The Case of the Slow Mac (and how to fix it)

By Aaron

20 responses. »

Note: There have been reported issues of some people have increased trouble with their systems when trying the process outlined here on 10.6 Snow Leopard. Proceed at your own Risk if you are running 10.6. This has successfully worked with 10.5

A couple of weeks ago I was testing out some software updates on my shiny new Mac Pro. After I was finished testing things out I noticed that the Mac was slow, very slow. I fired up the Activity Monitor to see what was going on. Turns out a background process called syslogd was running up the CPUs. Syslogd is the Apple System Log Server. It gathers logging statements from all the various running applications and saves them in case you need to look at them later. If you open the Console Applications from the /Applications/Utilities folder, you can read the logs created by syslogd.

What I couldn’t figure out was why syslogd was using an enormous amount of the Mac Pro’s resources. A little Googling revealed that syslogd stores the most recent log statements in a database file so they can be searched quickly. This database file has the property of fast access for reading, but it is slow to update with new entries. In fact, if an application logs too much information in a certain amount of time syslogd can no longer update the database file in a reasonable amount of time and it begins taking up more and more resources. Most people noticed this problem when using time machine as time machine does log changes to your file system (which can add up). The software I was testing was sending more log statements than syslogd could handle.

Now that I’ve found what was going on, I still had to do something about it. Syslogd can accept additional start up information that controls what kind of log messages it will accept, how often the database file will be purged of old log messages, and other options. These settings are located in a file in the System Folder of your Mac. If you’re feeling lucky (or geeky), you can edit this file directly. However, I recommend Lingon, a free app that does all the heavy lifting for you.

Once you’ve downloaded and installed Lingon, you can start it up and it looks something like this:

Lingon Startup Screen

On the left hand nav menu, there is an item that says System Daemons, go ahead and expand that item and then scroll down the listings until you find com.apple.syslogd. Once you click on the com.apple.syslogd item you will be presented with a warning that looks like this:

Lingon Warning

Go ahead and click OK. You are then presented with the syslogd startup information, such as it’s name, the path to the application (i.e. /usr/sbin/syslogd) and other startup information. You can add startup parameters to the application as command line arguments. I changed /usr/sbin/syslogd to /usr/sbin/syslogd -c 3 -a and then saved the file. You will need administrator rights in order to save the changes. Once you are done, it should look something like this in the “What” field:

Changed syslog parameters

The -c 3 tells syslog to ignore less important messages. There are 8 log levels with 0 being the highest (or most important) and 8 being the lowest. With -c 3, syslogd will only log messages with a log level of 3 or less. The -a parameter tells syslog to archive the database, clearing out entries over 24 hours old.

I haven’t had any syslogd problems since I’ve added these new options. However, with Lingon I can go back and adjust if I need to. So if your Mac slows down, it’s probably not spyware or anything like that, just a little logging application with a hungry appetite for CPU cycles. Lingon lets you tell syslog, “you on a diet.”

About Aaron

20 Responses so far.

  1. CrabApple Forest » Blog Archive » Lean on Lingon to launch scripts and applications

    May 10, 2008 at 10:17 pm

    [...] inoperable! As an example of why you might want to do this, we recommend you see the article, “The Case of the Slow Mac (and how to fix it)” at Maciverse. If you think that your Mac is running a bit sluggish, or if you’re seeing the [...]

  2. Maciverse » Blog Archive » Best of Maciverse: June 08

    June 13, 2008 at 10:55 am

    [...] The Case of the Slow Mac and How to Fix it – Noticed reduced performance in your Mac lately?  Check out this article to see what may be your problem. [...]

  3. Lorin Rivers

    September 25, 2008 at 7:42 am

    Thanks! I hope this solves MY problem

  4. Case of the Slow Mac II: The Memory Hog

    May 7, 2009 at 8:57 pm

    [...] too hard for you. You can usually tell when that happens when your Mac become less snappy. In the first case of the slow Mac, the problem was a program that was using all of the processor resources, leaving a very [...]

  5. Mac OS X: Lean on Lingon to launch scripts and applications « Michigan Telephone, VoIP and Broadband blog

    June 28, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    [...] inoperable! As an example of why you might want to do this, we recommend you see the article, “The Case of the Slow Mac (and how to fix it)” at Maciverse. If you think that your Mac is running a bit sluggish, or if you’re seeing the [...]

  6. Best of Maciverse August 08

    July 24, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    [...] The Case of the Slow Mac, and how to fix it – Having speed issues with your Mac? These instructions may help you speed them back up! [...]

  7. DO NOT TRY THIS

    November 19, 2009 at 4:41 am

    I don't recommend anyone using this fix. I tried it and my whole machine was inoperable. Had to take it to Apple to have them fix.

