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How you can add more RAM to your Mac

MacBook 2015 Gold 0001
 
 
 

Updating your Mac’s RAM can provide a significant performance boost, as well as equipping the machine to run demanding software in the future.

On older models, this procedure is very simple, and if you use third-party RAM from companies like Crucial, you’ll also find the cost quite affordable. Modern Macs are a different story, and there are many dangers to avoid, which is why we’ve put together this guide.

For more general advice on how to expand the capabilities of your system, see: What you can do if your Mac doesn’t shutdown?

Should I upgrade my RAM?

Random Access Memory (RAM) is a temporary storage medium used by your Mac’s CPU. Essentially, it’s a short-lived storage space where process data is kept while you run them. 

The CPU can access the data stored in RAM much faster than it does the information on the hard drive, for example. This makes it vital for the proper functioning of your Mac.

So is it a good idea to upgrade your RAM? Well, in many cases, yes. Simply put, RAM upgrades are one of the cheapest and easiest ways to breathe new life into an old Mac. And for many models, the only tool you’ll need is a small screwdriver.

 

However, if your Mac is a newer model, there may be no way to upgrade the RAM, or it may be theoretically possible, but risky.

Before updating your RAM, consider if there are other ways to solve your memory problem. You may want to review these tips on how to free up memory on your Mac.

There are also a number of risks associated with upgrading your Mac’s RAM, which we describe below:

1. You could mess up your Mac

There’s a chance that failure to take proper antistatic precautions (which we will cover later) could damage sensitive electronic components inside your Mac. 

If you work carefully and follow the instructions you should be fine, but you do this work at your own risk, and Macworld accepts no responsibility if you short-circuit the motherboard or experience similar problems.

2. A RAM memory upgrade may void your warranty

As a general rule, RAM is considered a “user-usable” part and as such will not invalidate your warranty when upgrading.

However, in the case of many modern Macs -particularly Mac laptops- Apple could specify that the memory (RAM) is not removable by the users and indicate that if the RAM is going to be updated it must be done by an Apple Authorized Service Provider .

With this in mind, it may be worth checking the term “user-friendly” in your Mac’s manual for confirmation. Of course, if your Mac is out of warranty, you don’t have to worry about invalidating anything.

3. RAM may not be accessible

On some Mac models the RAM is soldered in place (for example 21.5 on the iMac 2015) making it impossible to upgrade, and if you tried it would probably damage your Mac.

Do I need more RAM?

There are two other factors to consider before you consider upgrading your Mac’s RAM: how much you have and how much you use your Mac. Here’s how to find the answers to both questions.

How much RAM do i have?

Today’s Mac ships with no less than 8GB of RAM, in many cases you’ll find 16GB of RAM as standard. It’s been a long time since Apple has sold Macs with anything less than that, although if you have a MacBook Air from 2015, or a Mac mini from 2014, you may only have 4 GB of RAM. 

Even the older Macs ship with less RAM than that. On the other hand, iMacs and MacBook Pro drives have offered 8GB or more for much longer.

 

The first step will be to find out how much RAM you have inside your Mac. It’s easy to find out.

  1. Click on the ‘Apple’ menu at the top of your screen.
  2. Click on ‘About this Mac’.
  3. Click on ‘System Report’.
  4. In the ‘Hardware’ overview look for the ‘Memory’ section. It will tell you how much you have.
  5. For more information, click on ‘Memory’ in the left column. 

How much RAM am I using?

The next step is to find out how much of this RAM your Mac is using at the time of greatest use. This is the best way to find out if you need more RAM.

  1. Open Activity Monitor on your Mac by pressing Command + Space and typing Activity.
  2. Select the Memory tab.
  3. Look in the section at the bottom for the Memory used.

As you can see in the screenshot above, we have 8 GB of RAM and we are using 6.5 GB, but we are not doing anything particularly burdensome at the moment. If we start editing video or something equally hungry for energy we might see a different story.

Can I add more RAM to my Mac?

Having established that some extra RAM can help your Mac, the next big question to answer is whether you’ll really be able to add RAM to your Mac. 

In some cases, a Mac’s RAM is user upgradeable, in other cases a service center may update it, and in some cases (unfortunately) it is not possible to update RAM at all.

