Is your Mac slowing down? Do you spend more and more time waiting for applications to do what you want? If so, there is a very good chance that you have high memory usage and need a Mac RAM upgrade.
What is RAM?
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RAM stands for Random Access Memory. This memory is temporary and used by the CPU to hold information that processes are actively using on your system. Your Mac slows down when it experiences high memory usage, in other words, when the running applications demand more RAM than your Mac is able to provide. The more RAM available, the better your Mac is able to execute on the tasks that are being thrown at it.
The obvious solution would be to increase Mac RAM, but before we show you how to do that, let’s make sure that your lack of RAM is actually the cause of your Mac slowdown.
Note: Not all devices are able to upgrade RAM, like the Macbook Air and the 2014 edition of the Mac Mini.
How to manually check Mac RAM
Checking your RAM is dependent on the version of OS X that you have installed. You should check your Mac RAM after you have been using your Mac for a bit of time. When you are in the middle of normal daily tasks, follow these steps.
El Capitan OS X
- Open Spotlight Search.
- Type in ”Activity Monitor”.
- Click on the “Memory” tab on the top of the window.
Memory Pressure is the graph you need to study.
If there is mostly green, your system RAM is currently fine. If there is a lot of yellow, the jury is still out. If there is a lot of red, your memory is under strain and your Mac has a high memory usage.
Older OS X versions like Leopard and Lion
For older versions of Mac OS X the steps are the same but the System Memory tab looks a bit different. You’ll want to look for Free and Page Outs.
Free – This is how much free RAM your Mac currently has. If you’ve got a bunch of applications open and there is still a good number of free RAM, then your Mac may have enough memory.
Page Outs – This number tells you how often your Mac has run out of RAM and needed to use the slower hard disk instead. A high number here is very bad and a sure sign that your Mac doesn’t have enough RAM.
Use a Mac memory analysis tool
Another alternative, which will work easily on all versions of Mac OS X, is to use a 3rd party tool to check your RAM usage. We highly recommend CleanMyMac X, which will not only clean and speed up your Mac, it also has a RAM monitoring tool called Menu App.
Simply click on the Memory Monitor tab for a clear overview of your Mac’s memory usage. The tool will also enable you to free up memory by closing down unnecessary applications, which will become really helpful when your system is slowing to a crawl.
CleanMyMac X is a free download so try it out and get to the bottom of your high memory usage problem.
Note: With all above solutions we recommend checking the results on a regular basis until you are certain that your Mac needs a RAM upgrade.
How to upgrade your Mac RAM
If you have reached the conclusion that you need more memory, we are going to show you exactly how to increase your Mac RAM. Don’t worry if you’ve never done it before, as this guide will help you every step of the way.
The first steps are to gain knowledge about your system. This will help ensure that the RAM that you get will be compatible with your system.
Step 1 – What kind of Mac do you have?
Whether you have an iMac, a Macbook Pro, or any other kind of Mac, there is a lot more information to be found out in order to identify your exact system. To get these details, follow these easy steps:
- Click on the Apple icon.
- Select “About this Mac”.
- View your system information.
Step 2 – Do I have space for more RAM in my Mac?
This may not be what you want to hear but it’s possible that you can’t add more RAM to your Mac, even if you wanted to. Let’s look under the hood and see what your RAM situation is like.
- Following on from Step 1, click on “More Info” on the “About this Mac” window.
- The complicated looking System Profiler will launch. Click on “Memory” in the left column.
On the right you will see exact details of your RAM modules or sticks. The “banks” are the slots that the RAM is inserted into. If you have an empty bank or two, you’re in luck, upgrading your Mac RAM just got that much easier.
Step 3 – Check how much RAM your Mac can take
Now let’s really make sure you can upgrade your RAM. Head over to Technical Specifications on Apple Support, find your exact Mac model. Once you find your Mac, click it to reveal a ton of information. What you’re looking for is the information, which will tell you how much RAM your system can work with. Compare it to your Mac’s current RAM (from Step 2) and now you know if you can upgrade your RAM or if you are stuck with what you have.
