Tech Tip: Pointers for Upgrading Memory (RAM) on Macs

Operating Systems (OS) and applications require a minimum amount of RAM to function and a recommended amount of RAM for performance. While system performance is not solely tied to RAM (it is also affected by the CPU/processor, hard drive, OS build, etc.), RAM is one of several crucial components.

New Macs utilize onboard RAM. As such, you will need to decide on how much RAM to have installed at the time of purchase. You will not be able to upgrade the RAM later as the RAM is built onto the motherboard. While having more RAM is a good idea, the trade-off is that the cost of the computer will go up so plan and budget accordingly.

If you are running an older Mac, it will utilize traditional memory modules which are typically user accessible and replaceable. A portion of the memory could be onboard with one or more memory slots available for add-on memory modules.

A few pointers if you plan to upgrade RAM:

  • Determine how much memory is currently installed on your Mac. You can do this by going to the Apple menu then “About This Mac” and then go to the tab for “Memory”. Note: The aforementioned steps may vary depending on the version of OS X/macOS that you are running. Take note of how much memory is installed (capacity), how many memory slots are available (total slots), how many slots are in use and how many are free.
  • Determine the maximum amount of RAM that can be supported on your Mac as well as the type of RAM the Mac requires. First, go to the Apple menu then “About This Mac” and then go to the tab for “Overview”. The Overview tab will tell you which Mac series you have (ex: MacBook (13-inch, Late 2009)). Next, go to “System Report” and then in the “Hardware Overview”, locate the “Model Identifier” (ex: MacBook 6,1). With this information in hand, go to the Apple site and search for the technical specifications for your Mac. The Apple site will provide you with the requisite specifications. You can also go to one of the memory manufacturer sites (ex: Crucial, Kingston, PNY) and use their memory configurators to obtain this information. Note: Some memory configurators may report inaccurate memory specifications so it is important to utilize multiple sources to obtain accurate memory specifications.
  • Once you review the memory specifications for your Mac and have determined that the RAM can be upgraded, go to one of the memory manufacturer sites (ex: Kingston, Crucial, PNY) and use their memory configurator to find compatible memory for your Mac. Do some comparison shopping as memory prices are constantly changing. You will also want to do some additional research and read customer reviews on the memory modules before you make a purchase. Some customers experience problems with certain brands of memory running on certain types of Macs so due diligence is warranted.
  • Once you have the memory upgrade modules available, you can get instructions on how to install the modules from the Apple website. Tip: Before you purchase any modules, review the instructions for installing memory modules for your Mac. If you are unfamiliar or uncomfortable opening your Mac to install memory modules, consult with an IT professional.

If you checked the Apple site and determined that your Mac already has installed the maximum amount of RAM supported; there is one more thing that you should do. The memory specifications posted on the Apple site typically represent the factory default specifications at the time the Mac was produced and tested. The maximum amount of RAM supported by the Mac is based on the firmware available, memory limitations and availability, and other factors at the time the Mac was produced and tested. As time goes by, new firmware and memory modules become available which may allow computers to support more RAM; however, quite often, the factory default specifications will not be updated to reflect this because new computers will become available and replace their predecessors.

A company called OWC (Other World Computing – which manufacturers and sells its own memory modules and other products, also does testing on the Mac line of products in conjunction with their memory modules to determine if the Mac line of products will safely support RAM above the factory specifications. Through their website, you can use the Mac information gathered earlier to find your Mac and see if your Mac supports additional RAM above the factory limits. If your Mac does support additional RAM above the factory limits, be sure to purchase OWC certified modules as OWC tests, certifies and warrants their memory modules to work safely and properly in those respective Macs. While you can go to another memory manufacturer for similar modules, keep in mind that those modules, unless stated, may not be tested and certified to work with your Mac above the factory default specifications.

Let’s use our MacBook, 13-inch, Late 2009 edition (MacBook 6,1) referenced earlier as an example. If you pull up the official Apple specifications for this series, the MacBook 13-inch Late 2009 has two SO-DIMM slots which support up to 4GB of RAM (2 x 2GB). By today’s standards 4GB of RAM is quite inadequate; however, the factory specifications state that 4GB is our maximum. If you head over to OWC’s site and look up this Mac, you’ll discover that OWC has tested this series and determined that this series will support up to 8GB of RAM (2 x 4GB). Using certified OWC compatible RAM modules, our MacBook 13-inch Late 2009 upgraded successfully from a factory max of 4GB of RAM to 8GB of RAM. The MacBook is stable and running smoothly. While not every Mac will be able to support RAM above the factory specifications, if you are looking to upgrade your RAM and have found that you have reached your factory limit or want to know if it supports additional RAM above the factory specifications, check out OWC’s site.