Does my mac need more memory?


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:


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 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.


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

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.


140 responses to “Does my mac need more memory?”

  1. Josh

    I have a question? I just upgraded the ram in my imac (2011) with memory I purchased from OWC 16GB (4x4GB). I opened the activity monitor and it says that 13 GB of ram are currently wired. That seems a bit high. I don’t have many applications running right now and its not running that slow but I don’t know why 13 GB of RAM would be wired at this point. It says I only have 267 MB free.

  2. Jon

    I’m using Adobe Flash player, and I’m getting an icon (grey circle with an ! in the middle) that states I need more memory to run a specific application — I’m using Safari. Yet I have 2.89 GB of free space. What is an ideal amount of free space for a system to safely run applications? Do I have enough?

  3. Mark

    My imac keeps freezing whenever I run iTunes. At first the computer will freeze every 40 seconds and over time freeze every sec. I’ve called Apple and they can’t find anything wrong with it. If I reset the PRAM it helps for a bit but then it happens again. Any advice? I have a 2.5ghz intel core i5, 4gb ram. Do I need more ram? Any help is greatly appreciated.

  4. jul

    Macbook pro just bought not long time ago
    Free:1.03 Gb
    Wired: 890MB
    Inactive:509.2 MB
    VM size:179.79GB
    Page ins: 23.54 GB
    Page outs: 28.21 GB
    Swap used: 2.24 GB

    Can you help me to find out do i have problems with my mac. Thank you for help i just start using Mac, so i does’t know mac really good.

  5. jonathan

    V helpful article. Was starting to see the spinning wheel more and more on my early 2011 macbook pro, particularly after upgrading to lion. Came with 4gb ram but i have lots of apps open at the same time including VM running windows and was starting to think mac just not up to it. Read this, checked that memory was low and relying on hard drive, bought 16gb ram upgrade kit from Crucial for peanuts…..wham! I have my rocket back, everything sharp as a razor, haven’t seen hideous spinning wheel since.

  6. sam

    My swap used is 59GB! Page Outs: 47GB, Page Ins: 74GB

    Can i even install that much ram? I have a 2011 MBP with a 256GB SSD and currently only 4GB of ram. I’m a graphic designer so I run adobe suite most of the time which i understand is quite a heavy load. Could that 59GB figure be accurate? Seems outrageously high…

  7. David

    Hi there, have a mac mini 2,3 GHz duo core i5 (Lion OS – Mid 2011).
    I’ ve installed Windows 7 professional ( for project courseworks) and mainly for gaming. I have 2 Gb of RAM and wanted to know whether a RAM upgrade to say, 8GB will improve gaming experience in terms of graphics, and smooth running? Thanks.

  8. Diko

    Please help. At the Activity Monitor of my MacBook Pro, under System Memory it says my free memory is 2.77 G (green). I am currently saving/importing songs to my iTunes from my CDs for later transfer to my iPod. Will my MBP’s memory be affected to the point of slowing it down?

    The capacity of my iPod is 32G. How do I fill it up with songs from my MBP iTunes if I can only save 2.77 G worth of songs in my MBP iTunes?

    Under Disk Usage (at the activity Monitor), however, it says there is still 250 G? Is this what my MBP will use up for my songs or the System Memory?

    Pardon my ignorance. I am a newbie on these things. Thanks.

    1. Hi Diko.

      As you’ve discovered, to the right of ‘System Memory’ in your Activity Monitor is a tab called ‘Disk Usage’. Songs will be stored on your HD which is shown under this Disk Usage tab. As long as you’ve got space there, you’ll be golden.

      In other words, understanding the difference between RAM (temporary, and for applications to run) and hard disc space (where your files are stored), you’ll know that opening iTunes and asking it to import your songs from a CD to the HD will use RAM to perform those tasks, but the actual files are stored on the HD and will not impact RAM once the import task completes.

      Hope that helps.

  9. Molly

    Thank you very much for these instructions. I just placed my memory upgrade order with Crucial. BTW, I had 20.3 MB free, and swap was 1.40 GB. No wonder my laptop was soooooooo slow!

  10. […] decision: Based on my MacBook’s symptoms and checking a few statistics in the Disk Utility tool, I decided I would upgrade my computer’s memory, aka RAM (random […]

  11. […] decision: Based on my MacBook’s symptoms and checking a few statistics in the Disk Utility tool, I decided I would upgrade my computer’s memory, aka RAM (random […]

    1. Glad it worked – sounds great.

  12. John

    Thank you! very helpful and clear. Plus the crucial recommendation is spot on, same thing that I have been told by everyone including Apple.
    thanks again.

  13. Thanks for the article, useful for confirming.

  14. Brandon

    Hi All- I would love some help…I went to the Apple store and the genius determined that my ram was not strong enough…I doubled the ram and installed the new, but everything is still running slow…

    Free: 35MB
    Wired: 533MB
    Active: 768MB
    Inactive 2.68 GB
    Used 3.95 GB
    VM sie: 118GB
    Page ins 1 GB
    Page outs: 651 MB
    Swap used: 9.6 MB

    Any suggestions on what the issue could still be?


