2011 Macbook Air really laggy and slow

weezin

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Original poster
Jul 20, 2012
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I know, I know, it's an old computer :)

But my 2011 Macbook Air 13" (base) is incredibly laggy and slow, quite a bit more so than I'd expect. I've heard other owners with this gen / spec Air claim that they run amazingly well.

I have reinstalled the OS (multiple times) with no improvement. I'm currently on El Capitan, but was previously on Sierra, which was also bad. I don't have any crazy software installed, and I basically only use it for web browsing. Previously, I was using Chrome, but switched to Safari for a bit of a speed boost (which helped a little, but not enough to matter). For example, browsing sites like Facebook is an absolute chore as scrolling is incredibly laggy, the browser will lock up for short periods of time, etc. Even browsing non-intensive sites is slow and laggy.

I use this laptop as a supplemental device, only used when travelling or wanting to use a computer on the couch. I really love it aside from the slowness and don't really any any other reason to upgrade it as I don't use it a ton.

What can I do to diagnose and hopefully fix? I'm wondering if upgrading the SSD with something like a Jet Drive would not only give me more storage, but increase the speed of the laptop as well. As it sits, my (original) 128gb SSD is about half-full, so I don't really *need* extra space.

Anything else I can do?
 

BootLoxes

macrumors 6502
Apr 15, 2019
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I know, I know, it's an old computer :)

But my 2011 Macbook Air 13" (base) is incredibly laggy and slow, quite a bit more so than I'd expect. I've heard other owners with this gen / spec Air claim that they run amazingly well.

I have reinstalled the OS (multiple times) with no improvement. I'm currently on El Capitan, but was previously on Sierra, which was also bad. I don't have any crazy software installed, and I basically only use it for web browsing. Previously, I was using Chrome, but switched to Safari for a bit of a speed boost (which helped a little, but not enough to matter). For example, browsing sites like Facebook is an absolute chore as scrolling is incredibly laggy, the browser will lock up for short periods of time, etc. Even browsing non-intensive sites is slow and laggy.

I use this laptop as a supplemental device, only used when travelling or wanting to use a computer on the couch. I really love it aside from the slowness and don't really any any other reason to upgrade it as I don't use it a ton.

What can I do to diagnose and hopefully fix? I'm wondering if upgrading the SSD with something like a Jet Drive would not only give me more storage, but increase the speed of the laptop as well. As it sits, my (original) 128gb SSD is about half-full, so I don't really *need* extra space.

Anything else I can do?
Its just old... I would just wipe macos off it and install lubuntu and use that. It would run very fast on the macbook air.

as for the ssd, it would provide a boost but if the other specs arent up to snuff, it might not be big enough to matter. That said, its just my opinion. I am sure others will offer alternative ideas
 
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weezin

macrumors regular
Original poster
Jul 20, 2012
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Thanks. I have a hard time believing that it is just old with how slow it is, especially considering I'm still on an older OS and am not trying to do anything complicated. I could be wrong, but why would the computer just slow down over time, especially having not upgraded anything and having done a clean install? Shouldn't it theoretically be as fast as it was 4 years ago with the same OS, etc?

I tend to wonder whether something is failing in it. Is it possible the ram / ssd / etc is going bad?
 

weezin

macrumors regular
Original poster
Jul 20, 2012
187
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It very well could be the SSD. What size is it and how much free space? SSDs do have a limited number of terabytes written as well.
It is a 128gb with 56gb currently used. This has always been a secondary machine, so I don't think there has been a ton of data written to it, but there could be I suppose!

If that is the case, swapping the SSD might actually help it seems.

Thanks!
 

iluvmacs99

macrumors 6502
Apr 9, 2019
408
196
I know, I know, it's an old computer :)

But my 2011 Macbook Air 13" (base) is incredibly laggy and slow, quite a bit more so than I'd expect. I've heard other owners with this gen / spec Air claim that they run amazingly well.

I have reinstalled the OS (multiple times) with no improvement. I'm currently on El Capitan, but was previously on Sierra, which was also bad. I don't have any crazy software installed, and I basically only use it for web browsing. Previously, I was using Chrome, but switched to Safari for a bit of a speed boost (which helped a little, but not enough to matter). For example, browsing sites like Facebook is an absolute chore as scrolling is incredibly laggy, the browser will lock up for short periods of time, etc. Even browsing non-intensive sites is slow and laggy.

