If your Mac is feeling sluggish, updating memory is a great tweak. While replacing an old hard drive with a modern SSD is the most drastic hardware improvement, a Mac RAM upgrade lets you run more programs at the same time.
However, what you can do with your Mac's RAM depends on your exact model. We're going to look at what Mac models allow RAM upgrades, where to buy Mac RAM, and how to actually upgrade your device's RAM.
Can I upgrade the RAM in my Mac model?
Unfortunately, most modern Macs don't let you upgrade memory yourself.
On newer MacBook Pro and MacBook Air models, the RAM is soldered to the motherboard. Some newer iMacs technically have user-upgradeable memory, but doing so requires a major breakdown of the computer. We would not recommend trying this unless you have a lot of experience with electronics and your machine is already out of warranty.
The following Mac models have user upgradeable RAM:
iMac (All models through 2020, with the exception of the following 21.5-inch models: Late 2012, Late 2013, Mid 2014, Late 2015, Retina 4K Late 2015, 2017, Retina 4K 2017, and Retina 4K 2019)
Mac Pro (All models)
Mac Mini (2010-2012 models)
MacBook (2008-2011 models)
MacBook Pro 13 inch (models from 2009 to mid-2012)
MacBook Pro 15-inch (2008 to mid-2012 models)
MacBook Pro 17 inch (all models)
If you have any of the following Mac models, you will not be able to upgrade your memory (in some cases, such as the 2018 Mac Mini, it is possible, but quite difficult):
iMac Pro (All models)
M1 iMac (2021 and above)
Mac Mini (2014 and after)
MacBook Air (All models)
12-inch MacBook (all models)
MacBook Pro with Retina display (all models)
MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (all models)
MacBook Pro 16 inch (all models)
Essentially, the newer your Mac model, the less likely it is that you will be able to update the RAM.
How to find out which model of Mac you have
Many Macs look the same, so be sure to check the exact model before you start shopping for RAM.
macOS makes this process easy. Press the Apple menu in the top left corner of your screen and select About this Mac. On the result overview On the tab, you'll see your Mac's name at the top of the information. That will be something like MacBook Pro (15 inch, 2016). This page also shows how much memory you have installed.
To avoid mistakes, you should also get the exact model identifier for your device. To do this, click on the System report Button. Then in the Hardware overview Section, look for that Model identifier Field. That will be something like MacBook7, 1.
Keep this in mind when looking for RAM to buy.
How to Buy the Right RAM for Your Mac
Due to the large number of Mac models available, we cannot provide precise information about the correct RAM for every computer. However, you can find a variety of websites that will make it easy for you to find the right RAM sticks for your model.
The first place to stop is on Other World Computing's Mac RAM page. That way, you can choose your Mac model to find compatible RAM. You'll see the Macs that any type of RAM will work on, as well as easy videos to replace them. The company even offers a trade-in for your old RAM.
Alternatively, check out Crucial's storage hub. Here you can either enter your computer information (found earlier) or download a scanner tool that will look for you. You will then see a page with SSDs and RAM that are guaranteed to work on your computer.
You can find more detailed instructions on iFixIt's Mac repair page. Detailed steps for RAM upgrades can be found here.
Ensure Mac RAM compatibility
Compatibility with your system is crucial when purchasing RAM. Not every type of RAM will work on every Mac computer. So make sure you buy a suitable component. Otherwise, you could go to the best of your ability to upgrade memory and end up with an unusable computer.
For this reason, we recommend buying from a store that specializes in Mac RAM upgrades. You might be able to shop around and get a cheaper price on RAM which can be found on the websites above. When you do this, make sure you search for SKU so that you don't buy something that is slightly different.
We recommend staying away from cheap, junkie RAM with few or poor reviews. The few dollars you save are not worth the risk of bad system memory.
After all, you need to buy the right amount of RAM for your system. Check the OWC MaxRAM page to see how much RAM your computer uses. In many cases, this exceeds the "maximum value" provided by Apple.
This page also tells you how many memory slots your computer has. Most MacBook models have two slots. In order to be able to use the two-channel memory, you should buy two sticks that add up to your desired sum. For example, if you want to upgrade to 8GB of RAM, buy the 4GB x 2 pack.
How much RAM to buy depends on your needs. 8 GB is a good base if you are not a heavy computer user. If you multitask frequently and your computer supports it, jumping to 16GB is a good idea.
How to update your Mac's RAM
Finally, let's review the general process for the actual RAM upgrade on your computer. As mentioned earlier, we can't go through the instructions for each individual Mac model. Check the resources above for more specific instructions.
Here's a basic rundown of what this looks like on a mid-2010 MacBook. While yours may be a little different, the basic process for MacBook RAM upgrades is the same. Most iMac models have a convenient window for accessing the RAM compartment, making it even easier than on a laptop.
Be careful of static electricity as you work, which can damage computer components. Make sure you ground yourself on a metal object before starting this process and work on a static-free surface. Avoid wearing fluffy pants or dragging your feet on the carpet while working, as these actions build up static electricity.
When handling the RAM, be sure to grip the sides to avoid touching sensitive parts. Avoid using the gold connector pins to handle the RAM.
Step 1: remove the MacBook cover
First shut down your computer if you have not already done so. Then, unplug your Mac from its power source and remove any attached accessories. Turn your MacBook over and you will see several screws holding the bottom cover in place. Remove this with a standard Phillips screwdriver.
Be careful not to remove the screws as you remove them. You may want to have a paper towel or something nearby to put the screws in, as they are small and easy to lose.
Step 2: remove the old RAM
Once the cover is removed you should be able to see the RAM. It's pretty obvious since MacBooks don't have many user-removable parts. In the picture above, the RAM is the little green component above the Samsung drive.
On our MacBook in this example, two small clips on either side of the RAM hold it in place. Carefully slide it towards the outside of the RAM and the stick will pop open so you can pull it out.
Repeat the process by pushing out the clips to release them and removing the second stick of RAM. Then set the old components aside.
Step 3: install the new RAM
Take your new RAM and align the notch in the connector pins with the notch in the RAM seat. It will only go one way so finding the right fit shouldn't be difficult.
After aligning the notches at about a 30 degree angle and gently pushing them in, gently push the RAM down and you will feel it click into place. Repeat this process again for the second stick, and you're done.
After the new RAM is securely installed, you can put the cover back on. However, while you are having your computer disassembled, it is worth taking a minute to remove any visible debris. Use a cotton swab or some air from the can to remove any build-up of dust, especially in the fan.
To put the cover back on, simply realign it and screw the screws back in.
Step 4: Make sure your Mac recognizes the RAM
After that, you can start your computer to make sure that it correctly recognizes the RAM. By doing About this Mac Visited windows earlier you should see the new amount of RAM next to it memory. If you want to see more details, you can open System report and click on memory Tab.
Then, try other ways to make your old Mac feel like new.
Your Mac RAM upgrade is complete
Now you have everything you need to complete this process. Whether you're interested in an iMac or MacBook Pro RAM upgrade, you'll know how to find and install the right RAM for your system. It's a relatively straightforward computer upgrade that will have a big impact.
Make sure it isn't time to replace your Mac instead before you start buying up new memory for an old computer.
6 characters It's time to replace your Mac
How long do Macs last? When is it time to buy a new Mac? Here are some warning signs that you should replace your Mac.
About the author
(1694 articles published)
Ben is the Assistant Editor and Onboarding Manager at MakeUseOf. He left his IT job to write full-time in 2016 and has never looked back. For over six years he has been a professional writer covering technical tutorials, video game recommendations, and more.
By Ben Stegner
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