Thursday, January 31, 2013

I Need More Memory!

Once I had Livedrive up and running (see my blog post for January 10, 2013) I noticed that I was getting the "Spinning Beachball" a lot more frequently than I had in the past. My system really slowed down when Time Machine came on. So I was getting very frustrated with the wait times before I could do anything.

I complained to my son, and he suggested that I open up Activity Monitor to see what was going on. Activity Monitor is an application that comes with your operating system and is found in the "Utilities" folder. When you open Activity Monitor there are five tabs: CPU, System Memory, Disk Activity, Disk Image, and Network. if you click the System Memory tab you are presented with a screen that shows all the processes that are running on your computer. There are a number of columns, and you can click on the column heading to sort by that column. If you click on the Real Memory column you can see which tasks are using the most memory. If you look down at the bottom, you see a graphical representation of the memory usage.

What I noticed immediately was that the free memory was very small, often as small as 20 MB. It was no wonder I was getting the Beachball. I didn't have enough memory to do anything.

Getting More Memory

I have a MacBook Pro laptop, and when I bought it I bought it with the most memory available at the time, 4 GB. But my son did some research and discovered that I could now install double that, up to 8 GB.

The next day I went up on the Internet to try to find out where I could get this additional memory. When you are shopping for RAM for your computer you have to be very sure that you get the correct chips for your particular model. In my research the only company that offered the RAM that would work in my laptop was Other World Computing. No other company that I looked at listed my particular laptop as one of the computers for which they sold RAM.

I have always had good service when I've shopped with Other World Computing. This time was no exception. I received the box with my new RAM chips very quickly.

Installing the new RAM chips was very easy. On the bottom of my MacBook Pro there are 10 screws. It is just a matter of simply removing those 10 screws with a small Phillips head screwdriver. You have to be very careful to keep track of which screw came out of which hole. They are not all the same size. The bottom of the laptop fits snugly, and so you will have to gently pry it off to get it to come off.

bottom of laptop
The above picture shows the location of the ten screws.

Once you have the cover removed you can see the RAM chips right in the center of the computer. There is one chipset sitting right on top of the second chipset.

bottom removed

Once you are sure you have no possibility of discharging static electricity from your body, it is simply a matter of spreading the plastic tabs on each side of the RAM chipset apart towards the outside of the computer to allow the chipset to spring up. Once it has done that, it is a simple matter to just pull it out of the slot in which it sits.

top chipset released

With the top chipset out of the way, you do the same thing to remove the bottom one.

one chipset removed

both chipsets removed

The new chipsets go back into the computer the same way the old ones came out. Because of the way the chipsets are slotted, it is impossible to put them in upside down. It also does not matter which one goes in first. Aim the first chipset to go into the bottom slot. While spreading the plastic tabs apart, push the chipset into its slot and allow this chipset to drop down into the computer.

one chipset installed

The second chipset goes into the top slot the same way. The final thing that must be done is to simply place the bottom of the computer back on and reinstall the screws into their proper holes. Some of the screws are very tiny and my fingers have never felt so big as they did when trying to hang onto these tiny screws and put them into their holes.

Running with 8GB of RAM Installed

Now for the final test: to turn the computer on. There were absolutely no problems. It booted right up. So next I went to the Apple menu, clicked on it, and went to the submenu called About This Mac. There in the window that popped up I could see that I now had 8 GB of memory.

about this mac 8gb

When I ran Activity Monitor I could see that I had lots of free memory. This looked very promising.

activity monitor system memory

I soon discovered, however, that now that I have this additional memory, applications are very anxious to use it. You can see from the screenshot below how my browser, iCab, is using almost a gigabyte of real memory and that my free memory is down to a little under 800 MB. In fact I'm using 7.23 GB of memory: 1.17 GB of wired memory, 3.54 GB of active memory, and 2.52 GB of interactive memory. In addition, 448 GB are being used in virtual memory which is the memory stored on the hard drive.

activity monitor 4gb used

I did some more research in the Apple discussion forums to try to learn what's going on here. One of the things that was said is that inactive memory is just the same as free memory. It is available to be used if required. The difference is that when you close an application, some memory used by it has its status changed to inactive. When you load the same application again, it will reload faster. If other applications require memory and there is not more free available, the computer will start using the inactive memory.

One of the participants in the discussions had installed 32 GB in a Mac (obviously not a laptop). He put up a screenshot of the Activity Monitor which showed that he only had 30.9 MB of free memory. 26.77 GB of his memory was tied up as inactive memory.

activity monitor 32gb installed

More RAM Helps

So the solution to memory problems isn't necessarily the installation of more memory. It is more a matter of managing the applications that are running. Everyone on the discussion boards has said that restarting the Mac solves the memory problems. It clears out the used memory, especially the inactive memory.

Since I installed my 8 GB of memory I've had no more frustrating days with the spinning Beachballs driving me crazy. I have also changed the way I work to shut down any application that's not being used and restarting my laptop about once a week. Nevertheless, I feel that installing the additional 4 GB of memory has definitely improved my computer life.

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