How and Why to Upgrade Your Mac’s RAM

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).

RAM

Mac Pro RAM Set

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.

About This Mac

About This Mac

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.

System Profiler

System Profiler

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

EveryMac.com

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.”

EveryMac

Find Your Mac on the List of Models

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.

EveryMac

Click the Arrow to Open the Dropdown Menu

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.”

EveryMac

Find Your Mac's Maximum 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.

OWC

Double Check the Info To Make Sure You Buy the Correct RAM

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).

NewEgg

NewEgg

MacMemoryStore

MacMemoryStore

Crucial

Crucial

MacImprove

MacImprove

Data Memory Systems

Data Memory Systems

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.

Conclusion

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!


  • James

    Did you realise the linked to Macworld article on processors is from 2001 !!!??

    • http://www.designshack.net Joshua Johnson

      I do, it was just something quick for proof of concept (you can upgrade your processor). Feel free to find something more recent and post it here.

  • Ronald

    Does upgrading my RAM voids my Apple warranty? You mentioned implications, so if I don’t mess up my Macbook during the upgrade the warranty is still valid?

    Great post by the way, it very well explained and people with little computer experience should be able to perform the upgrade with no hassle.

    • Jarel

      No, upgrading your RAM does not void your warranty. RAM is a user upgradeable part, meaning Apple designed their computers such that buyers would easily be able to upgrade RAM on their own. :)

    • http://jamy015.nl/ jamy015

      Probably not. The booklet that came with my MacBook even explained how to do it.

    • http://www.designshack.net Joshua Johnson

      I think for the most part it doesn’t. I put that clause in there for the Mac mini, which seems to require quite the effort to crack open and I read something suggesting that doing so had warranty implications. Anyone know different?

    • http://www.moosedesign.com MooseDesign

      As everyone else mentioned, no, it shouldn’t void your warranty. But, as its not covered by Apple Care, if you ever have to have your computer serviced, you will have to remove the memory or Apple will do it. And, if you have serious issues with your computer at some point and are talking with a representative from Apple to troubleshoot, they will ask you to remove any 3rd party memory.

      That is NOT an indictment of 3rd party RAM, just a heads up. 99% of the time you won’t have any problems because you have a Mac. ;p

  • Jarel

    Being the nerd that I am, I have to say that the article is a bit misleading as to what the RAM will actually do for the computer. RAM doesn’t actually make the computer run faster as that’s largely dependent on the CPU (not just clock speed). Adding more RAM won’t suddenly make everything run faster.

    If your computer doesn’t use all its available RAM as it is currently, then you won’t notice any difference in performance. However, if you’re constantly filling your ALL your RAM (to the point where the computer writes data to the hard drive), then adding more will help your computer’s ability to run more applications at once or allow applications already running to use more RAM (increasing their potential performance).

    You see, once you’ve filled your RAM with active data, your computer will start writing information to the hard drive. The hard drive is a much slower type of memory, so when you switch applications and the computer requests data stored on the hard drive it will seem like the computer is running really slow. Adding more RAM will avoid this issue.

    You’ll see this with applications like Adobe Photoshop, which uses a “Scratch Disk”. A scratch disk is a hard drive where Photoshop temporarily stores data in case it is needed later.

    The two main upgrades people should make to their Macs is 1. RAM (as you’ve stated) and 2. A fast(er) hard drive. I replaced my stock iMac hard drive with a Western Digital VelociRaptor 10K RPM hard drive, an incredibly fast physical hard disk drive that has greatly increased the performance of things like boot time, application launching, general data access, and for those times when I max out my RAM and the system starts writing data to the hard drive, etc.

    Anyway, just thought some clarification might help. Great article. :)

    • http://www.moosedesign.com MooseDesign

      Agreed on all. The processor upgrade is a bit of a red herring because on modern Macs I don’t think its feasible in the way it was with many of the G4 ZIF slot processors…

      One more thing, since you brought up multiple disks, etc. If you are a real speed nazi you can also get a SSD (solid state disk) as your startup disk. Silly fast startups.

      One more thing, if you are a user who thinks that he/she is running up against the limits of your Mac’s installed RAM if your computer is slowing down, you can run the Activity Monitor app (Applications > Utilities > Activity Monitor). Click on the system memory tab and see how much physical (and virtual) RAM you are using up in your day-to-day use.

      • Jarel

        I thought about going with an SSD but at the time they were too expensive. There are a couple other downsides to SSDs but they are still pretty awesome.

        I actually keep the Activity Monitor open 24/7 on my 2nd screen because I like to keep an eye on my system resources, lol. :)

        Great tip for those less familiar with Macs and RAM though!

      • http://www.moosedesign.com MooseDesign

        Ditto! Activity Monitor has a home on my dock for that express purpose too!

    • http://www.designshack.net Joshua Johnson

      Great insight, I accept the correction!

  • egonomico

    hi, does anyone know how much Ram can Leopard handle? I’m new to mac and I know that in the Windows world one needs a 64bits version on Windows to handle more than 2 or 3 Gb of Ram. Is in the Mac world the same? I’m yet to upgrade to Snow Leopard, but I’m thinking about upgrading my Ram, first.

