iTunes and Large Libraries: Still Slow, Slow, Slow

I have a lot of music: my iTunes library currently contains about 40,000 tracks. I buy a lot of CDs, buy music from the iTunes Store, listen to audiobooks, and download podcasts. This library increases in size as I rip more music, and it has gotten to the point where performance is very, very poor.

I have a Mac Pro (with four cores) that has 4 GB RAM and plenty of hard disk space, so I’m clearly near the high end of potential performance. But as iTunes has progressed, it has not improved its performance; whenever I make any changes in my library (change tags, add tracks, download podcasts), it takes about 5 seconds for the program to become responsive. I get a spinning beach-ball and the program simply pauses (though, to be fair, in most cases it continues playing music if I’m listening to something with iTunes).

I first saw performance problems when ripping CDs, a bit more than a year ago when I bought my Mac Pro. I had hoped it would be faster than my previous computer, a G5 iMac, but it was only marginally more rapid. So I bought a second optical drive: a 52x CD-only drive (the Mac Pro has a superdrive which reads CDs slower than that). This improved ripping speeds a bit, but I finally got fast rips when I created a second iTunes library just for ripping – this proves that the problem is the library size, not the program itself, my optical drive, or my Mac. I can get up to 40x rips now, at the ends of CDs, compared to a max of around 22x with the superdrive.

My iTunes Library file is large: 68 MB. My guess is that iTunes, when working with a file this size, has to write the file anew each time there is a change, and that this is what slows down the program. I see 5-second delays when I simply download a podcast (at the end of the download, when, I assume, the file’s information is written to the library file), or when I uncheck tracks from smart playlists that contain only checked tracks. Any operation that leads to changes in the library file seem to cause the program to hang for five seconds.

I don’t see any solution, other than Apple improving the performance of iTunes and its library files. As people use iTunes more, they are likely to increase the number of tracks they have, and their performance will degrade, so more users will be seeing these problems, especially with slower computers.

At each release of an iTunes update, I hope that Apple will resolve this problem. Alas, after yet another update today (7.7.1) it seems to be even worse when ripping CDs.

UPDATE: When Apple release iTunes 8, responsiveness improved greatly, but there are still lags when tagging files and when importing. It is better, but it’s still far from perfect.

238 thoughts on “iTunes and Large Libraries: Still Slow, Slow, Slow

  1. All,

    I have a MacPro (2009) 3.32 Quad Core 8 GM. I have approximately 800 movies and about 7000 songs. With every iTunes update I get slower responses when accessing a movie, video or song. Long time to load and occasional pauses. Pre Yosemite everything worked fine. I’m not sure the cause but it sure seems coincidental that with every update the performance gets worse. Maybe iTunes was not suppose to handle large library sizes. I’m hoping for improvements soon or I need to think about other options.

  2. All,

    I have a MacPro (2009) 3.32 Quad Core 8 GM. I have approximately 800 movies and about 7000 songs. With every iTunes update I get slower responses when accessing a movie, video or song. Long time to load and occasional pauses. Pre Yosemite everything worked fine. I’m not sure the cause but it sure seems coincidental that with every update the performance gets worse. Maybe iTunes was not suppose to handle large library sizes. I’m hoping for improvements soon or I need to think about other options.

  3. I used iTunes to manage my digital movie library so it can be used by the AppleTV, I have now purchased Roku 3 and use Plex for serving all media. It got to the point with iTunes that adding a movie to a Playlist could take 5 minutes, granted I have 4300 movies but I thought the idea was for Apple iTunes to be the media hub. Plex handles the Movies and 38000 songs I have without a pause. Come on Apple, get with it.

  4. I used iTunes to manage my digital movie library so it can be used by the AppleTV, I have now purchased Roku 3 and use Plex for serving all media. It got to the point with iTunes that adding a movie to a Playlist could take 5 minutes, granted I have 4300 movies but I thought the idea was for Apple iTunes to be the media hub. Plex handles the Movies and 38000 songs I have without a pause. Come on Apple, get with it.

  5. Question, sorry if its already been answered above. Very large iTunes Library (7TB) on a Promise Thunderbolt external storage array, used mainly with Apple Tv’s (4). Mac-mini model (Mid 2011 model, maxed out Ram-Put in SSD), going to replace mini with Mac Pro. Should I go for processor cores or speed for best performance with iTunes? The single main purpose of this computer is iTunes, will iTunes utilize the extra cores?

    • iTunes doesn’t seem to take advantage of multiple cores, except when ripping or converting music. It’s not the file size that slows iTunes down, but the number of tracks and playlists (especially smart playlists) in the library. You may have 7TB of very large video files, but that would only be a few thousand files. The best way to make iTunes faster is to cull the library, and especially reduce the number of smart playlists you have.

