Desktop items in OSX - Do they really slow system down ?

Posted on 2006-04-21
Last Modified: 2010-04-29
Desktop items in OSX - Do they really slow system down ? Is that how it used to be and it isn't anymore?

We have many employees creating folders on their desktop and in those folders on average contain about 300-700 megs of files. They're basically "project files" for graphics jobs we do. Will the system run faster if they work off of the hard drive root?

Please only answer this question if you truly know the answer.

Question by:topspeedweb
    LVL 53

    Accepted Solution

    It makes absolutely no difference whether you run a file from the desktop or the root of the hard drive. The "desktop" is in fact just a folder in your hard drive.

    At one time it was thought that having many items on your desktop slowed your computer down, but this was only because of the time it took to redraw the screen when you moved a window if the desktop was full of icons. Modern computers' graphic capabilities are now so fast that this is no longer a consideration.
    LVL 6

    Assisted Solution

    G'day TopSpeedWeb,

    I have found that the more icons (folders or files) that I have on my desktop does reduce the performance on the redraw of the desktop. So things like your Dock and window refresh rate will drop.          It seems that the Desktop needs to keep track of every icon on your desktop, on where the icon is placed, size (icon size) and any other custom information you might have on that icon (data size), and all this information is saved onto a single file. Your preference file (XML) which gets queried constantly on stats of files.

    Also keep in mind that if you stick all these files into one folder anywhere in the system, when you double click that folder, (depending on how many files it has) the first thing the OS does is cache in the file listings. So if you have half a million files in one folder, you will be seeing the colorful spinning wheel.

    I would strongly suggest designing a good folder structure for all your files and folders to fragment all those files.  Creating a workflow environment.
    You can also create Hot folders with apple scripts attached to them, to manage automatically all those files as they get dumped in.

    Hope this helps,

    LVL 6

    Assisted Solution

    NOTE:  according to MacWorld (, each icon on the desktop is treated as a unique Finder window. And the more windows you have running, the more affect on performance. So, just reduce the number of actual icons would be best. If your people are using folders, that's a good start, so maybe categories of folders, with subfolders for organization would be best (e.g ~/Desktop/ActiveJobs/Coke/, ~Desktop/ActiveJobs/WalMart, etc.)
    LVL 5

    Assisted Solution

    Bear in mind that all of those differences are pretty marginal - for a modern system, you won't notice a difference.  As long as you aren't RAM-starved, you shouldn't even notice it.

    I wouldn't worry about it.
    LVL 4

    Assisted Solution

    The number of items you have on your desktop will not affect searching performance. If you decide to move everything to the root, it will affect searching performance. Search starts at root and follows the structure down to find your items. If you have tons of crap in the root, it will have to search through all of that before reaching your home folder. It may slow your system down, but probably not.
    LVL 5

    Expert Comment

    I think the OP wants to know about overall system performance.

    Plus, with the advent of Tiger and Spotlight, aren't searches done from a database file anyway?

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