Today I’ll walk you through the potentially frightening process of upgrading your Mac’s performance through increasing your RAM. We’ll start with a brief discussion of what RAM is and why you should upgrade, before taking you through every step of the upgrade process so you can be confident you’re doing everything right.
This article will help anyone looking to upgrade their RAM but is especially targeted at computer hardware novices. Many of the steps I will go through are to simplify the process of finding the right RAM for your Mac and can be completely skipped if you already know what you need and where to get it. Let’s get started!
What Is RAM?
The acronym RAM stands for Random Access Memory. In layman’s terms, this is a special kind of temporary memory that is used by the CPU to hold information pertaining to the currently active processes on your computer. Consequently, the more RAM you have, the better your computer will handle all the tasks that you put it through on a daily basis.
This means you could see a performance increase across literally everything you do, from browsing the web to using Photoshop (extra RAM can’t increase your internet connection speed but it will enable your browser to run smoother).
Will It Make My Computer Faster?
If you want a fast computer, the two key areas are processor speed and RAM (both currently installed, and the overall capacity). If you already own a Mac, you can in fact upgrade the processor, but it’s not as easy, cheap or common as simply upping your RAM.
Regardless of whether or not you think your processor might be a bit slow, you should definitely start your upgrade process with RAM. I recently maxed out the RAM on my Macbook and it honestly felt like I bought a new computer. You’ll be amazed at the power of this one simple, affordable upgrade. Again, don’t worry if you aren’t tech savvy. If you still have most of your fingers and can manage a tiny screwdriver, you should be able to upgrade your own RAM with zero problems.
Step 1: Learn About Your Mac
The very first thing you need to do in your RAM upgrade process is to find out the technical information you’ll need to know to purchase the right hardware. To do this, click on the little Apple icon in the very top left of your screen and select “About This Mac” from the options. The following window should pop up.
As you can see, this handy little window tells you which version of OS X you’re running and provides info on your processor and memory (RAM). The picture above shows you that I have a 2.16 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo process with 3 GB of RAM. Don’t worry in the slightest if none of these numbers make any sense to you, just jot down both your processor and memory information from this window (a quick screenshot would suffice as well). We’ll use this information later to determine which RAM to buy.
Is Your Mac Upgradeable?
After you’ve saved the information from the about window, hit the button that says “More Info.” This will take you into an application called “System Profiler” that contains all kinds of technical information about your Mac. As you can see below, down the left side there is a series of categories. Click on “Memory” under the “Hardware” heading.
To the right you’ll see a bunch of information about your RAM. Here you can see everything from type and speed to serial and part numbers. The information we’re really after at this point is how many memory slots you have and what is currently in them. Referring to the screenshot above (where it says BANK), we can see that I have two RAM slots. One of these has a 2GB stick and the other a 1GB stick for a total of 3GBs of RAM.
I happen to know that 3GB is about the limit of what my MacBook knows how to handle (though it technically only supports 2GB, it can fully utilize 3GB just fine). This means that my RAM has pretty much reached it’s limit and that my Mac is no longer upgradeable in this area. If you’ve never purchased extra RAM, you’ve probably not reached your limit yet and might even have a completely empty slot or two. To find out your Mac’s max capacity, we’ll utilize a handy website called EveryMac.com.
Step 2: Find Your Mac on EveryMac
EveryMac.com is a Mac nerd’s paradise of geeky info on just about every Mac ever produced. This ugly but handy site is a great tool to refer to when performing any type maintenance or upgrade on your Mac.
Scroll down until you see a list of Macs separated by series, year, processor, etc. under the heading “Recent Apple Specs.” Now click on the Mac you own under the “Series” heading. For example, I clicked on “MacBook.”
Next you should see a list of the all different versions of your Mac that have ever been released. This is where your processor information from the Apple “About This Mac” screen will come into play. As you can see in the pic below, I found my 13″ 2.16 GHz Macbook and clicked the dropdown for a quick breakdown of my specs.
Next, click the link at the bottom of the dropdown for complete specs on your selected machine. This will take you to an entire page of information devoted to your specific model and version of Mac. Here you can read all kinds of interesting information about your Mac and what made it unique when it launched. Scroll down past all of this info to the section of the table labelled “Standard RAM.”
Notice in the screenshot above I point your attention towards two key areas. The first of these is the maximum RAM capacity for your Mac. Compare this number and any accompanying information to the amount of RAM you currently have installed to determine if you will be able to upgrade. Hopefully you won’t be maxed out. If you have some room to spare, continue to the next step.
Step 3: Purchasing Your RAM
The second area of interest in the screenshot above is the link to OWC (Other World Computing). This might seem like just an annoying ad but it’s actually an extremely handy link that will take you directly to an OWC page containing only RAM that will work in your Mac.
Just to be sure the link brought you to the correct page, compare the information we took down about your RAM earlier to the information on the headings of the OWC RAM. If everything looks right, proceed with buying the amount of RAM you want or need based on your budget and Mac’s capacity. If you’ve got a smaller Mac like a MacBook and can spare the money, I recommend just upping yourself to the maximum for optimum performance. Some of the larger Mac’s such as the Mac Pro hold an incredible amount of RAM and will cost you a fortune to fill.
Choosing the Right RAM
As far as which brand to choose, I’ve purchased the OWC brand many times with absolutely no issues. The tricky part is to make sure you get the right number of chips. For instance, my MacBook originally came with two slots, each with a 512MB RAM chip totaling 1GB. Now conventional wisdom might lead you to think that since I already had 1GB and wanted to get to 3GB, I could’ve just bought a 2GB chip and I would’ve been fine. However, this is not the case.
Remember that I only had two slots, both of which were occupied. So if I bought a 2GB chip and installed it, I would’ve had to replace one of my 512MB chips, leaving me with only 2.5GBs. Instead I had to buy a 3GB kit containing one 2GB chip and one 1GB stick and replace both of my 512MB chips.
Just be sure you do your math right and consider not only how much RAM your Mac can hold, but also how much you already have in conjunction with the number of slots available.
Other Places to Buy RAM
Though the team of EveryMac and OWC make it super convenient to find the right RAM for your Mac, there are plenty of other places to go to find cheap memory. Here are a few sites to check out and compare prices.
If you’re looking to buy a new Mac, keep in mind that it’s often cheaper to get the base model (RAM wise) and upgrade on your own rather than to order the upgraded model directly (Apple is generally on the high side compared to just about everyone else).
Step 4: Installation
As I said before, installing RAM is a fairly straightforward process that usually only takes 5-10 minutes and a small screwdriver. Unfortunately, this process is quite different for every Mac so walking you through it on my computer would only help those viewers who share my outdated model of MacBook.
Instead, here are a few quick step by step tutorials for some common Mac models. If you don’t see yours here, just cruise over to YouTube and search for your specific model.
If you’re more of an average joe than a computer wiz, upgrading your computer’s hardware can be quite intimidating. I hope this article has helped allay your fears and granted you the boldness to take a shot at bringing your Mac’s RAM up to speed (just be wary of possible warranty implications).
I see people far too often lament at the need for a new computer when they would be amazed at what they can do with their current Mac, ten minutes and less than a hundred bucks.
Still confused? Feel free to ask any questions using the comments below. We’ll be glad to answer your queries and help out any way we can!