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Does my mac need more memory?

When your computer is running a bit slowly, how can you tell if getting more memory will help?  The short answer is that if you have little or no ‘free memory’ or if your ‘page-out’ count is high, then you need more RAM. Here’s how to check those two things on any Macintosh running OS X.

ram

When your computer is running a bit slowly, how can you tell if getting more memory will help?

If you run out of free memory then your computer will be forced to use some of your hard disk as memory, which is VERY SLOW because hard drives are much slower to access than your computer’s RAM.  It’s not just a matter of saying ‘8 GB’ is enough because the amount of RAM you need will vary according to your Mac model and the programs you use.  Here’s how to check if you have enough RAM.

How to check your Memory on a Mac

With El Capitan Apple have introduced a very simple graph based on colours to let you know if you have enough RAM or not. Do this during the middle of using your computer for what you normally use it for. Don’t do this as soon as you start your computer as this won’t give a good indication of your normal usage. Better still, check it at various times over a few days.

  1. Go to your Applications/Utilities folder. (Click on your desktop so that the finder is active then hold down Apple-Shift-U, this will open your ‘utilities folder.)
  2. Open ‘Activity Monitor’ – it will probably be the top-most application in the Utilities Folder.
  3. Press Apple-1 to make sure that the main window of Utility Monitor is open.
  4. Click on the ‘System Memory’ tab at the bottom of the window. This will display a little graph with the memory pressure. It will look something like this:

memory

If there is any red in the memory pressure you need more RAM.  Red means your performance is taking a hit because your computer needs to use the disk drive for memory.

If the memory pressure is green you have enough memory (like the screenshot above).

If the memory pressure is yellow it may be worth monitoring over a few days to see if it goes into the red.

Checking your memory on older versions of Mac OS

On older versions of Mac OS the display looks more like this:

There are two important items to take note of ‘Free:’ and ‘Page outs:’

Free tells you how much free memory you currently have available to use –  the higher the better.  If you have no free memory you should get more RAM.

A Page out  means your computer has run out of memory and had to use some of the Hard Disk instead of RAM. (This is the equivalent of your brain being too full so you have to write your thoughts down on paper to free up some head space) This DRAMATICALLY slows down your computer.

Tip: Page outs occur when your Mac has to write information from RAM to the hard drive (because RAM is full).  Adding more RAM may reduce page outs.

Some Examples:

Here’s a mac with plenty of RAM (12G) – lots of Free RAM (green) and zero Page outs.
Here’s a mac with just enough RAM (8G) – a relatively little Page out Count (339MB) and some free memory (green).
Here’s a Mac that needs more RAM (it only has 640M!) – note the High Page Out Count (1010524) even though it currently has some ‘free’ RAM.
This Mac definitely needs some more RAM! Practically no free memory  AND High Page-out Count. (1GB!)  Performance will be suffering badly. I would add at least another 4G Ram, maybe 8G more to bring it up to 12G.

In OSX Leopard rather than giving a ‘count’ of page in and page outs, it gives a size in GB  of the amount of RAM that has been paged in or out. The numbers are smaller but the same principles apply.

In OSX Lion there is a new entry called ‘Swap Used’. (See the last picture above). This  is a count of how much Disk Space your computer is using as RAM and it’s a good rough estimate of the minimum amount of  extra RAM you need. Eg If your Swap used is 4G then get AT LEAST 4G more RAM.

Where to buy more RAM.

You can’t buy any RAM. It needs to be Apple compatible. It’s worth getting good quality RAM to avoid problems. Currently my 2 favourite places to buy RAM are Crucial.com or OWC Computing. My Mac mini has 16GB of Crucial RAM in it at the moment.  I’m in Australia and it usually arrives in about a week. OWC might be the better option if you live in the USA.