The biggest problem is that on some models, particularly MacBooks, the RAM is soldered, making its removal almost impossible and dangerous for the computer. It may be possible to upgrade RAM on these models, but it is a risky affair.

Next, we’ll go into more detail on how to add RAM to various Mac models. But in summary, you can add RAM to the following Macs:

MacBook : 2008 to 2011 models only.

MacBook Pro: 2009-2012 13-inch, 2008-2012 15-inch, and any 17-inch model can be upgraded. If your MacBook Pro has a Retina display the RAM cannot be updated.

MacBook Air: You cannot upgrade RAM on any MacBook Air model.

iMac: RAM can be upgraded on most iMacs, with a couple of exceptions: 21.5-inch models from mid-2014 and late-2015 had soldered RAM.  

Mac mini: 2010 – 2012 models can be upgraded, just like 2018 Mac mini. 

Mac Pro: You can add RAM to any model.

iMac Pro: RAM is not user accessible. If you need to replace the memory of your iMac Pro, Apple suggests that you contact an Apple Store or an Apple Authorized Service Provider.

New MacBook 201518

How much RAM do I need?

I hope you discovered that your Mac’s RAM is upgradeable. In that case, you may wonder how much you have to get. 

As a general rule, 16GB is probably the most that anyone who isn’t interested in video editing or running multiple virtual machines needs. But this is for today – a better question, perhaps, would be how much will you need in a few years?

The basic principle behind protecting the future of the Mac is to make your current hardware powerful enough to cope with the inevitable increase in software demands in the coming years. And it’s always better to have a little more than you need than less.

Our advice would be to always keep this in mind when buying a new Mac. There are several build-to-order options when you buy a new Mac from Apple, and you should get as much RAM as you can afford.

What RAM memory is compatible with your Mac?

This is the next challenge. Not all RAM is created equal. Before updating, you should find out what type of RAM is compatible with your Mac.

Non-upgradeable welded RAM

As we said before, some Macs, in particular MacBooks, have RAM that is soldered, which means that it is impossible to remove it and if you try it you could damage your computer. In these models you really want to buy as much as possible at the point of sale to “prove yourself in the future”.

It is theoretically possible to upgrade welded RAM, but it is an extremely difficult process that can most likely result in irreversible destruction of your Mac, and we certainly would not recommend it. You can see how REWA technology updates the RAM of a 2015 MacBook Air in this video.

RAM types

Now, assuming that your Mac’s RAM is upgradeable, there are a number of technical figures that are used in describing RAM, two main pieces of information you need are the “double data rate” variety (ie DDR3 ), and the frequency (i.e. 1600 MHz). It can also help to know the model identifier of your Mac (ie ‘MacPro6,1’)

When in doubt, ask yourself: If you are unsure before buying, ask your potential RAM vendor to confirm that the components in question are compatible with your Mac. That way you will be covered.

The first, and probably simplest, method is to use ‘About this Mac’.

  1. Click on the Apple logo in the upper left corner and choose ‘About this Mac’.
  2. Look at the figure given for memory in the “Overview” tab (eg 1866 MHz DDR3). This will tell you the type of RAM you need.
  3. Then click on the system report.
  4. Now click on ‘Memory’ in the left column. It will tell you how many memory slots you have available and how they are being used.
  5. You will also be able to see if the memory is upgradeable – in the case of the MacBook Pro above it is not.

An alternative method to identify the correct type of RAM is to use Crucial’s free scanner. You will need to download the tool and then go to ‘System Preferences> Security and Privacy> General> Click Open Anyway to open the tool’.

The Crucial tool will then scan your computer and let you know if your Mac is upgradeable, and if it is not. If the RAM is upgradeable, it will direct you to the RAM you could buy.

Where to buy RAM

In addition to Crucial there are many ways to buy RAM. Keep in mind the general rule: cheaper = riskier.

Method 1: Direct from Apple (the most expensive)

You can buy your RAM directly from Apple. It is usually the most expensive option by far, and considering that there are compatible replacement versions that work just as well and are cheaper, it is not our recommended option.

Apple does not currently have a RAM section in their store, so your best option may be to go to Apple Spain and search for 16 GB of RAM or 32 GB of RAM, depending on how much you want to buy.

If you read the description of each product, you will notice that the company does not always tell you what Macs the RAM in question is compatible with (it usually does it only if it is for a current Mac). So be very careful to make sure it’s the correct type of RAM before buying it.