    Thanks for your answers. Cheers.

    • http://www.moosedesign.com MooseDesign

      Of course, part of it is dependent on the computer you have and its memory slots, but the theoretical limits are greater than you would likely ever need or want. For example the 8-core Mac Pros have been tested with 144GB of RAM.

      If you don’t have a Mac and are going to buy a new one it will likely have Snow Leopard installed so you are pretty much only limited by your wallet and the number of slots.

      Consider why you would want X amount of RAM too. At a certain point its just posturing unless you have apps that can actually use the RAM (some audio, video, 3D, and graphics intensive apps). This coming from someone with 14GB of RAM. But I do a lot of graphics work so I have an excuse. ;)

      Just some things to think about.

      I’m sure someone much more nerdy than me will respond if I am off on any of this…

      • egonomico

        My Mac has 8 slots for RAM. Reading a Wiki I saw it can handle up to 32 GB. But I only need 6GB and that’s it!

        Thanks for your answer!

    • Jarel

      Leopard doesn’t have the same limitation as 32-bit versions of Windows and can handle up to 32 GB of RAM. Although, you won’t be able to reach that unless the physical hardware in your system is able to.

      • egonomico

        Thanks for your answer! That was my big doubt… 32GB is unthinkable, but good to know! :)

        cheers

    • http://pinoyteens.net Kevin Paquet

      If not mistaken, that depends on your Mac.

      • egonomico

        Thanks for your answer!

  • http://www.webmaster-source.com redwall_hp

    Cool. I have the MB404LL/A model MacBook from early 2008. It has the stock 2GB in it, but apparently the max supported is 4GB. And it’s been successfully tested with six.

    I may have to upgrade my RAM in the future. Aside from the hard drive, it’s probably the system’s biggest bottleneck.

  • http://www.evanagee.com Evan Agee

    Another great site for buying memory is PRO Memory Upgrade, they’ve got some of the best prices around on high-end memory. http://www.memoryupgrade.pro

  • Andrew D

    Nice post. Any chance you’ll do a post of how to buy and install a new hard-drive? My MacBook’s tiny 60GB hard drive is getting a bit too small, and I’m looking into buying a bigger one. Thanks

    • Michele

      Ooh, I had on hell of a time upgrading mine on my eMac a few years ago. It took HOURS to complete that project… >_>

      • http://www.webmaster-source.com redwall_hp

        It’s really easy on modern Macs. The MacBooks all have a convenient door that opens up, under the battery on the early 2008 plastic models, letting you snap in a new hard disk or RAM. The current iMacs have a similar trick. (I think the screen might come off, though don’t take my word for it.)

        Anyway, if you want to replace a hard disk or RAM, check the little manual that came with the system; it explains how to do it.

  • http://www.applesource.biz Perry Fjellman

    Upgrading my Mac Pro from 4GB of RAM to 8GB of RAM did not make it any faster — it made it smoother, and prevented the beach ball stall from ever happening, and that’s nice. Installing an SSD boot drive was literally like getting a computer from 2015. If you want your computer to boot completely up in 12 seconds, open Photoshop CS4 in about 1.5 seconds, and truly feel instantaneous speed across the board, get an SSD drive. The price is nothing compared to the performance you get.

    I’d put an SSD drive in any computer before I upgraded the RAM, as long as the machine had 2-4GB of RAM already.

    • http://www.designshack.net Joshua Johnson

      I did speed tests on my MacBook before and after the RAM upgrade. It was undoubtedly faster. From icon click to completely loaded and ready to go Photoshop (as the only open App) was taking several minutes before the update. After adding more RAM that same process under the same conditions takes 1/3 of the time. It’s definitely smoother… but it’s also faster by any definition.

  • Santiago

    Is there a way to use an external USB drive as a compliment for my computer’s RAM?

    • http://www.applesource.biz Perry Fjellman

      No, not really. RAM disks can be created from hard drives but they are only beneficial when you are loading HUGE amounts of data into RAM, like 1GB+ Photoshop images, etc.

      Also, RAM disks from internal storage (even RAID arrays) aren’t nearly as fast as actual random access memory modules. USB is much much slower than even the slowest internal hard drives. Using a USB drive for a RAM disk would most likely slow performance down, if anything. It certainly wouldn’t benefit you, and you’d be losing that storage space as an option.

  • jake

    if I have a new Macbook pro (the unibody one), is there any way to upgrade the ram? I heard that its fully enclosed with no way to change it

    • iyyy69

      Yes, you can upgrade the RAM. It’s not quite as simple as some of the earlier macbooks, but it is fully supported.

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  • http://www.mycollegesandcareers.com Sarah Studies Online

    This is an excellent tutorial for people looking to upgrade their Mac’s RAM! We upgraded my computer’s RAM earlier this year and things were considerably faster overnight, it was great. For students getting ready for the school year to start, it’s a good time to consider upgrading their computer’s RAM as well.