If you can’t upgrade your Mac RAM, download CleanMyMac X and use all of the cleaning tools to boost your Mac performance. You should also take a look at the performance improving solutions found in How To Fix Mac Running Slow.
Step 4 – Purchasing RAM for your Mac
In Step 3 you navigated to your Mac model and discovered what memory your system could potentially add. Now it's only a matter of choosing your new RAM and we recommend to start with this source. If you're located outside of the US, Google will probably tell you which stores sell RAM nearby.
Step 5 – Installing RAM into your Mac
Adding your new RAM into your Mac is not as hard as it sounds. This is definitely an upgrade that you can perform yourself, as long as you have a screwdriver on hand. The only tricky thing is to know exactly where the RAM is, and that it varies between types of Macs.
Below are handy tutorials to install new memory on your specific type of Mac.
How to upgrade RAM on an iMac
- Shut down your iMac and unplug everything.
- Place iMac face down, ensuring the screen is protected from anything that could scratch it.
- Unscrew, counterclockwise, the RAM panel in the centre until it pops out.
- Expose ribbon tab over RAM and pull on it to release RAM module.
- Use your fingers to remove the RAM entirely.
- Line up the new RAM with the now empty slot and push it in until it clicks into place.
- Screw the RAM panel cover back on.
- Re-connect everything, turn your iMac back on and go to About This Mac to confirm new RAM installed.
How to upgrade RAM on a Macbook Pro
- Turn your Macbook off.
- Turn your Macbook upside down and pop the latch on the back to remove the plate.
- Use tiny phillips head screwdriver to unscrew the larger back plate.
- Note - one screw will be a lot smaller than the others. Remember where it goes.
- Touch metal to ground yourself before touching the RAM.
- The RAM is to the left or right of centre. Pull apart the latches on each side of it and the RAM will pop up.
- Slide the RAM out.
- Slide the new RAM into the slot and push it down till it clicks into place.
- Put the large backplate back on and screw it into place.
- Screw the smaller backplate back into place.
- Turn your Macbook on and and go to About This Mac to confirm new RAM installed.
How to upgrade RAM on a Mac Mini
Due to the form factor of the Mac Mini, it is one of the more challenging devices to upgrade. We recommend getting help from professionals or someone that has experience upgrading Mac Mini RAM.
The final word on Mac RAM upgrades
In this guide we showed you how to identify high memory usage on your Mac using OS X and the ever-useful CleanMyMac X. We then outlined the steps to determine what RAM your Mac has installed, whether it can be upgraded, how to purchase new memory for your Mac and finally how to install your new RAM into your Mac.
Once your new RAM is installed, depending on how much you were able to add, you should see a considerable boost to your Mac performance.
You will also gain a boost to your social status, as now you can confidently boast, “I know how to upgrade my Mac memory”.
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“No matter what I do, my Mac is still slow”, an average tech-consultant hears this phrase multiple times a day. Give a person even the most powerful computer, and pretty soon it will be cluttered with apps, extensions, and things that are too much for it to handle. To reverse it, one has to go back and сlean up the mess, removing memory agents one by one. Prepare for a fight — every byte of memory is at stake. So let’s put your Mac on a diet and get it more free RAM to breathe freely.
First, remove desktop clutter. Get a combination of Setapp apps that clear away unneeded desktop files.Download Declutter Free
“Your system has run out of application memory”
How do you know your Mac is low on memory? Floating “rainbow wheels” aside, you may notice your Mac now takes ages to load. You’ll also see many browser applications crashing. You’ll be also thrown warning messages as “Your system has run out of application memory”. To help it, you should first visit the Activity monitor to see memory usage on Mac.
How to check RAM usage on Mac
Go to Applications and type in Activity Monitor in the search bar. This invokes a good old Activity Monitor that should tell how much free memory you’ve got left.
A shortcut to open Activity Monitor:
Memory For A G4 Mac Pro
Press F4 and start typing Activity Monitor in the search bar.
