MacBook Pro 8GB RAM Upgrade & Review
Last week I posted a deal to get an 8GB RAM upgrade kit, the price was too good to resist and I went ahead and bought the upgrade myself. Here’s my review and impressions on upgrading a Mac to 8GB of RAM. If you have ADHD and don’t want to read everything below, here’s the Readers Digest version: buy an 8GB upgrade, it rocks.
The RAM I got was the Kingston Apple 8GB Upgrade Kit, it works on most new Macs, all the new MacBook Pro’s, Mac Mini, iMac, and MacBook. I imagine all those machines would see the same performance increase as I did. Anyway, I put the 8GB upgrade in my base model unibody 2010 MacBook Pro 13″ with a 2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo CPU, which otherwise comes standard with 4GB of RAM.
Installation is so easy it’s barely worth mentioning, upgrading RAM in the MacBook Pro is a matter of undoing a few screws on the bottom of the Mac, lifting off the aluminum case, removing the old RAM, and popping in the new memory. From start to finish it takes maybe 10 minutes at most.
So now I’ll try to answer some common questions about having a Mac with 8GB of RAM:
Is the MacBook Pro faster with 8GB RAM?
Yes, it is noticeably faster especially under heavy app usage and system load. Why? RAM is fast and virtual memory is slow, with 8GB of RAM the threshold to hit swap is significantly higher. This is what I see now in Activity Monitor:
As you can see, there are no “Page outs” (the movement of data from RAM to hard disk). I have a ton of apps open right now and I’m not even close to hitting virtual memory (you can read more about virtual memory in Mac OS X here). Anytime you can avoid using virtual memory your Mac will perform faster since it does not need to access memory contents from the slow spinning hard drive, remember the default HD speed in a MacBook Pro is a rather slow 5400 RPM, the speed of RAM blows this away.
8GB vs 4GB on the MacBook Pro
4GB of RAM is a good amount but 8GB is better. On a daily basis I frequently have the following apps open all at once: Photoshop, iTunes, Preview, Terminal, Transmit, Transmission, Text Wrangler, iChat, and here’s the real RAM hog: Safari, Chrome, Firefox, when you have three web browsers open at once with a ton of tabs open, your system will often slow to a crawl (web developers in particular can relate here). If you throw in a virtual machine, you’ve long hit the point of painful slowdowns. The reason for the slowdown I mentioned earlier, when Mac OS X is forced to start swapping data from physical memory to the 5400 RPM hard drive you feel the drag.
With 8GB I am doing the same work now that I was earlier today, but earlier today I was using 1.5GB of swap and now there is none being used, the difference is remarkable – no more beach balls and halts. The MacBook Pro simply performs better with 8GB of RAM.
Is upgrading the MacBook Pro to 8GB of RAM worth it?
Yes, particularly if you’re a power user. The price of an 8GB upgrade is cheap enough now that the gain in system performance is worth it. If you use a ton of applications at once, you will notice the difference. If you find yourself grinding around in virtual memory on a semi-regular basis, you will be thrilled with the speed increase. The average computer user probably doesn’t need 8GB of RAM, but any power user or tech worker will greatly enjoy the additional memory. Reading a few system indicators, you can find out if your Mac needs a RAM upgrade if you aren’t sure that it would benefit you.
I think the only problem with upgrading to 8GB of RAM is that now I want to relieve the other performance bottle-neck, the stock 5400 RPM hard disk. I think if you really want to squeeze the most performance, maxing out the RAM and then upgrading the MacBook Pro hard drive is probably the ultimate combination. I definitely have my eye on the Seagate Momentus XT 500 SSD Hybrid Drive now, which combines a 7200 RPM standard disk with a smaller SSD drive for active files and caching, apparently the performance is absolutely blazing for the price (about $130).
Where to Buy an 8GB Upgrade for MacBook Pro
You can save a lot of money by not buying RAM directly from Apple, so go with a third party vendor instead. Yes that means you’ll have to install it yourself, but if you can use a screw driver, you can install RAM.
Here is the link to the 8GB kit I bought from Buy.com, the price seems to fluctuate but it’s worth checking out (I got mine for a crazy low $119.95 with free shipping):
8GB (2×4GB) Kingston Apple Kit for $119.95 with free shipping at Buy.com
The exact same Kingston 8GB kit is for sale on Amazon.com, the price seems to fluctuate as well (right now around $135, still very cheap):
8GB (2×4GB) Kingston Apple Kit from Amazon.com
While this review is specifically about the Kingston 8GB kit, I’ve used other brands in the past and as long as you get RAM from a quality vendor you should be fine. The Kingston kit from Amazon seems to compete in price closely with this Crucial upgrade too:
Crucial 8GB Upgrade Kit (4GBx2) from Amazon
Other than the occasional great deals on Buy.com, I’d buy RAM from Amazon since it’s so easy to compare different brands and their prices seem to be the most competitive on a consistent basis. Just be sure you get the right module for your Mac.
I think the bottom line is this; Mac OS X likes to use RAM, the more you give it, the better it performs under stress. 8GB of RAM is probably one of the most cost effective upgrades for a MacBook Pro that you can get.