Slow G5 Quad with only 512 MB of RAM: The culprit is LaunchBar

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
August 29th, 2006 • 1:41 pm

Yesterday, I wrote a follow-up to my initial post regarding my problems with freezes and kernel panics on my G5 Quad and the pain of having to run Mac OS X 10.4.7 on the G5 Quad with only the stock 512 MB of RAM, in order to determine whether I have one or more faulty RAM modules.

While last week I described the experience of trying to use Mac OS X 10.4.7 on the G5 Quad with only 512 MB of RAM as nearly unbearable, yesterday I explain that I was able to determine that the experience was much more bearable with the elimination of some third-party background utilities.

I also indicated that I would try to add these utilities back one by one, in the hope of possibly identifying one specific utility as the major culprit.

Well, over the past 24 hours I have had the opportunity to do just that, and I have indeed been able to identify a single culprit. And that culprit is LaunchBar.

The other utilities that I normally have running on my G5 Quad—Default Folder X, DragThing, and Butler—each contribute to the increased hard drive activity and overall sluggishness of the system running with only 512 MB of RAM. But it is most definitely LaunchBar that makes the experience go from sluggish to downright unbearable.

Now, it is quite probable that this is due in no small part to my particular LaunchBar configuration. Since I normally have a fast machine (a G5 Quad) with lots of RAM (4.5 GB), I have never been particularly careful about optimizing my LaunchBar configuration for performance. I have numerous items in my configuration that LaunchBar scans on a regular basis, and several of them are set to be scanned “automatically” by LaunchBar, which presumably means “every time there is a change.” This probably means that LaunchBar does a lot of indexing in the background. With 4.5 GB of RAM, I have never noticed any responsiveness problems. But with only 512 MB of RAM, LaunchBar—and consequently the entire system—in its current configuration becomes unusable.

If LaunchBar was absolutely vital to my daily work, I would probably spend some time trying to adjust the configuration so that the utility does not cause constant hard drive activity and the whole system remains sluggish, but usable. But honestly I don’t really have time for this. I am just going to leave LaunchBar off for a few days and use the rest of my system without it.

Don’t get me wrong: I love LaunchBar and I will definitely miss the convenient, user-centric approaches that it adds to my daily computing experience. But I can survive without it. If that’s what it takes to identify the real culprit in my system freezes and kernel panics (probably one or two faulty RAM modules), then so be it.

But I have to say that, without LaunchBar, the rest of the system is much more usable than I initially thought it would be. It’s definitely sluggish compared to the normal experience with 4.5 GB of RAM, but it’s not orders of magnitude slower, and it’s not nearly unusable as it was when I had LaunchBar running.

3 Responses to “Slow G5 Quad with only 512 MB of RAM: The culprit is LaunchBar”

  1. ssp says:

    Ah, sorry, I meant to add that to my previous comment: I would have suspected LaunchBar to be the (or at least a) culprit there. Even with a lot of memory (2GB for me) I find that in certain low-memory situations LaunchBar can be unresponsive for short periods of time. Which I’ve always assumed to be due to its memory usage and swapping.

    While LaunchBar’s memory usage seems to be quite high for an unobtrusive utility (around 70MB of _physical_ memory here), I’ve always been curious about why exactly the problems become so apparent with LaunchBar.

  2. Arden says:

    You should give Quicksilver a whirl. It’s got plenty of features (that you don’t have to use if you don’t want), plus it launches apps like a charm. It also uses a relatively small memory footprint; I’ve had it running since I last logged in, and it’s using less than 27 MB of physical memory.

  3. Pierre Igot says:

    Arden: The problem is that the last couple of times I tried Quicksilver, it didn’t go very well and the application seemed to choke while trying to index my hundreds of thousands of files. I might try it again in the future, but right now I am focusing on trying to fix my RAM problem, and I can live without any kind of application launcher for a few days :).

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