As we said before, it is better to buy the RAM at the time you buy your Mac, since it will be built to order with the RAM you need installed.

Method 2: Reputable parts supplier (less expensive)

This is our recommended approach: buy your RAM through a reputable replacement supplier. There are plenty of places to buy RAM online, but, as with most things, established and reputable companies with guarantees and return policies are your best bet.

In the world of Apple’s hardware aftermarket , some names have stood the test of time. MacUpgrades, Crucial and OWC (via Megamac) are three of our favorites.

Method 3: Certified Refurbished (cheaper still, but with a shorter warranty)

RAM memory restored by Apple or another company (presumably Apple-approved) is often called “certified.” Restored RAM is much less common than, say, restored Macs, but it exists. Certified restored RAM is usually backed by a warranty, although this is typically shorter than Apple’s warranty.

Method 4: Second-hand (much less expensive, but riskier)

We do not recommend this. If done right, it is usually the cheapest method. It is also the riskiest as there is often no guarantee and no returns. You could save hundreds, or you could end up wasting money on something that doesn’t work. Caveat emptor.

There are plenty of places to buy second hand, but when it comes to choosing, eBay is probably the undisputed champion. You can also try AliExpress (which also has many options), eBid or Gumtree.

What to do before replacing your RAM

Although RAM upgrades are straightforward (as far as upgrades are concerned) there are still some basic precautions you should take when handling sensitive electronics and accessing your Mac.

The goal is to prevent any damage caused by static electricity. This can happen when you touch an object that conducts electricity with a different electrical charge than yours (yes, you also conduct electricity).

First, turn off your Mac and wait at least 10 minutes for the internal components to cool down.

MacBook 2015 Gold 15

Be sure to keep your RAM in its antistatic packaging until you need it. When you’re ready to start, touch an unpainted metal surface of your computer to discharge any static on your body. Try to make sure your workplace is as free of static as possible, remove plastic bags or other objects that can cause static build-up.

Keep your Mac plugged in, but turned off. This can help ensure that the case is grounded, reducing the possibility of any shock. More demanding users may want to consider using an antistatic wrist or heel strap to minimize load buildup, but this is not essential.

When mounting your RAM, make sure that the small notch cut in the gold contacts on the front matches the protrusion in the receive bay. If assembled correctly, it will fit together like a puzzle. If mounted incorrectly, the bump will prevent the RAM from fully connecting.

How to upgrade the RAM of MacBook Pro

After the arrival of the Retina display, updating your Mac laptop, be it MacBook, MacBook Air or MacBook Pro became almost impossible. If that’s the Mac you have, then updating will be difficult or, more likely, impossible.

However, if your MacBook Pro was originally purchased before 2012 then you should be able to upgrade the RAM.

A more extensive list of upgradeable MacBooks would be:

  • MacBook: 2008 to 2011 models only.
  • MacBook Pro: 2009-2012 13in, 2008-2012 15in, and any 17in model can be upgraded.

Models produced before 2012 are relatively easy to upgrade, although there are some obvious structural differences in the design of the Air, Pro, and the original MacBook.

MacBook Pro RAM upgrade

If your MacBook Pro is from 2009 to 2012, follow these steps:

Shut down your Mac, unplug it, and wait awhile to make sure all components are OK.

Remove the bottom of the case while keeping track of all the screws (there are 10 screws of different length, so it’s worth sticking them to a sheet of A4 paper in the right places).

Before you go any further you must touch some metal to discharge any static electricity you have collected.

You should be able to see the existing RAM. Remove it by pushing the levers on both sides. Before removing the memory, locate the notches – if you can’t find them, press the levers again. Lift the memory up (hold it by the sides and be careful not to touch the gold connectors).

To insert the new RAM, place the notch on the module with the memory slot – you must have the gold side facing up. Push the memory in.

Push the memory down to lock it into place.

Now replace the bottom of the box with your carefully marked screws (you’ve followed them right!)

Looking for instructions for a different model? Take a look at our Mac upgrade guide.

How to upgrade the RAM memory of Mac mini

Until the end of 2014, the Mac mini was a very easy device to upgrade. Just unscrew the plastic base and there are two pop-up RAM slots where you can put the new chips. If you have one of these models, it’s probably equipped with 4GB of RAM, as it was Apple’s standard.

