As I recently showed in How to check memory usage on your Mac, sometimes your demands on your Mac are greater than its memory can handle and your computer’s performance suffers. Replacement memory is inexpensive (this wasn’t always the case) and can be surprisingly easy to install.
Opening up your Mac computer and upgrading the memory may sound like a scary proposition, but it shouldn’t. You do need to handle the memory and computer carefully (more on this later) but the process is often simple. In this video it takes me less than four minutes and one screwdriver to upgrade the memory in my MacBook Pro.
While the critical step of removing and installing memory modules is basically the same for most Macs, accessing those memory modules varies greatly between computer models. The Apple website has detailed instructions for the various models of MacBook Pro , MacBook, Mac Pro, and iMac. Note that the memory in some models, like the new MacBook Air, is permanently soldered in place and cannot be upgraded. So estimate your future memory needs wisely when buying one of those models. [Note: This sounds like a flaw but it really is a feature. By soldering the memory in place the computer doesn't need memory module sockets, thus shaving a bit more weight that would be required for a more flexible computer. That's just one of the many ways that Apple gets those MacBook Airs under three pounds.]
WARNING: Before handling your replacement memory or the innards of your Mac, be aware that any static discharge can destroy memory modules. You’ll see that most of those Apple instruction pages (linked above) include steps like “Touch a metal surface inside the computer to discharge any static electricity from your body.” While I rarely use super-serious methods like grounding myself with a professional grounding strap, when installing memory I always make sure I’m wearing natural fibers, have bare feet, and have touched the metal portion of a grounded piece of electronics before touching the memory I’m removing or installing.
UPDATE: Since installing the memory in the video above, I have been even happier with my Mac. Although the upgrade from 4 GB to 6 GB might seem small, it has given me the breathing room I needed so now my typical usage fits in memory just fine and my MacBook Pro’s performance (even after many days since my last restart) has improved noticeably.
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