Do I need more RAM?

One of the questions we get asked often is “Do I need more RAM”.

This question is more correctly put as “If i invest in buying more RAM for my computer; will I see a benefit in how quickly it runs applications, how quickly it boots when I first start up and how quickly I can swap between applications I am working in so that I can complete this task?”

RAM is working memory which allows very fast file access but costs much much more than conventional hard drives – it has the disadvantage that it does not keep data when it is powered off but the speed means that you can load programs into it quickly to be used as needed. In a “money is no issue” world – all your applications and working data would be run off RAM and a hard disk would only be used for archiving and long term storage (i.e. when your RAM is powered off) – this is a decision made many decades ago to keep the price of computers as low as possible.

On a Mac – the Various common operating systems require a min RAM to run:

Snow leopard (10.6) requires 1GB RAM Min.

Lion (10.7), Mountain Lion (10.8), Mavericks (10.9) and Yosemite (10.10) all require a min 2GB of RAM.

This is the lowest value you can have in order to install these Operating Systems.

In our experience for good performance you should have the following amounts of ram :

Mac OS 10.6 Snow Leopard – Min 2GB,  ideal 4GB or above
Mac OS 10.7 Lion or 10.8 Mountain Lion – Min 4GB, ideal 6GB or above
Mac OS 10.9 Mavericks – Min 6GB, ideal 8GB or Above
Mac OS 10.10 Yosemite – Min 6GB, ideal 12GB or Above

If you are running an older machine with a new operating system we recommend fitting as much ram as your machine can take.

Once you have a number of Safari windows open, Mail and a text editor of choice you start to use up this space very quickly and notice your Mac start to slow down and get the spinning beach ball.

A way to tell if this is what is impacting your performance is a tool called “Activity Monitor”. This is installed as default under each of these OS’s and is located inside your “Utilities” folder – which sits inside your Applications folder. A nice way to get there is the “go” menu which has a “Utilities” option or press”Shift-Cmd-U” when in Finder.

Activity monitor shows you the processes which are running on your Mac, and also has a tab at the bottom of the main window which shows the Memory you are currently using:

Activity Monitor under 10.6.8 Acitivity Monitor 10.6In this example under 10.6.8 you can see that 262.8 MB of RAM is in a Wired (permanently being used) state. 2.06 GB of RAM is Active – or being used but could be pulled on if really needed.  1.16 GB of RAM is inactive – this is RAM which has been used and is still allocated to it’s Applications but can become free for other uses as needed and 537.4 MB is free.

This Mac is not being limited by RAM, as it is currently being used, so would not benefit from an upgrade! (It may still need an SSD as a speed boost but RAM is not limiting performance)

It is always best to look at these stats whilst you are using your Mac – that way it shows what is going on!

Activity Monitor under 10.10Activity Monitor under 10.10So under 10.10 (and 10.9) you have a different view. Memory is used in a much more dynamic way under these later OS’s – lots of special compression and sharing which makes the picture a little more complex. The OS also “Uses” all the RAM as it can and allocates it as it chooses.

In this pic we can see the memory pressure is Orange – this means that RAM is starting to have an impact on the way this Mac is operating. This has a “traffic light” scheme – green is all OK, Orange is middle and Red is causing the Mac to slow down.

So in conclusion:

More RAM is good, if you need it! Using activity monitor you can see if RAM is causing your Mac to slow down and using our site you can see how much RAM you can fit and how much it will be!