I’ve attached a screenshot from my Mac and as you can see my memory usage almost reached full capacity. Here’s what it all means:
App memory: taken by apps and processes
Wired memory: reserved by apps, can’t be freed up
Compressed: inactive, can be used by other apps
Swap used: memory used by macOS
Cached files: memory you can really use
Notice the colored graph under Memory Pressure. If your graph is all but red and yellow, your Mac is really gasping for fresh memory. It seems counter-intuitive, but “available memory” your Activity Monitor is not that important after all. In fact, it’s a system intended behavior to use all memory resources when available. On the contrary, the Memory Pressure graph is much more telling, so grow a habit to check this graph in the Activity Monitor every now and then.
How to check CPU usage on Mac
Open the CPU tab in Activity Monitor to keep in check CPU-heavy processes. Normally an app would be using 0-4% of CPU. If it takes abnormally more than that, go inside that particular item in the list and press the Quit button.
How to free up memory on Mac
Tip # 1. Remove Login Items to lower Mac memory usage
Login items are programs that load automatically upon Mac startup. Some of them covertly add themselves to the list and this is no good. If you’re looking to free up RAM, they are the first candidates for deletion. Don’t worry, you’re not deleting the app itself, you just stop it from auto-launching every time.
So, to remove Login Items and at the same time reduce your memory usage of your Mac, you need to:
- Open System Preferences and select Users & Groups.
- Click your nickname on the left.
- Select the Login Items tab.
- Check programs you don’t want to load as your Mac starts.
- Press the “–” sign below.
Now, you won’t see these apps pop up the moment you turn on your Mac. Although this method doesn’t require some superpowers of yours, some special Mac optimization and memory cleaner tools may do the job faster and ensure the smooth performance of your Mac. CleanMyMac X is an excellent example of such software. Here’s how to disable Login Items with CleanMyMac X:
- Download it for free and go to the Optimization tab.
- Check Login Items to see the list of apps that get opened when you start your Mac.
- Click Remove.
As you’ve already come to the Optimization module of CleanMyMac, you can also fix hung apps and heavy memory consumers there. In this way, you’ll free up the solid amount of RAM on Mac — 100% free of charge.
Tip # 2. Free up disk space if Mac is low on memory
The available space on your Mac’s drive translates into virtual memory. This comes to save you when you’ve run out of physical RAM. So now your computer relies on your hard drive space to keep your apps going.
The classic geek rule of thumb holds it that you should keep at least 20% of disk space on your startup drive. Not only this potentially reduces your future spending on iCloud storage but it also keeps your Mac speedier.
What to delete to free up space:
- Large unused files, like movies
- Old downloads
- Rarely used applications
- System junk
But here’s a simpler solution to save your time — clean up your drive with CleanMyMac X— the app I’ve mentioned above. Many users recommend it as an excellent way to free up more space because it searches for large & old files, useless system files, Photo junk, mail attachments and shows everything you can safely delete. Interestingly, it finds about 74 GB of junk on an average computer.
Extra trick: How to free up RAM on Mac with CleanMyMac X
If you have downloaded CleanMyMac, you may also take advantage of its amazing feature — the ability to free up RAM in a few seconds. Try this next time you see “Your system has run out of application memory” message.
- Go to the Maintenance tab on the left.
- Click Free Up RAM.
- Click Run.
As simple as that!
And you can do it even if you download a free version of the app.
Tip # 3. Clean up your Desktop
This tip always comes at the bottom of instructions and unfairly so as it is quite effective. Without even looking at your Desktop I would assume it’s cluttered with mountains of icons. Thing is, your macOS was designed in a way that it treats every Desktop icon as a little active window. The more icons, the heavier memory usage on Mac. So in order to release available memory resources, it’s recommended to keep your Desktop clean.
You don’t have to do it all by yourself. With apps like Declutter and Spotless, every desktop cleaning session will be scheduled in advance and executed automatically. Your only job is to define the rules on how your files should be organized.
Tip #4. Clear cache files
Another way to free up RAM on Mac is to clear it of cache files. Of course, it won’t save you gigabytes of space, but deleting cache regularly, you can help your Mac run faster and avoid system issues.
So, to remove cache files on your Mac, you need to:
- Open Finder.
- From the Go menu, select Go to Folder.
