some errant task hogging the processor speed and slowing things down… But hang on a second: if the problem is only an ON-OFF intermittent type of problem, it wouldn’t necessarily show up here, would it? So the next step in the thought process was, not unlike a ‘What am I’ riddle, “What kind of tasks happen some of the time but not all?” Something that…..indexes, encrypts or updates from time to time, perhaps? It then hit me like a bolt from the blue: I remembered that, during my various upgrades/reinstallations of Yosemite, I had opted to turn-on FIREVAULT…thinking that it might be good to have encrypted data in these post-Snowdon days (not that I am in possession of anything near as official as Mr S., honest guv (gov?)) I hadn’t used it with previous versions of OSX, but for some odd reason had decided to when Yosemite offered me the option.

So, for all those Yosemite users out there who may have been banging their heads against brick walls for months on end, having reached the point of considering a downgrade back to Mavericks: think very carefully and logically around the possible reason(s) for your slow down. Don’t rush to conculsions. Eliminate the obvious. Be patient. Whittle it down to the point where you may be able to clearly identify the culprit… While FireVault may not be the offender in your particular case, I can promise that your journey toward discovery will be very frustrating, but in the end, totally worthwhile and rewarding.

The following list compiled by the kind folk at osxdaily is a great start:

http://osxdaily.com/2014/10/24/speed-up-os-x-yosemite-mac/

However, as for me: I turned FireVault OFF and have never looked back. Problem solved!

Amen….for now….

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