Crucial

They have a memory lookup tool for all computers where you choose your model and it shows you exactly what memory you need.  The memory chooser tool looks like this:

First choose ‘Apple’ where it says ‘Choose Manufacturer’

Secondly select your mac when it says ‘select product line’ (e.g. iMac or Macbook etc)

Finally select the exact model (e.g. Early 2011 i7 27″ iMac”)

It will then show you the options you can buy.

OWC – Macsales

Another reliable source of good Mac RAM  is Other World Computing, also called macsales.com.

Why RAM affects your computer’s speed.

RAM in your computer is like the paper sitting on your desk. The information is easy and fast to access. Your Hard Disk is more like a filing cabinet, it takes a bit longer to retrieve information.

When your desk gets too cluttered you need to spend some time moving things in and out of the filing cabinet, which slows things down.

You don’t need to be able to store everything in your computers memory, it’s good to have a hard disk, but if you don’t have enough memory then your computer will need to access your hard disk too much and this can slow things down.

To quote from Apple:

Moving data from physical memory to disk is called paging out (or swapping out); moving data from disk to physical memory is called paging in (or swapping in)… Extended periods of paging activity reduce performance significantly; such activity is sometimes called disk thrashing.

138 replies on “Does my mac need more memory?”

My Page ins and Page outs are expressed in megabytes (960 and 325, respectively). How can I figure out the actual number?

Please and thank you.

The blue section reads ‘Inactive’ for a reason. A program has claimed it, but is not using it. Your mac should page these out because it is essentially empty space. Windows does this as well, its called scrubbing.

Want proof, go to the apple store and run Activity monitor on one of the showroom macs. There will be tons of page outs despite the fact these macs only have the programs that come with your mac (and your mac was designed to handle without slow downs).

This is Apple marketing bull trying to make you pay $400 for overpriced RAM. Get iFreeMem and see what I mean, this will page out all inactive memory, essentially turning all your blue memory green and speeding up your Mac.

Thank you Andrew. I’ve had a ‘start up disk almost full message’ for the last few days, and my laptop is very slow opening things. Yesterday it couldn’t start and showed a flashing question mark instead. I’ve got it started & running now (with help from the installation CD), but that was a great worry and wonder if the lack of space is stuffing up hard disk (=startup disk) somehow.

I’ve got somewhere between 8 and 45 MB free memory on System Memory in Activity Monitor, fluctuating up and down. I’ve got about 233 MB inactive memory, and the pages out is slowly climbing up, currently about 420 MB. In disk usage I’ve got about 12 GB free and about 99 GB utilised.

So I wonder if paging out the inactive memory can help, I’ll give iFreeMem a try.

Ps. I can see that the Chrome browser appears to occupy a massive amount of working memory, does anyone else have that experience?
It does also frequently crash, which could be because I am in the habit of having too many tabs open at once.

Follow up: I downloaded and ran iFreeMem. It doesn’t make a difference and doesn’t tell me anything that Activity Monitor doesn’t already show. Also, it is just a 15 days trial of a paid product and whenever you start it up you have to select to ‘continue trialling’ – slightly annoying.

Re. the inactive memory, I found below in another forum:

“don’t worry about that “inactive” ram, that’s as good as “free”. it means that osx has at some point loaded something in the ram and later on decided that it is no longer needed. of course the ram could be “freed” (completely) but unix systems have made such a decision that the content is kept in the memory in case it is needed in the future. but because that memory is flagged as “inactive”, it can be deleted as soon as some other app needs to have that memory. so it is just one kind of an optimization- .” –
( JFreak in http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=73631 )

Makes sense.

Operating systems (not only Unix systems such as OS X) currently cannot return RAM to the system pool, where it can be used by an application, until the application is exited. I’m not sure of the reason for this, but it appears to be a technical one.

When an app needs more RAM, it first looks in its own pool, that is, RAM it used and released. If it doesn’t find enough RAM, it takes more from the system pool.

This means an app ties up the maximum amount of RAM it has needed since it last opened. If you’re running out RAM, exit and re-enter the app(s) that are using the most. It’s also wise to avoid opening too many documents in the same app. I have a friend who opens 20 or more tabs in Firefox and never closes one when he’s done with it.