  15. Philip Cowan

    Wow, thanks for this. I was sitting on Amazon wondering whether to press the button and buy more RAM (Crucial, as it happens) and thought I would just check if I really needed it. Your article answered that question very well (yes I do — sitting on a Swap used of 5.36GB).

    I really appreciate the care and attention you have put into this article (I teach Journalism at a university in the UK).

    Best of luck to you, Wayne.

  16. R00bot

    Mine is a 4gig RAM macbook pro (year old now) and it says page outs: 6.47 gigabytes.
    Is this bad? What do I do?

  17. Dave

    Hey thanks for this article. I had a question and you actually had basically an exact screenshot of my system! More RAM it is!

    1. Rob

      Me too, almost an exact screen grab from my Mac! – I thought it might of been some sort of scam at first as it was uncanny :-)

      Thanks for the article, been very helpful and I’ll use your link when I order my memory after Christmas!

  18. C Winkler

    I’m so glad I found your Mac site! Thank you, Brother! Your post helped me so much! I’ll be a frequent visitor from now on. God bless you!

  19. Thank you! EXCELLENT explanation of what to look for and what it means. I need a memory upgrade…going to your affiliate link now!

  20. kate

    I am not good at computers. Went through your tutorial and it says I have 587 MB of free space. My page outs are 100.00 KB. The graph shows a decent hunk of green and at the bottom it says 2 GB. Is more memory needed? The other day I tried to open excel and it said it couldn’t open it because I didn’t have enough memory so that seems to suggest I do, but yet going through your exercise made me think I had enough. Help!

  21. Chrish

    I’ve just upgraded my iMac from 4GB to 12GB of memory. Do I now need to do anything to optimize it at all, or is it OK to just leave as is?

    1. just add the ram -that’s it!

  22. Tim

    Haha I was wondering why my mac was so slow. I got my 17″ pro for a year and a half now and was really unpleased that the performance was so bad already.
    Turns out that I got 30GB page outs at the moment. Thanks for this article, I immediately ordered in 16G in stead of the 4GB I use now.

  23. JoJoHants

    Hi, used this help the other day which really did highlight a lot of page outs, so installed Grand Perspective to clean out some old stuff and used an app to tidy up loads of duplicate files (result form shifting over from a windows pc about 18 months ago).

    So went back into my Utilities folder today to see if it had helped and did I still need to get an external hard drive, but the thing doesn’t look the say any more??

    There is no graph, no tab at the bottom?? There are tabs at the top identified as CPU / Memory / Energy / Disk / Network

    So I assumed they had just removed the word ‘system’ from the memory tab.
    The info looks pretty similar, but in a different format, but there is no FREE info & no PAGEIN/OUTS info.

    Can anyone help please??? I dont want to buy something I may not need, but would like to understand this new format. Wish I could add a screen print for you.

    Thanks from one un-technical female!

  24. Thanks! Been searching for info to be able to decide whether I could safely install Maverick. I definitely need more memory, and gonna check if my mac can handle more RAM (my mac gets overheated pretty quick), before I even start to think of upgrading to Maverick.

    I own a mac book 10.6.8, from 2006,
    processor: 2GHz core 2 Duo,
    memory: 2 GB 667 MHz DDR2 SDRAM

    System memory
    – free ca 23 MB
    – page outs: 65,6 MB to 93 MB

    Gonna check my activity monitor more often from now on, to see which (useless) programs/plugins are open / taking away too much memory space.

  25. Stephan Keen

    A nice detailed article on whether you need a Mac RAM upgrade. Thanks for sharing. I would also advice that you carry out a SMC (system controller reset) and PRAM reset to see if your Mac will speed up, before splurging on memory that can be quite expensive these days.

  26. Stephan Keen

    Oh, by the way, for anyone interested in instructions on how to carry out a SMC and PRAM reset, here are good instructions.

  27. Ranz

    MacBook Pro Mid 2012 (4GB RAM)

    Free: 299.4 MB
    Wired: 1.11 GB
    Active:1.08 GB
    Inactive: 1.53 GB
    Used: 3.71GB
    VM size: 215 GB
    Page ins: 5.92 GB
    Page outs: 7.46 GB
    Swap used: 2.54 GB

    Illustrator and Photoshop are stalling on me so I know I need more RAM esp as I typically use large files in PS… but you guys think I should get 8GB or 16GB?? O.o

  28. Bob C

    I have bought memory from Crucial a number of times. Sotftware on its website helps you to identify which RAM module will fit your Mac and the speed of delivery of the product is excellent. I’m not affiliated to the company and I would use no other.

  29. Darren

    Just tried your link to crucial so you get your commission but I got a 404 error page not found. Just thought you should know. If you email me back with an updated link I can hold off on the purchase until then.


    1. Oops – looks like that offer has expired. I’ve updated it. Thanks.

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