  • http://activata.co.uk/ifreemem/ john
  • http://www.ha-admissions.com/ H and A Admissions Consulting

    The author has written an excellent article. You made your point and not much to discuss. It’s like this universal truth that you can not argue with the truth is not universal, everything has its exception. Thanks for this information.

  • http://www.hungamatime.com/ Live online Radio

    Wow great post. But i think increase of ram not important for speed macs system.

  • http://www.pakistan-eshop.com/ Gift to Pakistan

    USB is much much slower than even the slowest internal hard drives. Using a USB drive for a RAM disk would most likely slow performance down, if anything.

  • Matthew M. Saliu

    The result of upgrading Computer memory are:
    Programs loads quickly, web pages load faster and run more programs at thesame time.

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  • aglaeca

    Great article. Thanks. I’ve been given to understand that I should have both DIMM ports filled with equal denominations of memory so that they’ll work in stereo and that if I had a 1 and a 2 stick the machine would bog down between the two.

    I see that you are running a 2 and a 3, is this slower than two twos?

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  • http://www.ramseeker.com Apple Memory

    This is a fantastic article, but there’s more than newegg, OWC and DMS – all very good memory stores, but they are far from the cheapest Apple memory upgrades you can buy. In fact, Crucial memory offers great ram prices in 2011

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  • Gina

    Nice article ^_^
    i have question :
    I’m thinking about boot my macbook pro with windows.. but i’m a lil worried that i can’t install and run my geological software there.
    if i bootcamp my mac, it is has a separated system between the OS and Windows? cos i need that to be separated i guess? im not really into this whole installing shit :(
    i have 2.4 Ghz core 2 due with 4 GB RAM… can i upgrade the processor and the RAM?
    and how big i can upgrade my HD? 500/750 is possible? its only 250GB now and i almost run out space for my data :)

    thanks before.
    i desperate that i have to bring both my mac and 5 years old toshiba everywhere (to run my software)

    cheers.

    • Henry

      The processor will be very hard for you to upgrade so I suggest you leave that and just upgrade your RAM. If you have a core 2 duo then you can upgrade to 8GB, 12GB or 16GB RAM.

      Go to crucial.com and download the mac scanner software and it will tell you what kind of RAM you need to get.

  • https://penta.com.au/ kathie

    i have bought a new laptop 2 gb from https://penta.com.au/. now it is very slow working and how much if i upgrde it 4 gb?

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  • Huntt Mama

    THANK YOU for the great article. I have one question: Will I lose anything by swapping it the old 512MB cards to the new 1/3GB configuration? Information, photos, files? Anything like that? I once was a PC nerd, now I’m a Mac lover because it doesn’t require me to be quite so nerdy. :D

  • http://oookie.jp/lab2/promdress/ promdress

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by JamesNK: James is blogging: .NET Serialization Performance

  • http://www.yourmacstore.com/ Vintage Computer

    I’ve made a blog post called “Cheapest Mac Memory Upgrades Online”, with a comparison between major memory sellers. Check it out here for your reference: http://vc-yourmacstore.blogspot.com/2012/01/cheapest-mac-memory-upgrades-online.html

  • http://www.avioesavenda.org/ Avioes a Venda

    i Agree in but i’m a lil worried that i can’t install and run my geological software there. Good Work !

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  • http://www.kathysidiotshow.com Kathy_L

    This was extremely helpful to me. I’m a fairly savvy user, but I’ve not done this kind of thing with a Mac before. Thank you!

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  • J.B.

    Great write-up. Thank you! This was very informative, simple to understand, all without being condescending and patronizing.

    Thanks again.

  • KC

    Thanks for the information, but in all the sites I have looked at, no one talks about what to do BEFORE you install the RAM. I know I need to back up everything onto an external hard drive, but do I need to then delete everything if I want to sell the RAM?

    Thanks!

  • k.

    Thanks heaps!!! for the info and all the comments helped.

    I am planning to get a iMac 27 inch, but thinking of upgrading the processor to i7 and leave the rest as standard. And upgrade the RAM to 16GB, or even higher myself.
    (I run photoshop, illustration, indesign, lightroom, acrobat, keynote, page at the same time and other general programs on top of that)

    I never done this before…so my biggest concern is, is it manageable? how much would my RAM cost? Apple charges more than $600 to upgrade the RAM to 16GB. I don’t mine spending extra on computers, but that is just too extreme….

    I do care my computers very well since my current one is 7 yrs old, also a macbookpro, and still runs fine. So a new one I get will probably last as long as my current one has. perhaps upgrade further in the future.

    but…hum…I am bit worried.

    Any thoughts or comments?

    Thanks :D

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  • Kim

    I have an early 2008 iMac with 2GB of memory. Reading your article and going through the scan with Crucial, it says that I can have up to 6GB of memory. I read on another site where to buy memory, that is more efficient if both slots have the same memory. So instead of buying the 4GB and 2GB chips, it says I should buy two 4GB chips. Is that true or can I buy the cheaper 4 GB and 2 GB chips? thank you

  • Jack

    Thanks for this post! I knew nothing about ram and where to start to upgrade my ancient 2007 macbook that i’m not ready to depart with yet

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