I was googling around to see what excessive paging was as I was worried my mac was on the high side. After 1 day my Page in/outs are at 1376201/486790. Time for a MacPro since I’m already at the 2GB limit on my CD iMac. *Yikes*

Well my page ins/outs count is also very high along with having only 18MB of free memory. I had running Finder, Firefox, Microsoft Word, Preview, Safari, and Activity Monitor. I tried closing Word, Preview, and Safari and now it is up to around 180MB free. Now my question is this…lately I’ve been having slow-downs alot and my computer will freeze for a few seconds and I get the beachball. This happens even after a reboot with only Firefox (and sometimes one more program open). Should I get more memory? If so, how do I know what kind to get. I’m a newbie to the MacBook and OSX.

Thanks!

If it is slow straight after a reboot, and there are no page ins, and there is lots of free memory still, then the slow-down is probably not a memory problem, unless you have Leopard, it needs lots of memory, like 2 Gig at least.

Hello,

I have also been noticing that my computer lately, slows down alot. Usually, I run Mail, iTunes, Safari, Newsfire, Adium and maybe sometimes transmission. I notice that my page in’s and out’s are quite high. Just yesterday it was the highest that I have ever seen. Today I rebooted and immediately after reboot my page ins were 45,023.

I am at a loss on what to do. Alot of times my page outs exceed my page ins after a day of running.

Please help

Hello again, I just wanted to give an update. I rebooted last night before I went to bed. Again right after start up I has an extreme amount of page in’s. Similar to my above comment. Now less the 16hrs later I now have this
Swap 2.01GB(3.00GB)
Page in: 157,558
Page out: 273,764

I really am having a hard time grasping what is actually wrong since I have not had this problem until just recently. My warranty is not yet finished for my iMac.

Please help shed a light on this for me.

Kind regards,

Stuart

@ Stuart,
If your mac is restarted & not running any apps and you are getting page ins/outs make sure there are no applications running in the background such as iTunes helper, iCal helper menu items dashboard widgets third party apps…
They should be listed in the activity monitor window.

It could just be the load that the OS places on your system. You may need more RAM, just keep an eye on the amount of paging and contact Applecare if it concerns you. You don’t say what version of Mac OS or the amount of RAM you have, but more should help. 2 – 4 GB should keep it running smoothly for basic tasks.

PS the Leopard Activity Monitor specifies the paging in MB/GB units, Im unsure if the units are Kb, MB or GB in your comment.

Nice article, it helps clarify what is going on with memory.

MacBook (Generation 3)
1GB RAM

Free: 11.52MB
Page in: 1218997
Page Out: 736528

Page in/Page out are increasing when I went to a website on FireFox.

Applications in use:

FireFox
Safari
Microsoft Word
Mail
Activity Monitor
Grab
Preview

I also use a lot of Photoshop, iMovie and iPhoto.

For me, it always seems like FireFox that is creating the whole mess. But I need it because of it’s tools that Safari doesnt have.

But my main question is obviously, Do I Need More RAM??

My computer is super slow! My page in/outs are: 74840/25909 and ‘ins’ keep going up. Also the Free is 80 MBs. I just rebooted too? Reboot again? I was just running word and excel and I’m soooo frustrated.

recently, I deleted some file and my ibook G4 wouldnt boot. I rebooted it with “Leopard” (it was Tiger before). now it is so slow I have towait onit to open some firefox pages. It is even doing things I didnt comand it to do.
I have 512ram 1.33 processor and 60G HD. what can I do?
Dunwell

I am confused because from your comments it seems as if my system isn’t doing what it is supposed to- my page in is 258.08 and increasing but my page outs is 0 and swap used is 0- is this good or bad? I have 1.04 memory used out of 2 GB but it seems as if an update im trying t o get for my microsoft office is not letting me download because of lack of memory. I am quite confused at this point

Page ins SHOULD increase with every file you open – they occur when data is loaded into RAM.

