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Slow Mac? Here’s How to Figure Out If You Need More RAM

No matter how fast your Mac was when it was new, the time will come when apps launch slowly, the spinning beachball appears more often, and everything responds sluggishly. Such problems won’t happen all the time, and you can often fix them by quitting a piggy app or restarting your Mac. But if these problems are happening more frequently, one possible fix is to install more RAM.  Also known as random-access memory, RAM is the temporary working space where macOS loads apps and documents while you’re using them. Let’s look at how memory is used, how you can determine if you need more, and what to do about it. (To make sure we’re all on the same page, RAM and memory are two terms for the same thing, and are distinct from disk space or storage, where files are stored permanently even when your Mac is turned off. RAM is faster than a hard disk or SSD, but it’s much more expensive and is wiped clean when you restart or shut down your Mac.)

What Is RAM Used For?

When you launch an app, its code is loaded from disk into RAM for execution. Similarly, when you open a document, the app reads its contents into memory in order to manipulate the data quickly. macOS also uses significant quantities of RAM, and it relies on numerous helper apps. It’s thus easy for macOS, its helper apps, and the apps you run to request more RAM than is actually installed in your Mac. Luckily, that’s not a show-stopper, thanks to memory compression and virtual memory. As macOS starts to use up free memory, it looks for chunks of data in memory that are inactive, perhaps due to being used by an app that’s running, but only in the background. It then tasks an underutilized processor core to compress that data in memory in much the same way you can compress a file in the Finder with the File > Compress command. When the data is needed again, macOS expands it. This compression and expansion process uses some processor time, but not so much that you’d usually notice unless you’re running other CPU-intensive apps. When memory compression isn’t enough, macOS resorts to virtual memory, which involves copying chunks of inactive data from RAM to disk-based swap files and back as needed, a process called paging. Virtual memory lets the Mac use more RAM than it has, but at the cost of speed, since copying to and from the drive is slow.

Checking Memory Usage

You’ll notice your Mac getting sluggish if you open too many apps or documents, but Apple has provided a better way to see what’s going on: the Activity Monitor app, which is stored in the Utilities folder in your Applications folder. Open Activity Monitor, and click the Memory button to see a list of apps, how much memory they’re using, and other details. Click the Memory column header to sort by the apps using the most memory. You can use this list to figure out which apps to quit first to recover memory. The most useful part of Activity Monitor, however, is the Memory Pressure graph at the bottom. It shows green when there is plenty of memory available, yellow when macOS is compressing memory, and red when it has been forced to rely on virtual memory. The Mac shown below is very unhappy. Whenever your Mac is feeling slow, to see if insufficient RAM is the culprit, look at the Memory Pressure graph. If you see a lot of yellow and any red, macOS’s memory management is hurting overall performance. The quick fix is to close unnecessary documents, Web browser tabs, and apps, but if you regularly see red in the Memory Pressure graph with the apps you need to get your work done, it’s time to think about acquiring more RAM.

Get More RAM… or a New Mac

It used to be relatively easy to add RAM to most Macs, but with today’s Macs, it’s often either difficult or impossible. In general, you can add memory to the 27-inch iMac, the Mac mini, and the Mac Pro. It’s also possible for Apple Authorized Service Providers to add memory to the iMac Pro and most models of the 21.5-inch iMac. If you have one of these Macs, you can learn more about how much RAM you have and what you can install by choosing Apple > About This Mac > Memory or by consulting a guide on a RAM vendor’s Web site. Unfortunately, there’s no way to upgrade the memory in a 12-inch MacBook, MacBook Air, or MacBook Pro (since the mid-2012 models). If you have one of these Macs and you need more RAM for reasonable performance, your only option is to buy a new Mac. Feel free to get in touch with us if you need help choosing and installing RAM, or for advice on how much RAM to get in your next Mac. Generally speaking, 8 GB is now the least RAM you should consider, 16 GB is a reasonable amount for most people, and 32 GB or more may be necessary for resource-intensive tasks.

Two Ways to Convince a Wedged iPhone to Connect to the Internet Again

Every now and then, we’ve seen iPhones stop being able to access the Internet, either via Wi-Fi or a cellular data connection. Assuming that the Internet connection is working for other devices, there are two easy ways to reset your iPhone’s connection and get it working again. First, enable Airplane mode to shut off the iPhone’s radios—bring up Control Center and tap the Airplane mode button. After a few seconds, tap the button again to turn it off. Second, if toggling Airplane mode doesn’t work, power down the iPhone by pressing and holding the top or side button (iPhone 8 or earlier) or both the side button and a volume button (iPhone X or later) until the slider appears (or go to Settings > General > Shut Down). Drag the slider to turn off the iPhone. Once the phone is powered down, hold the side (or top) button again until the Apple logo appears. In just a moment, your phone will be back on, and you should be able to access the Internet normally.