I use this laptop as a supplemental device, only used when travelling or wanting to use a computer on the couch. I really love it aside from the slowness and don't really any any other reason to upgrade it as I don't use it a ton.

What can I do to diagnose and hopefully fix? I'm wondering if upgrading the SSD with something like a Jet Drive would not only give me more storage, but increase the speed of the laptop as well. As it sits, my (original) 128gb SSD is about half-full, so I don't really *need* extra space.

Anything else I can do?
Sorry to be the bearer for bad news, but your base Macbook Air 2010 is slow by today's standards. First of all, it is a Core 2 Duo so it is not a speed machine unlike your Mac Pro, Mac Mini 2018 and iMac which can easily smoke it. And if you are coming from these fast machines, the Core 2 Duo will seemed like it's lagging because your visual perception is coming off a faster machine. Also, it comes with 2Gb or 4Gb of ram, which today is simply not adequate for modern browsing. You need at least 8Gb or 16Gb with Chrome. Also, the video ram has a paltry 256Mb (enough 10 years ago), but sorry to say not at all adequate for modern day browsing where you need at least 512Mb or better 1.5Gb or 2Gb of VRAM to speed up the screen rendering. Any modern day browsers utilize the GPU and VRAM to render and store web pages in memory. Your Macbook 2010 Air just doesn't have that, so what you are seeing is that it madly pages between your SSD and memory/VRAM and that's why you see the lag. I would not advise you to upgrade the SSD, which will be a total waste of money. Use it as it is or else install Linux like Ubuntu which will use far less resources than El-Capitan does, PLUS has security updates on some versions up until 2023. Whereas El-Capitan stopped updating last year. Besides, you still get FireFox, Chromium and Opera (if you need VPN support) in Ubuntu and it flies. My older Macbook 2007 which is running Ubuntu 14 LTS is being used by my dad. Very speedy and little lag and it does not even have an SSD. I work in a computer thrift store and recycling depot and we routinely get a lot of these 2010 Macbook Airs and while we loaded them up with High Sierra (the max they would go), they are way slower than my Macbook 2007 in terms of browsing speed. That tells you that Mac OSX can be bloated and is slow on older hardware. I myself installed Linux Mint 19.2 LTS on my Mac Mini 2011 and configured it as dual boot. In El-Capitan, my Mini browsing speed is fast, but under Mint 19.2 it is super fast due to its lower resources and so I use Mint for browsing, but El-Capitan to run Mac apps.
 

weezin

macrumors regular
Original poster
Jul 20, 2012
187
45
Sorry to be the bearer for bad news, but your base Macbook Air 2010 is slow by today's standards. First of all, it is a Core 2 Duo so it is not a speed machine unlike your Mac Pro, Mac Mini 2018 and iMac which can easily smoke it. And if you are coming from these fast machines, the Core 2 Duo will seemed like it's lagging because your visual perception is coming off a faster machine. Also, it comes with 2Gb or 4Gb of ram, which today is simply not adequate for modern browsing. You need at least 8Gb or 16Gb with Chrome. Also, the video ram has a paltry 256Mb (enough 10 years ago), but sorry to say not at all adequate for modern day browsing where you need at least 512Mb or better 1.5Gb or 2Gb of VRAM to speed up the screen rendering. Any modern day browsers utilize the GPU and VRAM to render and store web pages in memory. Your Macbook 2010 Air just doesn't have that, so what you are seeing is that it madly pages between your SSD and memory/VRAM and that's why you see the lag. I would not advise you to upgrade the SSD, which will be a total waste of money. Use it as it is or else install Linux like Ubuntu which will use far less resources than El-Capitan does, PLUS has security updates on some versions up until 2023. Whereas El-Capitan stopped updating last year. Besides, you still get FireFox, Chromium and Opera (if you need VPN support) in Ubuntu and it flies. My older Macbook 2007 which is running Ubuntu 14 LTS is being used by my dad. Very speedy and little lag and it does not even have an SSD. I work in a computer thrift store and recycling depot and we routinely get a lot of these 2010 Macbook Airs and while we loaded them up with High Sierra (the max they would go), they are way slower than my Macbook 2007 in terms of browsing speed. That tells you that Mac OSX can be bloated and is slow on older hardware. I myself installed Linux Mint 19.2 LTS on my Mac Mini 2011 and configured it as dual boot. In El-Capitan, my Mini browsing speed is fast, but under Mint 19.2 it is super fast due to its lower resources and so I use Mint for browsing, but El-Capitan to run Mac apps.
It is actually a 2011, with the i5. Which I think makes the situation a little bit better, but perhaps not much.
 

