How to Upgrade RAM on MacBook Pro and Other Macs

Nobody likes a slow and laggy experience when working on their computer. This can often be attributed to a shortage of RAM in the system. Fortunately, you can upgrade RAM on older MacBook Pro models. You can also take some extra steps to ensure you’re using your current RAM most efficiently.

Hi, I’m Devansh. I became a Mac user when I bought my first iMac in 2017, followed by a MacBook Pro a year later. Although it has worked fine for me, since I’m also a PC builder, I’ve always been curious about how I can upgrade its RAM.

In this article, I’ll first specify which MacBook Pro models have user-upgradable memory. If your model falls on that list, I’ll show you the steps to upgrade the RAM. After that, I’ll briefly talk about how to upgrade RAM on other Mac computers and then three tips on how to use RAM more efficiently.

Stick around if you’re tired of constant lagging on your Mac, and want to ensure a smooth and fast experience!

Upgrading RAM on MacBook Pro

Before I get into the step-by-step instructions on how to upgrade your MacBook Pro’s RAM, let’s first make sure that the model you’re using is capable of an upgrade. Here’s a complete list of all the MacBook Pro models with user-upgradeable memory.

13-inchMid 2012, Late 2011, Early 2011, Mid 2010, Mid 2009
15-inchMid 2012, Late 2011, Early 2011, Mid 2010 2.53GHz, Mid 2009, Mid 2009, Late 2008, Early 2008 and earlier
17-inchLate 2011, Early 2011, Mid 2010, Mid 2009, Early 2009, Late 2008 and earlier

Did you identify your MacBook Pro in this list? If yes, here are the instructions for upgrading the RAM.

  • Shut it down and disconnect the power supply.
  • Turn it over and unscrew the case.
  • The memory slot is above the battery. Pull the two levers of the sticks. This action will cause the RAM sticks to rise up.
  • Gently pull both of the RAM sticks out (although your model may only have one).
  • Insert your new RAM sticks firmly by gently locking them into place as the levers fall back down. Do this for both sticks. If you don’t have any on hand, check out these best RAM options.
  • Add the bottom case back in place.

For more information and instructions about specific models, visit Apple’s support page. If you need a proper video walkthrough of the process, RickMakes has a great step-by-step tutorial that you can follow.

Now, let’s talk about newer models. Unfortunately, MacBook Pro models released post-2012 don’t have removable memory and can’t be upgraded with more RAM after purchase. Moreover, the even newer M1-based Macs have “Unified Memory,” which is on the chip itself rather than a separate component.

People have found ways around it, but those methods go beyond just voiding your warranty. They are extremely risky and involve many pitfalls which could damage your beloved MacBook Pro. So, I’d strongly recommend against going down that path.

If you really need the extra RAM, I’d suggest you sell your current MacBook Pro and buy an upgraded model. You can count the difference in cost between selling the old one and purchasing the new one as the upgrade cost. Of course, another option is to simply use your existing RAM more efficiently, which we will cover later.

Upgrading RAM on Other Macs

If you’re using an iMac, Mac mini, or a Mac Pro, upgrading RAM is much more straightforward. In fact, if you open the About This Mac window and go to the Memory section, you’ll get a neat diagram of the RAM you’re using currently and how many free slots are available.

If you click Memory Upgrade Instructions, you’ll be taken to the relevant Apple support page for your particular Mac, which will let you know the specific instructions on finding compatible RAM sticks and installing them.

Now, let’s talk about each Mac briefly.

  • iMac: Apart from the new M1-based iMac, most models have user-upgradable memory. Since these machines are often used for professional workloads, a RAM upgrade can considerably boost performance.
  • Mac mini: When it comes to the Mac mini, the situation is similar to the MacBook Pro. Newer Mac mini models, from 2014 to 2020, don’t support user-installed RAM officially. The only models that do are from 2010, 2011, and 2012. If you own one of these, the process is relatively straightforward. Unfortunately, Mac Studio, its big brother, doesn’t support a RAM upgrade since it uses a unified memory configuration.
  • Mac Pro: Since the Mac Pro is the only computer in Apple’s lineup that is designed to be upgraded by the user, adding memory to it is the easiest of the bunch.

Before doing any of this, remember to discharge any static electricity you may be carrying. After following the steps, installing the RAM sticks, and booting up your Mac, be sure to go to the Memory section in About This Mac again. It’s essential to check if the details listed there match up with the RAM you installed.

If there are any errors, here are some steps you can take. First, verify the RAM stick specs against the memory requirements of your Mac. If they match, repeat the installation process. If you still have issues after that, remove the RAM sticks and contact the company you bought them from.