Unfortunately, the Mac mini 2014 removed the manual update feature from its predecessor. It was only possible to update it at the point of sale, otherwise it came with 4 GB installed, which can be increased to 8 GB for $ 100 or 16 GB for $ 300. The top two models come with 8GB of RAM, which can also be increased to 16GB.

In the following years, the Mac mini was not “easy to upgrade RAM”, with enough variation in the internal layout of different models, which meant that some required more disassembly than others. Sometimes it is necessary to unplug the components of the logic board, which can end bad if you are not careful.

Fortunately, when Apple updated the Mac mini in 2018, changes were made that made it more upgradeable, though Apple indicates that the upgrade needs to be done by an Authorized Service Provider ab (although that won’t stop smart updaters). That machine can accommodate up to 64GB of RAM.

Here is a list of the upgradeable Mac mini:

  • 2018 Mac mini – not officially user-upgradeable, but you can get the memory updated by an Authorized Service Provider.
  • 2010-2012 Mac mini – user upgradeable.

Today on the Crucial memory chip store website you can buy an 8GB kit for £ 59.99 or a 16GB kit for £ 91.19 (both for the 2012 generation of Mac mini) or a 16GB kit for £ 92.39 and a 32GB kit for £ 179.99 (for the 2018 Mac mini).

Depending on the model you are working with, you will likely need some type of flat implement to remove the top cap (blunt, not sharp). But don’t let that stop you: Our US colleagues managed to do it in just 6 minutes, but it was a very old Mac mini model.

Mac mini RAM upgrade

If you have a 2010 to 2012 model the following steps should apply to you:

Start by turning off your Mac mini and disconnecting it from the power.

Turn your Mac mini upside down so you can see the bottom cover. Rotate the cover counterclockwise to unlock it.

If you press the cover, it should pop out.

Remove the existing memory: you will have to push the clips on each end of the memory to extract it.

You can now install the new memory.

Replace the cover – you need to match the dots before you can screw it back into the locked position.

How to upgrade the iMac’s RAM

Updating the RAM memory of an iMac is, at least in the case of the 27in model, easier than updating its other components, since it generally does not involve removing the screen.

It is much easier to upgrade RAM memory on a 27-inch iMac than on a 21.5-inch one because the 27-inch model has a convenient memory access door, located in the center below the screen, where you can access the RAM memory (as shown in the following image). In that case, updating the RAM is easy, you just have to make sure that you buy the correct RAM and everything is ready.

However, the 21.5-inch iMac’s RAM may be slightly more difficult to upgrade, and in some generations (namely mid-2014 and late-2015 models) it is impossible to upgrade due to being soldered instead.

Fortunately, Apple has stopped soldering RAM in place in recent years. Now even 21.5-inch iMacs can be upgraded, but it’s a challenge that’s best left to an Apple Authorized Service Provider.

Here is our list of upgradeable iMacs:

  • 27 on iMac: RAM can be upgraded.
  • 21.5 on iMac: RAM can be upgraded on most 21.5-inch iMacs, with a couple of exceptions: 21.5-inch mid-2014 and late-2015 models had soldered RAM.  
  • iMac Pro: RAM is not user accessible. If your iMac Pro’s memory needs to be replaced, Apple suggests that you contact an Apple Store or Apple Authorized Service Provider.

27 in iMac RAM upgrade

In this example, we upgraded the RAM of a 27-inch iMac. It is a fairly easy process.

  1. Place the iMac’s flat panel on something soft (like a towel or blanket) to protect the screen.
  2. Press the little button on top of the outlet, and pick the memory hatch door above it. This is quite possible to do with just your fingers.
  3. Try to avoid using something that helps open the door, as you could scratch your Mac. Find someone with longer, stronger nails if that helps. You don’t need a lot of pressure to open this door.
  4. Now you will see the two 4GB DIMMs of memory that Apple ships as standard with its iMacs. The company illustrates how RAM should be placed on the back of the memory hatch door.
  5. Now pull out the little arms to lift the iMac’s RAM slots.
  6. Add your two new DIMMs into the empty slots. There is no need to remove existing memory chips unless you add four new 8GB DIMMs for the installation of a maximum of 32GB of memory.
  7. Press the small levers to bring the DIMMs back to flat.
  8. Put the door back in its place. You don’t need long nails for this!