- Type ~/Library/Caches in the field and press Go.
- In the window that appears, you will see all your cache files.
- Press Command+A to select all files or delete files one by one.
- Enter your user name and password to confirm.
If you find some files still in the folder after you emptied it, maybe you have some windows open on your Mac. Just like that, you can save up some space on your Mac. Don’t forget to empty the bin afterward.
Tip # 5. Tune up Chrome’s Task Manager
Although Google Chrome is not the one to blame for massive memory usage, it can indeed affect your Mac's performance. If you use Chrome as your primary browser, you probably have many windows opened there. Chrome runs a lot of processes to ensure a fast browsing experience for you. So, it uses your RAM for storing your tabs, plugins, and extensions. Look at how many entries Google Chrome has in Activity Monitor:
The question then arises, 'Why does Chrome use so much RAM?' The thing is that each process is responsible for a separate plugin or extension of your browser. For example, when a tab unexpectedly falls, you need to refresh it to continue your work there. If one process were responsible for all tabs and extensions, you would need to restart the whole browser instead. Can you imagine how many times would you do that? That’s the proper answer to why Chrome uses so much RAM.
Memory For A G4 Macbook
I’ve been using Chrome for some years only to discover (recently) that Chrome had a task manager of its own. You can use it to force quit memory-heavy processes in the browser. It’s a handy tool because it lets you see how a page weighs on CPU usage on a Mac.
Memory For A G4 Macbook Air
- Go to Chrome settings (dotted icon in the top right corner)
- Click More tools -> Task Manager
To free up even more RAM, close the GPU process. The GPU Process, though helpful in theory to accelerate pages, eats up a considerable amount of memory. Click to end it to free up RAM on your Mac.
Tip # 6. Manage RAM usage with CleanMyMac X menu
CleanMyMac X has another useful and convenient feature for managing your Mac’s performance and memory usage. As you install CleanMyMac X and start it for the first time, it’s icon will appear in your menu bar. Click the icon to open the CleanMyMac X menu. Here you can find updates on the current condition of your Mac and perform quick tweaks to increase your Mac's speed. Whenever you feel like your Mac underperforms, open the CleanMyMac X menu to check how much RAM is available and free it up as well.
Tip # 7. Close Finder windows
Okay, suppose you’re still asking yourself, how do I clear RAM on my MacBook Pro/MacBook Air. The next trick is as magical (you’ll see for yourself) as it is time-saving. It’s no secret that each window in the Finder eats up RAM. But how many open windows are there? Some of them are collapsed or stacked in some blind spot on your screen. This Finder command merges all your windows into one. See how to do it:
Click on Finder > Window > Merge All Windows
Now you can manage Finder windows more effectively and free up memory on MacBook.
What else you can do to minimize memory usage on Mac
I’ve saved the easiest tips for the end, as long as these ones are self-explanatory.
- Replace AdBlock (very memory-demanding) with a lighter extension
- Keep fewer opened tabs in the browser
- Restart your Mac more often to free up RAM
- Close all hung-up print queues
That was my take on how to make your Mac a bit speedier to use. If you’re looking for more guidance, check simple ways to speed up your Mac.
Frequently Asked Questions
How to check application memory on Mac?
To check RAM usage on your Mac, go to Activity Monitor (Applications > Utilities). In the Memory tab, you will see all the active processes that are using your Mac’s RAM. At the end of the window, there is a Memory Used graph, which indicates how much application memory is used.
How to find out whether your Mac needs more RAM?
Your Mac may be using almost all its RAM, but you don’t need more if it’s using it efficiently. Open Activity Monitor and go to the Memory tab. The Memory Pressure graph shows the current condition of your RAM: green color means your Mac’s using RAM effectively, while yellow is a sign that some application or process is using too much of application memory. The red memory pressure signals that your Mac needs more RAM.
How to quickly free up RAM on your MacBook?
To free up RAM on your Mac, firstly, you should find out what app uses so much of your memory. The memory-heavy programs are listed in Activity Monitor, Memory tab. If there is an app you aren’t using at the moment, click it and press the “X” sign to quit it. This will, in turn, free some of the application memory