      • Specifics on my Library are:
        Music 67.69 GB
        Movies 3.1 TB
        TV Shows 3.97 TB
        iTunes Library File 20.8 MB
        After reading lots of suggestions and trying a few different things, I realized I had only moved the actual media files to the Promise thunderbolt storage array. When I moved the database files off the internal SSD to the array as well, iTunes got a performance boost. The mac mini is connected to an Apple Thunderbolt Display running at native resolution. Dropping the resolution seems to help the ‘freezing’ when scrolling through the library even more. Switching to list view makes the issue completely go away now, which leads me to think my problem is the video processing power of the mac mini. Maybe a newer iMac with a beefier video card (and faster CPU) would be the best solution for me? If the issue is more related to the graphics capability on the mac mini, not the number of files and size of the library… For 4 years the mac mini has served us well, might be time to relinquish it of its iTunes duties but I’m sure we can find it a new job!

  6. Question, sorry if its already been answered above. Very large iTunes Library (7TB) on a Promise Thunderbolt external storage array, used mainly with Apple Tv’s (4). Mac-mini model (Mid 2011 model, maxed out Ram-Put in SSD), going to replace mini with Mac Pro. Should I go for processor cores or speed for best performance with iTunes? The single main purpose of this computer is iTunes, will iTunes utilize the extra cores?

    • iTunes doesn’t seem to take advantage of multiple cores, except when ripping or converting music. It’s not the file size that slows iTunes down, but the number of tracks and playlists (especially smart playlists) in the library. You may have 7TB of very large video files, but that would only be a few thousand files. The best way to make iTunes faster is to cull the library, and especially reduce the number of smart playlists you have.

      • Specifics on my Library are:
        Music 67.69 GB
        Movies 3.1 TB
        TV Shows 3.97 TB
        iTunes Library File 20.8 MB
        After reading lots of suggestions and trying a few different things, I realized I had only moved the actual media files to the Promise thunderbolt storage array. When I moved the database files off the internal SSD to the array as well, iTunes got a performance boost. The mac mini is connected to an Apple Thunderbolt Display running at native resolution. Dropping the resolution seems to help the ‘freezing’ when scrolling through the library even more. Switching to list view makes the issue completely go away now, which leads me to think my problem is the video processing power of the mac mini. Maybe a newer iMac with a beefier video card (and faster CPU) would be the best solution for me? If the issue is more related to the graphics capability on the mac mini, not the number of files and size of the library… For 4 years the mac mini has served us well, might be time to relinquish it of its iTunes duties but I’m sure we can find it a new job!

  7. I know this is a very old thread. But IMPORTING a single CD into an iTunes large library takes forever. I stopped a CD just now at the 45 minute point as I got frustrated. It was almost done.
    iTunes 12.1.2.27
    Yosemite Latest
    Trashcan Mac Pro, 32 GB RAM, 1TB SSD

    I just don’t get what is going on during the IMPORT process that slows iTunes down. If the library were empty it would import quickly. This makes no sense to me.

    Is there an alternative to iTunes on OS X that can handle a large library of tens of thousands of tracks?

    Steve

    • Not that I know of. I doubt that the import issue is caused by the library. I assume you tried with other CDs; did you have the same problem? Do you have another computer to try ripping that CD with? Have you tried creating a new iTunes library, and ripping the CD to that? Feel free to email me directly with any questions about this.

      • Yes. Empty library it rips fast. I think you initially recommended I do that. I’d rip a bunch of CDs to empty library then switch back to full library and “Add to Library”. I normally rip from 3 Windows machines but this 10CD Boulez domain musical box set had sketchy info in the 4 library sources in contains so I used iTunes as the gracenote db is great.

        • Right, so it clearly is the library size. No suggestions. However, rather than Add to Library, you could just drop the files in the Automatically Add to iTunes folder for the main library; when you launch that library, iTunes will import them.

  8. I know this is a very old thread. But IMPORTING a single CD into an iTunes large library takes forever. I stopped a CD just now at the 45 minute point as I got frustrated. It was almost done.
    iTunes 12.1.2.27
    Yosemite Latest
    Trashcan Mac Pro, 32 GB RAM, 1TB SSD

    I just don’t get what is going on during the IMPORT process that slows iTunes down. If the library were empty it would import quickly. This makes no sense to me.

    Is there an alternative to iTunes on OS X that can handle a large library of tens of thousands of tracks?

    Steve

    • Not that I know of. I doubt that the import issue is caused by the library. I assume you tried with other CDs; did you have the same problem? Do you have another computer to try ripping that CD with? Have you tried creating a new iTunes library, and ripping the CD to that? Feel free to email me directly with any questions about this.

      • Yes. Empty library it rips fast. I think you initially recommended I do that. I’d rip a bunch of CDs to empty library then switch back to full library and “Add to Library”. I normally rip from 3 Windows machines but this 10CD Boulez domain musical box set had sketchy info in the 4 library sources in contains so I used iTunes as the gracenote db is great.

        • Right, so it clearly is the library size. No suggestions. However, rather than Add to Library, you could just drop the files in the Automatically Add to iTunes folder for the main library; when you launch that library, iTunes will import them.

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