Is your Mac starting to feel a little long in the tooth? Instead of parting with big money to buy a new machine, perhaps you should consider upgrading what you already have.
One of the easiest upgrades that you can do yourself is to install more Random Access Memory (RAM) — a special type of storage which holds common processing data on your Mac instead of having to retrieve it from the slower hard drive. Your macOS, applications, and games all make use of RAM’s temporary storage model to keep things moving quickly; however, they are becoming more taxing on older systems with limited RAM.
So if you’re wondering how to upgrade RAM on your Mac, read on.
Why You Should Consider Upgrading RAM On Mac
Installing new RAM is actually one of the only DIY upgrades available to the common Mac user. Most of Apple’s system components are deeply embedded and are too complex to upgrade, whereas RAM can be simply swapped out with minimal effort. Additionally, RAM happens to be one of the most affordable upgrades you can do.
If you find that your Mac is starting to feel slower than normal, and you can’t justify the cost of a new computer, installing more RAM could be a good strategy to extend its lifetime. If you have 8 GB of RAM or less, then an upgrade to 16 GB is a fairly safe bet. However, before going down that path you should consider the potential risks.
Risks of performing a memory upgrade on your Mac
If you’re considering how to upgrade RAM then you should be wary of three important risks.
First of all, swapping out parts can void your warranty. Generally speaking, this isn’t a concern for desktop Macs, but for laptops and MacBook Pro RAM upgrades you should review the user manual to ensure RAM is considered a user-serviceable part.
Second, handling computer hardware can damage the sensitive electronics within your Mac. There are some precautions you can take to mitigate this, such as wearing an anti-static wrist band (or touching a grounded metal surface before handling anything), ensuring your Mac is plugged in but has been powered off for 10 minutes, and using the correctly sized small screwdriver.
Finally, not all RAM is made the same. Installing the wrong specification of Mac memory can result in damage to the RAM itself and create issues when trying to run the machine. Each Mac model may have a slightly different specification — your user manual should list the exact RAM modules you need, and it’s best to buy directly from Apple instead of a third-party vendor.
Now that you know the risks of performing a RAM upgrade, you can determine whether it’s something worth trying yourself or having a professional do for you. Note that seeking third-party assistance may increase the cost of upgrading to the point where it’s no longer worth the investment.
How to find out if RAM is limiting you
Rather than blindly guessing that a lack of RAM is to blame for your machine running slow, find out exactly where the bottlenecks are using iStat Menus — a brilliant utility for Mac that monitors your system performance.
iStat Menus integrates nicely into your macOS menu bar, granting you quick access to an overview of your Mac’s hardware including RAM usage, CPU load, GPU temperature, fan speeds, and more. All these statistics are either unavailable in your default macOS performance monitor or hidden behind layers of interface that are hard to find.
With iStat Menus, you can quickly see if you have maximized your RAM usage, plus:
- Customize the iStat Menus interface to only show RAM usage or other statistics you care about and hiding the rest
- Change how iStat Menus looks on your menu bar — either minimize all stats into one icon, or separate each one
- Get notifications for certain triggers, including reaching particular RAM usage (e.g. 90% RAM)
- Configure the color scheme to match your preferences, including dark mode
If you find that you’re constantly reaching 90% of RAM usage in iStat Menus, it might be time to consider an upgrade. If your Mac memory doesn’t seem to be a problem, there may be other ways to speed up performance.
Speeding up your Mac without a RAM upgrade
If your Mac is running slow but still has plenty of RAM, it may be because of fragmented files, old applications, and a cluttered hard drive. Instead of trying to locate and delete these files yourself, consider automating it with CleanMyMac X — an app for Mac that tidies up disk space and optimizes your machine for improved performance. Using CleanMyMac X, you can:
- Delete old applications from your hard drive in seconds. CleanMyMac X knows which apps are being used infrequently and can surface these for you in a list to make your decisions easier
- Remove fragmented files and clutter without deleting anything important
- Protect your Mac from malicious software and viruses that can often tax performance using the Malware Removal tool
- Improve performance by using the optimization tool — this clever process runs a series of scripts designed to find hidden efficiencies in your Mac
- Update your web browser’s privacy settings to delete cached files which can chew up RAM as well
If running CleanMyMac X has not improved performance, and your memory usage is still peaking, then you should go ahead and look at how to install more RAM.