Page outs occur when you run out of RAM to be used.

If your page outs are 0, that’s great! I’d say your download is failing for a reason other than RAM – perhaps hard drive space?

I wonder if everyone is forgetting something very simple – what about HOW RAM is used? Is your desktop crowded with items using up that RAM? Keep everything IN your harddrive. ONLY have ALIAS’ on your desktop!~ Keep that RAM free.

Hi,

I have been noticing that my computer lately, slows down alot. Usually, I run Mail, iTunes, Safari/firefox (though safari makes it more slow), word and excel. I notice that my page in’s and out’s are quite high. Today I rebooted and immediately after reboot my page ins were 36,458.

I am at a loss on what to do. Alot of times my page outs exceed my page ins after a day of running.

I have a macbook 2.2Ghz core 2 duo with 1GB RAM and recently upgraded to snow leopard.

I never faced this problem earlier, although i started having the problem in my leopard only thats why i upgraded to snow leopard.

Please help

does anybody know what the conversion is for page ins & outs from Mb’s to just the large numbers you all have showing in your activity monitor?
Mine shows the amount only in megabytes

thanks

My Page ins and Page outs are expressed in megabytes (960 and 325, respectively). How can I figure out the actual number?

I have a imac osx 10.4.11 (so about 5 years old i think) it has a 2GHz intel core duo and a 1GB 667 MHz.

When i run the folllowing I have 70MB free and 87660 page in and 43569 page out. Things get slow.

firefox
word
photoshop
finder
macmail

what im wondering is, is it worth me buying more memory or is my mac reaching the end of its life.i have been told by 2 people that they only have about 5 years in them.
also if i move my iphoto library(and my lge amount of saved psd documents) onto an external then will this have any effect on the ram or is that totally seperate.
any advice would be gteat.thankyou!!!

I liked the discussion here. My MAC is also 660 Mhz Intel dual core with 1 GB RAM. It has also gone very slow and I was thinking of upgrading to Snow leopard. It seems that is not the solution. My activity monitor shows just 7 GB free when just 4 programs are running (no video or iTunes) and also the page ins are 276 MB. Is this page on per session or year till date? One observation in activity monitor: pmtool and kernel_task (root) have sent more than a million messages (under messages sent). Anybody has any idea why?

my g4 mac won’t even open the “activity monitor”! the icon pops up but disappears straight away. Doesn’t see the additional internal hard drive either ,not on the desktop. In the system profiler it appears ,but grey!

My Page ins/outs is 104,797/0
How do I fix this?
It keeps saying my startup disk is full, fut I have 562.50 MB Free. my VM size is 11.40

My stats are similar to Lola’s, and I’m a novice as managing disk space/memory.

Free: 534.94 MB
Page ins/outs: 42,436/0

Clearly, my HD is full, but what can I do to improve processing speed? Will adding RAM help at all? Do I need a whole new computer to solve the HD space problem?

I have an iMac (Late 2006) with 2 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor
1 GB 667 MHz DDR2 SDRAM
Running OS X 10.4.11

Your advice would be MUCH appreciated. I want to upgrade to Snow Leopard, but I don’t want it to get any slower.

thanks for the great information.
Mine appears to be a no brainer with only 512MB 667 Mhz RAM. The readings are showing as follows;
Free space between 8 and 12MB with page in/out reading of 973200/581084 the in number moved about 40 in 2 minutes.

Where is the best place to buy reliable quality RAM that I can install myself. I understand this old iMAC desktop has an empty memory slot thus meaning I have the ability to add more RAM. What do you recommend and who should I purchase more from?
should I
1/ just increase the 512RAM in the current memory slot
2/ add more RAM into the empty memory slot
3/ remove the 512 and fill both memory slots with more RAM.

you advise would be appreciated.

cheers

Reuben

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