Why perform a clean install?

My laptop is an Apple MacBook Pro. I bought it 6 years ago. It still works, but I get beach balls, even when typing in some text on a line. Everything was unbearably slow.

El Capitan 207x207I love to mess with technology, so I decided to install El Capitan, Apple’s latest operating system. Despite their claims that everything would work faster, it was still slow. So after a few days I started researching doing a clean install; that is, erase the drive and install the operating system, then start adding back only the data and apps that I deemed essential. A fresh start!

At one point I had only about 90 GB of storage left on a 500 GB hard disk. I cleaned out a lot of the data and backed it up in several places (see Backing up your data and apps below) After I moved most of the data, I still was using 250 GB of space.

Over 6 years you get a lot of files and stuff that don’t belong anymore. Some even cause problems – although you may not realize it. So after many new operating systems (5) overwriting the previous version, and countless app installations, I decided that a clean install would be worth a try.

Find our what happened below.

Helpful articles – Read these 1st

Each of the articles below has a different approach. I learned all the easiest methods and used them. I don’t like to use the Terminal, so I avoided that.


Katie Floyd’s article on Clean Install

NeuroGadget article

Backing up your data and apps

This the most important and time consuming part of the clean install process.

I transferred as much as possible to Dropbox. Please familiarize yourself thoroughly with Dropbox’s Selective Sync. I find it easier to put the folders in my local DB folder and when it has synced, I de-select the Selective Sync for that folder and the data is erased from my local disk, yet is kept on DB cloud.

Other methods are described in the resources above. Please read them all and select the methods that work best for you. Carbon Copy Cloner, an external drive, Dropbox Pro, and Time Machine (Time Capsule) work well. Don’t rely on any single one of them though.

Copy a list of your apps: Do this by opening Applications folder. Select All. Now all app folders are selected. Copy them to your clipboard (Edit Copy or Cmd C). Open a text editor such as TextEdit. Place your cursor in a blank document. Go to the TextEdit Edit menu. Choose Paste and Match Style. Your list is now copied to the document. Save this document somewhere other than on your local hard drive. I put mine in Evernote. Then I selected the whole list, and clicked the Checkmark icon. The whole list is now a checklist in an Evernote note. When you start reinstalling them, check off the ones you have completed. This makes a good record of what was installed and what was re-installed.

Another step I took just before I said good bye to my existing setup was to go to my Finder, copy my desktop (all of the folders and files on my Desktop) and copy that to an external drive. Then, when I was presented with my blank desktop after the clean install, I copied all those files and folders to my new desktop, and voilà, the familiar desktop instantly appeared.

Don’t skimp on the Back-up step. It will pay off later – big time.

Creating a bootable disk

  1. Find a USB drive that is at least 8 GB
  2. You can erase it using Disk Utility (format it as OS X Extended (Journaled). If you don’t, when the install app is installed on the thumb drive, it will get formatted anyway.
  3. I used Diskmaker X 5. Very simple, dedicated app for the sole purpose of making a bootable drive for OS X.
  4. Follow the instructions in MacSales Blog article below.

MacSales Blog article

Diskmaker X 5

Installing the new OS

I referred to this article:

This was my experience and process:

  1. Put the bootable USB in the computer USB port
  2. Restart your computer
  3. When you hear the boot chime, press the Option key. Keep holding it down until you see a boot loader menu appear
  4. You’ll see all the drives, including the USB drive. Choose the USB drive that says “Install OS X El Capitan”
  5. The Apple logo appears. The installation app is installing. This will take a few minutes. Watch the progress bar.
  6. The screen flashed briefly and the progress bar started again from the beginning, then quickly went to the OS X Utility window.
  7. Choose Disk Utility.
  8. Choose Erase.
  9. Choose OS X Extended (Journaled)
  10. The disk erased very quickly.
  11. “X” out of Disk Utility.
  12. Choose “Install OS X”. Press Continue.
  13. Follow the installation instructions.
  14. It took ~30 minutes to install.
  15. Sign in with your Apple ID.
  16. Start re-installing files and apps.

The results

It’s been 3 days now since the clean install. I have most of my essential apps back. The hard drive is showing 60 GB of used storage. Beach balls are about as common as they are in Alaska. It is like a new machine. I actually enjoy working on it again. In fact I’m writing this right now on my laptop using an open source app called MacDown (Markdown text editor).

Additional tips

  1. Get a password manager. I recommend 1Password. Make sure that you have the licenses, User names, and passwords of all your apps. Absolutely invaluable. I couldn’t do this without it.
  2. I use Crashplan to backup to the cloud – on all my computers. Works behind the scene. Get a Family Plan and backup all your devices. Unlimited data.
  3. I also use Apple’s Time Machine.
  4. And as I mentioned earlier, Dropbox. It isn’t a backup program, but it works that way anyway, as it syncs selected folders on your selected computers.

Now to decide if I’m going to clean install the rest of our old computers.

Hope you enjoyed this bit of tech recording. If you did, please leave a comment and tell us of your experiences.