    • Aaron

      November 19, 2009 at 12:30 pm

      Thank you for sharing your opinion and I’m sorry to hear things didn’t go so well. I haven’t tried using this on Snow Leopard (OS X 10.6) and I don’t think it works at all on Tiger (OS X 10.4). But I can say my experience with this fix/tweak on quite a few Macs has been the complete opposite of yours.

      All the the fix does is tweak the system’s logging process in how it treats older entries. Instead of everything bunching up in huge files along with a huge in memory index, it archives things out into separate files. The logging process is not a critical process either. In fact, you can quit the process and your system will still run. Not that you should go without system logging.

      But judging by the phrase “whole machine was inoperable” would lead me to speculate there were other contributing factors.

      As always, your mileage may vary and thanks for visiting maciverse.com

      • Nick

        November 29, 2010 at 8:33 pm

        I'm currently running Snow Leopard and this fix did WONDERS for my comp. No longer do I get the spinning "pin-wheel" every time I want to print a page off Safari or open a new tab. Sometimes I would have to wait almost 5 minutes for the info to be sent to my printer.

        The only thing I can think of is did you copy the command exactly (include spaces)?
        For instance:

        /usr/sbin/syslogd(space)-c(space)3(space)-a

  8. Pam T

    November 25, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    My Imac 24 had become so slow that I could go take a shower and the wheel would still be spinning. I tried several websites on fixing it to no avail. Your Lingon fix was the only one that sped it up considerably. It's not 100% back to "normal", but it's a heck of a lot better than it was with any other advice. I don't know how/why the other guys system would become inoperable. If it didn't work, you simply could go back and reverse the code to what it was. Thank you for Lingon. I'm 3/4 of the way back.

  9. Stan Beckt

    December 5, 2009 at 7:56 pm

    I did this on SNow Lepaord, and it ruined my computer.. I was not able to boot into, I then put my snow lepaord install cd, repaired disk, and did disk utility repair permissions. Nothing worked. Now I have to start from a backup from last month.. PLEASE NO ONE INSTALL THIS SOFTWARE! IT DOES NOT WORK… IF ANYONE KNOWS HOW TO CHANGE WHAT I DID, BEFORE HAND PLEASE LET ME KNOW.

  10. Taggart

    June 18, 2010 at 3:39 am

    SNOW LEOPARD 10.6 USERS – don't do this.

    I (like previous posters) modified the syslog startup information, which left my computer unable to boot past the gray apple screen. There were no other changes made… and no, I'm not computer illiterate (built several from scratch for family and friends). It would be helpful if the author posted a warning/aside in the original article now that multiple people have reported bricking their computers with this modification.

    I realize the OS doesnt need syslog to run, but there's something about these startup parameters that causes the boot sequence to hang.

  11. How To Revert Change

    June 18, 2010 at 6:45 am

    If you find yourself locked out of your computer, here are two relatively easy methods to revert the changes made by Lingon without visiting the Apple or reinstalling OS X.

    http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?p=1020

    • eve

      December 6, 2010 at 5:16 am

      dude, you safed my day.

  12. Bjornar Kibsgaard

    August 19, 2010 at 1:06 am

    Hi, this article may also help you solve slow mac performance issues: http://www.all-about-apple.com/slow-mac-performan

  13. Mac OS X: Lean on Lingon to launch scripts and applications | Cinema 4d Rocks

    September 23, 2010 at 5:51 am

    [...] inoperable! As an example of why you might want to do this, we recommend you see the article, “The Case of the Slow Mac (and how to fix it)” at Maciverse. If you think that your Mac is running a bit sluggish, or if you’re seeing the [...]

  14. DO NOT DO THIS!!!

    October 6, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    I'm having to spend a great deal of time trying to fix what I caused by trying this on my MacBook running OS X 10.6 This should be removed so idiots who don't read past the first line don't mess things up. Luckily there are solutions to the problem here.

  15. Does Not Work with 1

    October 22, 2010 at 2:02 am

    DANGER DANGER!!! This article should be removed, I tried this and it really jacked up my Macbook Pro on Snow Leapard 10.6.4. Froze up at the gray boot screen with spinning wheel. Had to do a LOT of research and boot up single user mode, change root, force out of read only mode, edit the changes the Lingon made. In the end and after several hours of major stress I'm back with a working Macbook. Thanks to those that followed up with a solution or my Mac would have been toast.

    • Dan

      October 22, 2010 at 5:04 am

      So, you missed that BOLD note at the start of the article that says 10.6 users have reported problems with this approach?

  16. Nuke61

    November 25, 2010 at 8:57 pm

    Uh, it says some reports of "increased troubles" when used with Snow Leopard. Meanwhile, it sounds like SL users should not use this program or changes under any circumstance.

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