Memory Upgrade Gives MacBook Pro a Shot of Adrenaline

For the last few years, I’ve been pounding away on a black MacBook — love that color — but I finally upgraded in June to a new 15-inch MacBook Pro. Compared to an aging MacBook, it was quite an upgrade: up to a 2.3 GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor, 4GB of memory, Intel HD Graphics 4000 and NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M, and 500GB hard drive.

At first, I noticed a significant speed boost in many programs and tasks, then I upgraded to OS X Mountain Lion in late July. Ever since then it felt as if my MacBook Pro wasn’t as fast as I thought. The trouble wasn’t actually running programs, it was switching between several programs, many web browser windows, and between two or three desktops. I wasn’t working with any heavy-duty applications with massive graphics loads, so I wasn’t sure what was going on. I switched the Intel HD Graphics 4000 unit off so the MacBook Pro would use the NVIDIA card exclusively, and that seemed to help a tiny bit, but it could have been my imagination.

The spinning beach ball of doom just kept appearing and taunting me, usually when I was in the thick of working on something. Quite annoying.

So I checked out the Activity Monitor utility app, and I was using up nearly all of my 4GB of standard memory pretty much all the time. Overall, I didn’t seem all that backed up, but the beach ball kept appearing.

The bottom line? The 4GB of memory in a 15-inch MacBook Pro running Mountain Lion . . . is not enough memory if you run multiple programs all day long. I decided to upgrade my memory to 8GB and see if that helped.

Did the trick.

It feels as if I have my Mac back now. I rarely get the spinning beach ball. Of course, startup and application launch times aren’t particularly fast — I’m still running on the stock 5400-rpm hard drive, which I’ll eventually upgrade to a solid-state drive to pickup another performance boost. At the same time, I’ll ditch my SuperDrive in favor of installing the old 500GB hard drive in its spot for extra storage and backup.

What did I go with?

The Kingston HyperX Plug n Play 8 GB 1600MHz DDR3 SODIMM 204-Pin kit.

The Kingston RAM was hard to beat. It has great all-around customer reviews — and it’s worked fantastic for me so far. The hardest part of the installation was finding a screwdriver small enough to handle the tiny screws on the back of my MacBook Pro. Some say #00 Philips is the right size, but others have said a slightly larger #0 worked. As for me, I used a tiny standard screwdriver that fit neatly across the head of the screw without any wiggle. Some of the screws where in tight, so if you do the upgrade yourself, pay attention as you keep adding pressure so you don’t strip your screws. I actually found a pair of grippy rubber gloves, which helped me get a hold of the little screwdriver.

If you’re totally new to RAM installation, Apple actually has a pretty good illustrated guide that covers how to install and upgrade memory for the MacBook Pro line.

Alternately, check out “How to Upgrade Memory on a MacBook Pro in 4 Steps.” The same principles apply to MacBooks, iMacs, and Mac minis.

About the author

Chris Maxcer

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I've been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and I still remember the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. I'm a big fan of elegant gear and great tech, but there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. Online I like to call out cool stuff on Wicked Cool Bite and blog with my buddies at Man Makes Fire. To catch me, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at the url of this site.