Does your Mac Need More Memory? How to Know if you Need a RAM Upgrade
Does your Mac need more memory? How can you tell? Often when a Mac needs more RAM things will start slowing down and you’ll suffer a noticeable performance hit. This can impact everything from the speed of the computer, to how long it takes to launch apps, to sluggishness when interacting with apps, and more. If you experience any of those types of issues, it could be RAM constraints, but rather than guess, let’s actually learn how to check memory usage.
Here’s a 3-step process of how I determine if a Mac user needs additional memory. Using this method you can determine if you need more memory for your Mac too, so let’s follow along.
How to Tell If a Mac Needs More RAM
What we’re going to do is use the Mac in question and then check on the active memory usage while it’s in use. This is a simple way to determine if a Mac would benefit from a RAM upgrade (most will!).
Step 1) Use your Mac – Go about the activities you typically perform on your Mac. If you use your Mac for a lot of Photoshop work, open several documents into Photoshop and tweak them as you normally would. If you are an avid web consumer, open up your favorite web browser(s) and load up as many websites into different tabs and windows that would represent your typical Macs usage. Just use your Mac as usual, and leave those programs running.
Step 2) Launch Activity Monitor and observe memory usage – now that you’ve been using your Mac, leave all the documents and applications open, you’ll want to look at what is basically your Mac Task Manager, known as Activity Monitor. Here’s how:
- Launch “Activity Monitor” located in /Applications/Utilities/
- Click on the “System Memory” tab near the bottom
Let’s investigate what Activity Monitor is telling us.
The Memory Pie Chart – First you’ll want to look at the pie chart. To make it simple, a lot of red and yellow indicates high amounts of RAM utilization, where as a lot of green and blue indicates plenty of free and inactive RAM is available for the operating system to use.
In the screenshot below you can see there is practically no green in the pie chart, and the red & yellow are taking up over 3/4 of the pie, this is a pretty good indicator of needing more physical RAM.
Page Ins vs Page Outs – In addition to checking out the memory pie chart, look at your Page ins vs Page outs. If you have a high number of Page outs to Page ins, you probably need more RAM. I always just do a quick calculation, if Page outs are 10% or more of Page ins with regular computer use, I recommend a memory upgrade. In the screenshot above, Page outs represent 17% of Page ins. This user would benefit from more available system memory.
You may recall that paging is the Mac virtual memory system, which essentially uses your hard drive as virtual RAM when the real thing runs out. Virtual memory is a great feature, but it’s significantly slower than physical RAM, and a lot of page use will cause system slow downs.
Step 3) Buy a RAM upgrade if you need it – If you have determined that adding additional RAM to your Mac would benefit you, then it’s a good idea to buy more RAM to upgrade the Mac. Memory is relatively cheap these days, and increasing your memory can often provide significant performance gains to a computer, for this reason I tend to think the more memory you have the better.
There are plenty of good places to get memory, if you don’t want to deal with installing it yourself, just take your Mac down to your local Apple Store and have them handle it all for you. You’ll pay quite a bit more this way, but many novice tech users prefer this method.
If you’re a bit more tech savvy and a do-it-yourself kind of person, buy your own RAM from an online retailer and install it yourself. You’ll save a lot of money, and it usually only takes a couple screws and 15-20 minutes from start to completion. A good place to comparison shop on prices and buy RAM from is Amazon, they host a myriad of suppliers, offer free shipping, and have neutral user reviews to determine vendor quality. Generally speaking, if you can max out the RAM in a Mac it’s a good thing, so get as much RAM as you can afford, it will boost performance and you’ll thank yourself with the improvement.