21.5-inch iMac RAM upgrade

In this example we updated the RAM memory of the iMac from mid 2010. As we mentioned earlier, the 21.5-inch iMac RAM between mid-2014 and the end of 2015 was not upgradeable.

As long as a 2014/2015 model is not updated, the process should be similar to the one described below.

Lay your iMac upside down on a clean, smooth surface. We recommend that you put a towel under your Mac and on the work surface, so as not to scratch the screen.

Find the RAM access door on the bottom of your Mac. Loosen the three screws that secure it, they should remain inside the access door, then remove the door.

Carefully slide the black tab on the RAM out of the slot.

Firmly push down on this tab to eject the module from this side of the RAM bay.

Slide the RAM module out of its slot into the bay and set it aside. Repeat this process to remove the RAM modules from other bays.

Make sure the replacement RAM modules are correctly oriented, and then slide them gently into the iMac. Make sure they are mounted using your thumb.

MacBook 2015 Gold 0006

How to upgrade iMac Pro RAM

It may look like the same exterior design in most respects, but the iMac Pro doesn’t have the same user-accessible hatch as the iMac, so you can’t upgrade its RAM yourself.

The good news is that you can upgrade your RAM, just go to a service center and ask them to upgrade it for you. Rene Ritchie says this doesn’t have to be an Apple store, it can be an independent store.

How to upgrade the RAM of Mac Pro

Mac Pro used to be Apple’s “easiest to upgrade” product. Even the 2013 Mac Pro had a memory bay, although it’s a bit difficult to access.

The RAM inside the new Apple Mac Pro that launched in late 2019 is also user upgradeable.

Mac Pro RAM Update (2013)

It’s worth bearing in mind that memory latches are not very sturdy and tend to buckle if you are not careful. OWC provides a “nylon pry tool” (AKA “Spudger”) for this, but it’s not entirely necessary – a little finesse and a little patience go a long way.

Apple provides an illustrated guide to memory upgrades – just click ‘Apple> About this Mac’, then the ‘Memory’ tab and then the ‘Memory upgrade instructions’ link.

Slide the lock switch to the right, to the unlocked position, and then slide the outer case up and out of the Mac Pro.

Push the RAM release tab up (in the direction of the white arrow). This will cause the RAM slots to open outward, allowing you to access the modules.

Gently, but firmly, grab the top and bottom of the RAM module and pull it out of the slot.

To install the new module or modules make sure it is oriented correctly, and then push the ram into the slot, be sure to apply pressure to the top and bottom of the chip, to make sure it is fully assembled.

Push the tray back into the body of the Mac Pro, then re-insert and close the 

Case.

Mac Pro Tower (pre 2012) RAM upgrade

Lift the lock lever on the back of the case to unlock the side panel, and then remove the side panel.

Locate the RAM tray in the bottom corner of the Mac Pro.

Simultaneously push down on the ejectors on either side of the RAM lever; this should cause the RAM to be released. Then carefully lift the stick.

Make sure the new club is well oriented, then carefully push the club down into the bay with both hands, making sure you put some pressure on both ends of the club. You should hear a click when the ejectors block the club. Make sure both ejectors are secure.

What to do after replacing your RAM

Once you’ve completed the upgrade, it’s a safe bet to test your new modules for memory, to make sure everything really works.

Why? It is often not obvious if a piece of RAM is not up to scratch. Sometimes a faulty chip works its way through manufacturer quality testing, and a memory test can help you prevent problems before you start experiencing drops and similar calamities.

Recommended: Memtest

One of the most popular pieces of software for this is Memtest, which is freely available from here.

It’s easy to use. First, download the project folder as a zip.

Then unzip it, and run the Memtest unix executable.

The software will run in a test sequence in a terminal window. Close as many applications as possible before running the test – this gives Memtest as much RAM as possible to work with.

Some alternatives

If for some reason Memtest is not for you, there are several alternatives in the App Store: look for the “Memory Test” software, but check the reviews first. We have not tested any of them and can only vouch for Memtest.

You can also use your Mac’s built-in memory tests. Reboot or boot your Mac, and hold down the D key as it boots – this should take you to the diagnostic screen. 

What appears at this point will depend on your operating system, but somewhere in the options there should be a section called “Hardware tests”, where you will find the option to test your memory.


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