There are various aspects of your Mac that can either enhance or detract from its performance. One thing you may have heard of is RAM, but what it is and how can you tell whether you have enough in your machine?
What does RAM do?
RAM (or Random Access Memory) has been an important component in computers pretty much since their inception. Essentially, when you use a device, be it a Mac, iPhone, iPad or non-Apple computer, all the active processes run in the RAM. It's like a device's thinking space, where it can open new browser windows, make sure the app you're using actually functions and generally allows you to interact with anything.
RAM only acts as a temporary home for these elements though, and if it fills up then performance immediately starts to take a hit as the device can't 'think' as fluidly due to the congestion of data and tasks. Normally an operating system optimises RAM usage by freezing apps in the background to stop them impacting speed, but as a device gets older and apps get more complicated, a lack of RAM can make a previously rapid device feel like a tortoise with motivational issues.
Will adding more RAM make a Mac faster?
As a general rule of thumb, more RAM is always a good idea. If you want to use data intensive applications like Final Cut Pro X, Logic Pro X or games, then you'll want to install the maximum amount of RAM possible to not only give you solid performance now but to also future-proof your Mac.
Saying that, it's not only RAM that affects system performance, as an old-style spinning hard drive will deliver much lower data retrieval speeds than an SSD or flash storage. Sadly, many desktop iMacs still arrive with slow drives installed and Apple's upgrade costs for SSDs is frankly insulting when compared to how much you can buy the drives online. We've already covered the reasons why Apple should stop selling the iMac with a hard drive, but if you want to boost an ailing Mac you can try reading our how to upgrade a Mac or even using an external SSD for your games, music and other media content.
How to find out how much RAM is in a Mac?
Before working out whether you need more RAM or not, it would obviously be good to know how much is currently installed in your Mac. This is easy to do:
- Click on the Apple symbol in the top left corner of your screen.
- Then select About This Mac from the menu that appears.
- In the box that appears you'll see various details, including the installed version of macOS, model name, and the amount of Memory, which is another name for RAM. On our test MacBook Pro, as you can see from the image below, we have 8GB of RAM.
This is a standard amount for a modern Mac and is what you'll find in many models.
However the 2.0GHz 13in MacBook Pro, 16in MacBook Pro, iMac Pro and Mac Pro all offer more RAM, starting at 16GB in the MacBook Pro and going all the way up to 1.5TB in the Mac Pro (if you spend $25,000 on top of the asking price).
Of course, you can opt for more when you buy your Mac directly from Apple, but be prepared to be hit with high-upgrade costs.
How can I check if I need more RAM?
One way to see if the problem with your system performance is due to a shortage of capacity in the RAM is by using Activity Monitor.
- Launch Activity Monitor by holding down the Command key and press the spacebar. This opens a little Spotlight window into which you can type Activity and select the Activity Monitor option.
- When the app opens, select the Memory tab from the row along the top of the window and you'll be presented with all the processes that are currently using the RAM.
- If you spot some that are for apps you're not using or don't need to be running, you can highlight it and then click the cross icon in the top left corner of the window to Force Quit the app.
- At the bottom of the list you'll see a summary area that outlines how much RAM you have installed and the amount currently used by your system. This can be a little complicated, as macOS will often use as much RAM as is available to complete tasks, but if you see it's constantly at 100% or thereabouts then there could be a problem with your Mac having too little RAM.
You don't necessarily need to add more chips to your machine though, as there are a variety of apps and techniques that can help your system manage its usage. Take a look at how to free up memory (RAM) on a Mac for some quick ways to add some speed to your device.
Can I add more RAM to my Mac?
For a number of years now, Apple has been soldering the RAM chips onto the motherboards of Macs, making them practically impossible to upgrade. This means if you have a MacBook Air, MacBook, MacBook Pro or iMac that are reasonably new then the chances are you won't be able to add any additional RAM.
On the current range, you can't (officially) upgrade any of the MacBook models, but you can manually add RAM to the 27in iMacs, Mac Mini (2018), and Mac Pro. It appears that the iMac Pro requires Apple or a certified Apple Reseller to make any upgrades, so that's a hefty bill once more.
For a more detailed look at how you can improve update the memory in your Mac read our guide on how to upgrade RAM in a Mac and for general tips on improving performance you may find how to speed up a slow Mac useful.