If the installation is successful, you’ll probably get a lot better performance based on the improved memory and data speed of the new RAM sticks.

3 Tips to Free up RAM on MacBook Pro and Other Macs

Granted, macOS has been designed from the ground up to use RAM more efficiently compared to other major operating systems. However, it doesn’t hurt to take some steps to ensure you’re using what you’ve already got in the best way.

Whether you upgrade your RAM in your Mac or not, these three tips will help you speed up your overall performance.

1. Optimize Background Processes with Activity Monitor

No matter how powerful your Mac is, its resources are still somewhat limited when compared to the plethora of apps you might be using. Having all of these open simultaneously takes a significant toll on the RAM.

A great way to lower the load is to squash out extra background processes. First, go to the application tab in Finder or open Spotlight and type in ‘Activity Monitor.’ From there, go to the Memory section. This is the window you’ll see.

Do you notice any background processes taking up significant memory that you’re not using currently? Just double-click on them and click Quit. This will shut them down, free up some RAM, and make your Mac run a bit faster.

2. Manage Storage Space

I’m sure you’ve heard before that productivity increases when a person is in a clean and well-organized environment. Well, the same applies to your Mac. If your disk space is filled to the brim, your Mac could start lagging. Fortunately, there’s a tool in macOS to optimize storage space quickly.

Step 1: Open the About This Mac window from the Menu bar

Step 2: Go to the Storage section and click Manage

This is the page you’ll be directed to. You can browse through apps, documents, and other files and weed out unnecessary or outdated stuff that is taking up space.

I recommend leaving at least 15-20GB of free space for storing cache files and overall smooth operation. Although the amount of available disk space doesn’t really have a direct effect on your RAM, filling it to the brim can clog up your Mac and make it run slow too. So, it’s important to manage nonetheless.

3. Minimize System Startup Apps

Isn’t it annoying when, right after you boot your Mac, a bunch of applications suddenly pop up on screen? It turns out that these apps also slow down your computer and lower your battery life. Here’s how to disable them.

Step 1: Go to the Apple logo in the Menu bar.

Step 2: Click on System Preferences and then Users & Groups.

Step 3: Now go to the Login Items section.

You can go through the list and disable apps from automatically opening when you log in. This is a great way to minimize background tasks that can take up RAM and other system resources.

FAQs

I just showed you how to upgrade RAM on MacBook Pro and other popular Mac computers. To further your knowledge, here are some more questions you might be curious about.

Do MacBook Pro RAM Sticks Require Cleaning?

Due to moisture and dust, it’s common for the pins below RAM sticks to often get corroded. As a result, you experience sudden restarts and random crashes. Fortunately, the sticks on older MacBook Pro models (which have removable memory) are placed securely under a case, so cleaning them isn’t necessary.

How Much RAM Do Most Mac Users Need?

For general use-cases, 8GB will be more than sufficient. With 16GB, you can unlock extra headroom for heavy workloads, like running virtual machines, 4K video editing, and artificial intelligence datasets.

Does the M1 Chipset Manage RAM More Efficiently?

Yes. As I said before, the M1 chip uses a cutting-edge “Unified Memory” configuration powered with 4,266 MHz LPDDR4X SDRAM, which is shared by the CPU, GPU, and neural engine cores. This creates a sort of a shared memory pool, leading to faster and more efficient computing.

Where are RAM Sticks Stored in the iMac?

When it comes to iMac, most models have removable memory. See that compartment on top of the power port and below the vents? That’s where the RAM sticks are stored.

Of course, this isn’t possible in the newer M1-based iMacs for reasons I’ve already discussed. However, some regular iMacs don’t have removable memory, like the 21.5-inch Late 2015 iMac. So, check out this page to be sure.

Conclusion

If the Mac you’re using currently, whether it’s a MacBook Pro or an iMac or a Mac mini, has user-upgradeable RAM, I’d highly recommend you go ahead and upgrade it. It’s the best way to get extra performance out of your Mac without spending a fortune.

On the other hand, if your Mac doesn’t have removable memory or has the M1 chip, you can try out the three tips I wrote above for freeing up RAM. Following these will improve performance and delay the need to upgrade for a while.

Did you follow this article’s steps and upgrade your MacBook Pro’s RAM? If yes, how significant is the jump in performance? Please let me know in the comments!

About Devansh Kamdar
I'm an Apple fan who's been using an iMac and a MacBook Pro for work-related tasks since 2017. I also own an iPhone 13 and several other small Apple accessories. Although I'm preparing to build my own PC soon, I still spend most of the time on my Mac.

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