Have You Learned iOS 12’s New Gestures on the iPad?

When Apple released iOS 12 in September 2018, the main change for iPad users was a revamped collection of gestures similar to those used by the iPhone X. As it turned out, these new gestures were in preparation for the release of the new 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro models that dropped the Home button and Touch ID in favor of Face ID. Just as with the iPhone X, the elimination of the Home button requires new gestures. Luckily, Apple did a great job on these, so once you learn them, you’ll probably find them even faster to use than before. And if you’re still using an iPad with a Home button, rest assured that it still works as you expect.

Show the Home Screen

Although those whose iPads have a Home button will likely stick with pressing it to return to the Home screen, there’s a new universal gesture that works on all iPads running iOS 12. Just put your finger at the bottom edge of the screen and swipe up with a quick, decisive gesture that goes about a third of the way up.

Show the App Switcher

Again, those with a Home button on their iPads are accustomed to double-clicking it to bring up the app switcher that displays large thumbnails of recently used apps. But if you want to retrain yourself to use iOS 12’s new gesture, swipe up from the bottom to the middle of the screen (more slowly than the gesture for returning to the Home screen) and pause briefly until the thumbnails appear.

Switch Between Apps

iOS 12’s new trick for switching back and forth between apps is slightly different depending on whether you have an older iPad or one of the new 11-inch or 12.9-inch iPad Pro models. On the new iPad Pro, swipe left and right along the bottom edge of the screen to switch between previously used apps. (This is exactly the same gesture you’d use on the iPhone X, XR, XS, and XS Max.) On an older iPad, however, you need to swipe up from the bottom edge of the screen just slightly—not even enough to display the entire Dock—and then swipe right or left.

Open Control Center

In iOS 11, Apple combined Control Center and the App Switcher, but in iOS 12, Control Center gets its own screen and its own gesture, again mimicking that of the iPhone X series. To open Control Center, swipe down from the top right corner of the screen. You need to start the swipe in the rightmost 10% or so of the screen—if your finger is too far to the left, you’ll open Notification Center instead.

Bonus Tip about the Dock in iOS 12

OK, so this isn’t a gesture, but’s a new feature of iOS 12 that’s available only on the iPad. By default, iOS 12 shows a divider on the right side of the Dock and three icons to its right. What’s the deal with those right-hand icons? Two of them are recent apps that you haven’t already dragged to the left side of the Dock. The third one might also be a recent app, or it might be an app you’ve used recently on your Mac or iPhone, at which point it will have a little badge in the corner indicating which machine it comes from. If you dislike either of these features, you can turn them off separately. Disable the recent apps in Settings > General > Multitasking & Dock, and turn off the Handoff app in Settings > General > Handoff. It can be tricky to pick up new ways of working, but if you sit down and play with iOS 12’s new gestures, you should get the hang of them quickly.

File Messages Faster in Mail in Mojave

In macOS 10.14 Mojave, Apple exposed a feature of Mail that was useful, but hard to find and use. For several versions of Mail, you’ve been able to select a message and choose Message > Move To Predicted Mailbox to file the email in the suggested mailbox. (If the Move To command is disabled, Mail hasn’t yet learned how to move messages like the selected one. Once it sees you move messages from your mother into your Family mailbox, for instance, it will suggest that destination in the future.) In Mojave’s Mail, there’s also now a Move To toolbar button. If it can predict where the message will go, just click it; if not, click and hold to bring up a menu of all your mailboxes.

Recover Drive Space by Deleting Old and Unnecessary iOS Device Backups

If you’ve been good about backing up your iOS devices to iTunes on your Mac or to iCloud, give yourself a gold star! Both backup destinations are fine, but there’s one potential downside to iTunes backups: they can consume a lot of space on your Mac’s drive. In iTunes, go to iTunes > Preferences > Devices, where you’ll see all the iOS device backups that iTunes has stored. If there are multiple older backups or any for devices you no longer own, you can get rid of them. Control-click the offending backup, and choose Delete. Or, if you want to check how large a backup is first, instead choose Show In Finder, and then in the Finder, choose File > Get Info. When you’re ready, move the selected backup folder to the Trash.