How to get more RAM on iMac, Mac mini, and MacBook Pro
By now you’ve realized that optimizing performance hasn’t relieved your RAM usage and that an upgrade could help. You’ve also looked at your Mac’s user manual to determine the exact specification of RAM required and have confirmed that it’s a user-serviceable part. Finally, you’ve understood the potential risks and are now wondering how to get more RAM on your Mac.
The process for replacing your Mac RAM varies depending on what model and year you own. For iMac memory upgrades, the process is relatively simple — here’s how to install new RAM:
- Put your iMac face-down on a flat, soft surface to prevent the screen from being scratched. Try using a fresh towel or blanket. You should be looking at the back of your Mac, where you can see the rectangular outline of a RAM access door.
- For older iMacs, you’ll need to use a small screwdriver to remove the three screws that fasten the RAM access door. For newer iMacs, simply press the button above the power socket to flip the door open.
- You should now see the iMac RAM modules. Pull out the holding arms to raise the access slots. Older iMacs may have a tab that needs to be pushed in at this stage.
- Gently pull the existing RAM modules out. Take note of where the little notch clip is at the bottom of each module.
- Insert your new iMac RAM, ensuring that the notch clip is on the same side as the existing RAM. Make sure you push the holding arms back in place after finishing your iMac memory upgrade.
If you have a Mac mini, the steps are different. For earlier models made until 2014, you can simply unscrew the plastic base, unclip the old RAM modules, and insert the new ones. However, between 2014 and 2018, Apple made it more difficult to perform a memory upgrade, requiring a professional technician to do it for you. Thankfully, newer models are upgradeable again, but it’s still far more complex than the iMac:
- Turn your Mac mini upside down, then use a knife or similar object to pry the case off. You can insert your tool into the crack between your Mac mini outer casing and main unit. Aim to release the clip on each side of the machine.
- With the latches loose, you can now remove the casing. Turn your Mac mini the correct way up and locate a large silver frame.
- Gently remove the antenna cable and lift the corresponding cable lock from the silver frame. You will need to make use of a small tweezer or similar to reach these components.
- Similarly, you must remove the audio cable and thermal sensor cable from the main unit
- Now you are ready to remove the entire silver frame — there are four screws holding it in place which need to be addressed. Once unscrewed, you can remove the silver frame and locate the RAM modules.
- Press in the fastening clips on either side of the RAM modules, then remove them
- Insert your new Mac RAM, then carefully reverse this process to put everything back where it should be
Finally, it’s time to replace your MacBook Pro RAM. Unfortunately, Retina MacBook Pro’s memory upgrades are not possible, so here’s how to install new RAM on the earlier model:
- Place the MacBook Pro face-down on a soft surface
- Locate the small screws around the edge of the bottom case and unscrew them
- You can now detach the entire lower case, under which you should find MacBook Pro RAM modules
- Release the tabs either side of the RAM modules, then gently remove them
- Place your new MacBook Pro memory upgrade modules in, and reverse the above process to finish up
For the most part, upgrading your Mac is a straightforward process — you simply need to be able to follow the instructions for how to install more RAM carefully. That said, it can still be quite an undertaking for an inexperienced user, so it’s best to make sure that a RAM upgrade is truly what you need before giving it a go.
Thankfully, iStat Menus and CleanMyMac X can be used to figure this out, and they are both available for a free seven-day trial on Setapp — a subscription service for Mac that comes with over 160 indispensable apps. Whether you’re looking to optimize your Mac before a memory upgrade or simply become more productive with what you have, Setapp has you covered. Just head over to Setapp’s website to take advantage of a free trial today.