iluvmacs99

macrumors 6502
Apr 9, 2019
408
196
It is actually a 2011, with the i5. Which I think makes the situation a little bit better, but perhaps not much.
Yeap, you are right and my mistake for not making sure to quote the right model. But No it doesn't make it any better than the 2010 Core 2 Duo. My Mini 2011 has an i5 and even with a really fast SSD, it still somewhat lags under El-Capitan with 8Gb of RAM and 1.5Gb of VRAM. Under Mint, it flies and a real joy to use so that's where I spent most of my browsing time.
 

weezin

macrumors regular
Original poster
Jul 20, 2012
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Yeap, you are right and my mistake for not making sure to quote the right model. But No it doesn't make it any better than the 2010 Core 2 Duo. My Mini 2011 has an i5 and even with a really fast SSD, it still somewhat lags under El-Capitan with 8Gb of RAM and 1.5Gb of VRAM. Under Mint, it flies and a real joy to use so that's where I spent most of my browsing time.
I just have a hard time believeing that it would be so laggy, but I guess it is what it is!

My 2011 iMac just flies with no lagginess at all, but it does have 12gb of ram...
 

weezin

macrumors regular
Original poster
Jul 20, 2012
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I'm going to attempt to reapply thermal paste to see if that helps at all. I'm guessing it won't, but I'm also guessing that stuff is in bad shape after all of these years! Will report back.
 

weezin

macrumors regular
Original poster
Jul 20, 2012
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I noticed that when my Air is lagging greatly (like just now, when I was trying to load Facebook) my cpu seems to spike a bit, but my memory seems fine in Activity Monitor. The CPU then came back down quite a bit.

The fans never come on in these cases, so it doesn't seem like what AM is showing should be causing the computer to essentially lock up, but what do I know? I'm still planning on replacing the thermal paste in the next few days.

Here's a screenshot of Activity Monitor right after I loaded facebook. Does this indicate anything?

I've also included a screenshot of the SMART status.
 

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weezin

macrumors regular
Original poster
Jul 20, 2012
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So I applied new thermal paste after following iFixit's guide for taking the machine apart and then watching a few youtube videos on the best way to clean the existing thermal paste and apply the new stuff. I ended up cleaning with ArticClean 1 and 2 and using Arctic Silver 5.

After putting the machine back together, I have to say...it feels a bit snappier. Facebook loads reasonably well (whereas it didn't before) and things feel a bit better. Not AMAZING, but better. I installed iStat menus to track the CPU temp (which I should have been doing before).

I'm going to work with this for a little while and see how it does over a couple days before making a decision on the SSD upgrade.

EDIT: I've attached a screenshot of Acivity monitor after having loaded Facebook again. The CPU load seems much lower this time around!
 

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redheeler

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Oct 17, 2014
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The 4 GB RAM will be causing some slowdown. There's not much you can do about it, aside from maybe a clean install of El Capitan and of course limiting what is open as much as possible.
 

weezin

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Original poster
Jul 20, 2012
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The 4 GB RAM will be causing some slowdown. There's not much you can do about it, aside from maybe a clean install of El Capitan and of course limiting what is open as much as possible.
Is that actually true when my memory pressure never goes past green?
 

redheeler

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Oct 17, 2014
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Is that actually true when my memory pressure never goes past green?
It can be due to how memory management works in MacOS. Typically you'll see disk swap and compression well before the pressure goes into the orange, and this can have a negative impact on performance.
- - Post merged: - -

Here's a good thread on the issue: Upgrading RAM can boost performance more than upgrading CPU/GPU. Activity Monitor can make you think you're using less memory than you really are. It's an issue even on Macs with higher amounts of RAM like 16 or 32 GB. For basic tasks like web browsing with 12 or so tabs open 8 GB is still adequate, but 4 GB is small enough to cause problems.
 
