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Deflated beach ball

October 18, 2010

A few months ago I had to give up using my Mac Mini as my primary personal computer. I couldn’t put my finger on when, but looking back I realized it had gotten slower and slower to use since the day of purchase, and while I could understand that having two users logged on all the time while running a few services could tax a 3GB system I wasn’t happy with it becoming completely unresponsive for several seconds – sometimes minutes (!) – from what I would consider normal usage.

Some call it beach ball hell – I statement I wholeheartedly agreed with.

Yesterday I stumbled upon the solution, and it was a whole lot cheaper than buying a new and improved model (since the old computer was constantly thrashing the hard drive I figured I needed more memory, something my 2007 model was already maxed out of) or replacing the built in hard drive with an SSD.

It turns out, as I’ve already mentioned before, that Apple’s reputation when it comes to software might not be as well deserved as I’d hoped when I made the switch. While researching something else I saw blog posts where people mentioned having seen Spotlight having a hard time indexing files that undergo frequent change, and that it while doing so seemed to consume an excessive amount of real and virtual memory. The proposed solution was simple – use the Spotlight Privacy setting to exclude the offending files/folders from indexing.

So I did, and my Mac Mini is now as happy as the day I bought it. There was no problem with dual users and several services functioning well on a 3GB system. The problem was with poorly written indexing software, and I find myself adding more and more parts of my system to the exclude list (external disks – check. app databases – check. logs – check. app preferences – check) and for each addition the virtual and real memory usage of the mds process drops.

Come to think of it, the only thing I ever use Spotlight for is as an easy way to launch applications. I feel an include list instead of an exclude list would be better usability, something Apple is claimed to be good at. The default behaviour – indexing everything – seems to be the reason why the search phrase mds process returns a long list of experiences similar to mine.

Maybe more posts like this can shorten that list. So far it doesn’t seem Apple has come to the rescue.

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