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redheeler

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Oct 17, 2014
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The non-upgradable (and usually low amount of) memory on the base model Airs tends to make that the worst offender as they become older. The current models start at 8 GB which is fine for now, but makes me a little bit uneasy for the future.
 

weezin

macrumors regular
Original poster
Jul 20, 2012
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It can be due to how memory management works in MacOS. Typically you'll see disk swap and compression well before the pressure goes into the orange, and this can have a negative impact on performance.
- - Post merged: - -

Here's a good thread on the issue: Upgrading RAM can boost performance more than upgrading CPU/GPU. Activity Monitor can make you think you're using less memory than you really are. It's an issue even on Macs with higher amounts of RAM like 16 or 32 GB. For basic tasks like web browsing with 12 or so tabs open 8 GB is still adequate, but 4 GB is small enough to cause problems.
The non-upgradable (and usually low amount of) memory on the base model Airs tends to make that the worst offender as they become older. The current models start at 8 GB which is fine for now, but makes me a little bit uneasy for the future.
Thanks for that link, really interesting. It does seem that no one agrees however :D

I realize that 4gb of ram is not that much these days, but my Air was VERY laggy and slow, even right after a restart with only a single Safari tab open and nothing else. That doesn't make sense to me, even with the 4gb of ram.

Putting new thermal paste in actually helped reduce the lag, which is interesting. I'm also wondering whether swapping out the SSD will increase performance given the RAM limitations, as that might theoretically increase the swap speed.

I really don't know what I'm talking about, but I love my Air and want to keep using it for as long as I can :)
- - Post merged: - -

As a followup question, what would be the best OS for me to be on for performance? I had assumed an older OS due to the less overhead (?), but perhaps that isn't true.
 

weezin

macrumors regular
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Jul 20, 2012
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Update: I got and installed a Jetdrive 240gb SSD. So far (after ~4 hours of use) it makes the Mac useable again. Most, if not all of the lag I was experiencing is gone. It's not a speed demon, but it is perfectly usable.

I was getting about 200 MB/s read/write on the old drive and now I am getting about 300 write and 500 read. A noticeable improvement!

I think the SSD must have been lagging in performance for this upgrade to make this much of a difference. After thinking about the 4gb of ram thing, I noticed that my wife's windows laptop from 2012 (with 4gb of ram) and my Dad's 2010 15" Pro (with 4gb of ram) were much more performant than my machine was.

Anyway, time will tell if the performance stays this way, but it is looking promising!
 

MultiFinder17

macrumors 68020
Jan 8, 2008
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Tampa, Florida
Awesome mate, glad to hear that you're still happy with your 2011 Air! I used a 2011 11" i5/2GB/128GB for four years as my main classroom laptop, and just retired it for this school year. Like a previous poster mentioned, the only real limitation I had with it was the RAM, stuck at 2GB forever. I have it at home as a writing machine now, and I'm currently using a 2010 MacBook C2D/16GB/256GB for school duties.

Keep those Airs alive! So long as it does what you want from it in the way you want it to, it's not functionally obsolete :)
 
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cincygolfgrrl

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Apr 2, 2012
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Somewhere In Time
I'm glad to read things are working better for you. One thing you didn't mention checking (unless I'm too old and blind to have noticed) is looking at your login items (System Preferences > Users & Groups > Login items) to see what loads at startup. Over time you can get some serious system draining apps crudding up your computer that make it run slow. It wouldn't hurt to take a look then delete those you don't need day-to-day. The apps will still be available, just not running at startup.

I stlll use my 11" 2011 MBA almost daily for email, browsing and writing in a text editor. I did a clean install, didn't reload apps I don't need for the mentioned activities, and keep all documents in iCloud or Dropbox. As do you, I have a newer machine for *real* work.
 
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Acronyc

macrumors 6502a
Jan 24, 2011
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Update: I got and installed a Jetdrive 240gb SSD. So far (after ~4 hours of use) it makes the Mac useable again. Most, if not all of the lag I was experiencing is gone. It's not a speed demon, but it is perfectly usable.

I was getting about 200 MB/s read/write on the old drive and now I am getting about 300 write and 500 read. A noticeable improvement!

I think the SSD must have been lagging in performance for this upgrade to make this much of a difference. After thinking about the 4gb of ram thing, I noticed that my wife's windows laptop from 2012 (with 4gb of ram) and my Dad's 2010 15" Pro (with 4gb of ram) were much more performant than my machine was.

Anyway, time will tell if the performance stays this way, but it is looking promising!
Congrats and I'm happy to hear the SSD upgrade increased the performance! Before I saw this I was going to say that I don't think it is the RAM. I have a 2015 11-inch MacBook Air with only 4GB of RAM and I never experience slowdown for my workflow (Internet, word processing, some coding, and media consumption while traveling). I rarely use FaceBook but opened it up just to see and it was only taking 2% of my CPU and 200MB of RAM. While it's definitely not a lot of RAM, 4GB in macOS is still perfectly usable for basic tasks.
 

weezin

macrumors regular
Original poster
Jul 20, 2012
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Awesome mate, glad to hear that you're still happy with your 2011 Air! I used a 2011 11" i5/2GB/128GB for four years as my main classroom laptop, and just retired it for this school year. Like a previous poster mentioned, the only real limitation I had with it was the RAM, stuck at 2GB forever. I have it at home as a writing machine now, and I'm currently using a 2010 MacBook C2D/16GB/256GB for school duties.

Keep those Airs alive! So long as it does what you want from it in the way you want it to, it's not functionally obsolete :)
Thanks!

I also had a 2010 Macbook for a while and it was a great computer. Really loved it. With that amount of ram it should still be running nicely!

I'm glad to read things are working better for you. One thing you didn't mention checking (unless I'm too old and blind to have noticed) is looking at your login items (System Preferences > Users & Groups > Login items) to see what loads at startup. Over time you can get some serious system draining apps crudding up your computer that make it run slow. It wouldn't hurt to take a look then delete those you don't need day-to-day. The apps will still be available, just not running at startup.

I stlll use my 11" 2011 MBA almost daily for email, browsing and writing in a text editor. I did a clean install, didn't reload apps I don't need for the mentioned activities, and keep all documents in iCloud or Dropbox. As do you, I have a newer machine for *real* work.
I've been though to startup items quite a bit and there's nothing in there that should cause such slowdown.

I'm interested in getting an older 11" Air - always loved those!

Congrats and I'm happy to hear the SSD upgrade increased the performance! Before I saw this I was going to say that I don't think it is the RAM. I have a 2015 11-inch MacBook Air with only 4GB of RAM and I never experience slowdown for my workflow (Internet, word processing, some coding, and media consumption while traveling). I rarely use FaceBook but opened it up just to see and it was only taking 2% of my CPU and 200MB of RAM. While it's definitely not a lot of RAM, 4GB in macOS is still perfectly usable for basic tasks.
Thanks! Yeah, I tend to agree with that, based on what I'm seeing now. Tons of people say that 4gb isn't good enough even for basic tasks and that just doesn't seem to be true!
 

Cthulhu7747

macrumors newbie
Dec 28, 2019
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Update: I got and installed a Jetdrive 240gb SSD. So far (after ~4 hours of use) it makes the Mac useable again. Most, if not all of the lag I was experiencing is gone. It's not a speed demon, but it is perfectly usable.
I just gave my 2011 MacBook Air to my son (I bought a "new" 2017 MBA for $699.99 last week). It still runs well with High Sierra (I upgraded the SSD recently to a Crucial MX500).
 

weezin

macrumors regular
Original poster
Jul 20, 2012
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I just gave my 2011 MacBook Air to my son (I bought a "new" 2017 MBA for $699.99 last week). It still runs well with High Sierra (I upgraded the SSD recently to a Crucial MX500).
That's good to know. I've been sticking with El Cap as I was a bit worried to upgrade due to performance issues. Now that I think I have that sorted out, it could be time to try High Sierra again!
 

CPL593H

macrumors member
Aug 26, 2018
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That's good to know. I've been sticking with El Cap as I was a bit worried to upgrade due to performance issues. Now that I think I have that sorted out, it could be time to try High Sierra again!
Just went from El Cap to HS on a 2011 Air. Still seems to be indexing and whatnot, but overall fewer hang ups, and seemingly a little more free space in the drive. Swapping over to an OWC Aura tomorrow.