Mac Performance

How to Check Memory Usage and Free Up RAM on Your Mac

If your Mac is performing slowly or freezing all the time, you might hear suggestions that there is a problem with your RAM. When you don’t have enough RAM, you can experience all sorts of problems with your Mac not working properly.


Before we go any further


You can download MacKeeper and use the built-in Memory Cleaner tool to free up the RAM on your Mac. This is the quickest and easiest way to fix lots of RAM problems since it only takes a couple of clicks.


In this article we’ll show you how to fix RAM problems manually, by covering:

What is RAM?

RAM is short for Random Access Memory and it refers to a relatively small amount of memory space in a computer that is reserved for temporary files. This memory allows a computer to transfer files to and from your system drive while carrying out tasks and processes. It’s essential for your computer to work properly.


RAM is usually measured in GB, and most Mac computers come with 8GB or 16GB of RAM these days, though it’s possible to custom order a Mac with even more.


Don’t confuse RAM with internal storage on your Mac, which is also measured in GB. Internal storage is where you keep all your documents and files, on a separate drive within your computer. You can’t choose to store any files in your RAM because your computer needs to flexibly move files in and out of that memory all the time to work properly.


Think of RAM as your computer’s workspace. It transfers files from long-term storage into the workspace whenever it needs to work on them. The more RAM you have, the bigger the workspace, and the more tasks your computer can handle at once.


Some apps require a lot of RAM to work efficiently, such as 3D design software, video processing apps, and graphics-heavy video games.  


But for the most part, 8GB of RAM in a Mac is plenty of memory for almost anything you’re going to throw at it.

5 signs you need to free up more RAM on your Mac

If your Mac tries to do too much at once, it can run out of RAM, causing performance problems. This usually happens when you’ve got lots of demanding apps open at the same time and they’re all working hard to complete different tasks.


If you don’t have enough RAM on your Mac, you’re likely to see the following problems:

  1. A popup alert saying “Your system has run out of application memory”
  2. Everything on your Mac slows down, from opening apps to playing videos
  3. Typing still works, but there’s a delay before anything appears on the screen
  4. Apps freeze and become unresponsive to anything you do
  5. Your entire Mac freezes and the cursor turns into a colorful spinning pinwheel
firefox server not found issue

Many of these issues, like when your Mac is running slow, can come up for other reasons as well, not just because you’ve run out of RAM. Nevertheless, they’re a good indicator that you should check your RAM usage and try to optimize Mac performance.

Further reading: How to Speed up a Mac.

How to check the RAM usage on your Mac

You can check the RAM usage on your Mac using a built-in utility, called Activity Monitor. Press Command + Space to open Spotlight and type Activity Monitor to find it.

activity monitor

If your Mac is unresponsive, try restarting it first by going to Apple > Shut Down. If that doesn’t work, hold down the Power button instead. Though you may lose any unsaved progress in your open apps if you do this.


After opening Activity Monitor, go to the Memory tab at the top of the window.

activity monitor

This shows a list of all the active apps and processes on your Mac along with how much memory each of them is using. At the bottom of the window, you should see a Memory Pressure chart along with a breakdown of how your memory is being used.


You might notice that the breakdown amounts show that almost all of your memory is being used by Memory Used, Cached Files, or Swap Files. This is totally normal. Unused RAM is a wasted resource, so your Mac always tries to use as much as it can and this shouldn’t be causing any problems.


Having more unused RAM won’t necessarily improve your Mac’s performance at all.


Instead, the most important thing to look at is the Memory Pressure chart, which shows up in green, yellow, or red based on whether your Mac needs more RAM or not. This chart also shows spikes in time when more RAM is in demand by the system.

activity monitor

As you might expect, if the Memory Pressure chart is all green, you’ve got nothing to worry about as far as RAM concerned. When it shows yellow it means your Mac might benefit from more RAM, and when it shows red it means your Mac definitely needs more RAM.

How to free up some RAM on your Mac

If the Memory Pressure chart in Activity Monitor is showing up in yellow or red, then you need to free up some more RAM for your Mac to use. There are several different ways to do this, which we’ll outline below.

Restart your Mac

The simplest way to clear some RAM on your Mac is to restart it. Open the Apple menu and select Shut Down to do this. When your Mac powers off, it clears all the files from the RAM.


If your Mac is unresponsive, press and hold the Power button to force it to shut down instead. You may lose unsaved progress in your open apps if you do this.  

Update macOS

It’s possible that a macOS bug is causing your Mac to use more RAM than it needs to. This happens from time to time, but Apple is usually quick to fix it with a patch update.


Go to System Preferences > Software Update to check for new updates, which might fix your RAM problems.

Close some apps

RAM helps your Mac complete more tasks at once, but we usually only need our Mac to do one or two things at a time. Take a look at the Dock to see if you’ve got many apps open, then control-click and click Quit to close those apps.

quit app form the dock

You might also want to kill background processes on your Mac, using Activity Monitor or a memory cleaning app. 

Close some windows

Even if you need to keep some apps open, try minimizing how many windows and tabs you’ve got open. Two particularly bad culprits for using a lot of RAM are Finder and web browsers.


In Finder, go to Window > Merge All Windows to change multiple windows to tabs, then close any that you don’t need.


In a web browser, like Safari or Google Chrome, close as many tabs as possible so you’ve only got a couple of web pages loaded at a time.

Quit processes in Activity Monitor

If something is still using a lot of RAM on your Mac, you should be able to find out what it is by using Activity Monitor.


Open Activity Monitor again and go to the Memory tab, then click the Memory column to list all the processes in order of how much memory they’re using.


Take a look at the items at the top to see if there’s anything suspicious going on. You might need to search online for different processes to find out what they do; some of them are essential for macOS to work, like Kernel_Task.


If you find a process that doesn’t need to be there, select it and click the i button for more information about it. Then choose to Quit that process.

activity monitor

Scan for malware on your Mac

Computer viruses, adware, spyware, and other types of malware that can infect your Mac might use up all your RAM in the background to make your computer slow. To find out if this is the case, download a reliable malware scanner, like MacKeeper, and run a complete scan of your Mac.


In MacKeeper, click Find & Fix in the sidebar and choose to Start Full Scan to do this.

How to use MacKeeper to clear RAM on your Mac

If you’re still not sure exactly how to clear RAM on your Mac, the easiest option is to simply use MacKeeper’s built-in Mac RAM cleaner.


Open MacKeeper and click Memory Cleaner in the sidebar, then click Open to start using it.

mackeeper memory cleaner

The Memory Cleaner tab will tell you how much RAM is available on your Mac and how much is currently being used. You can use the Memory Usage or Apps & Processes tabs to see exactly how that memory is being used.


When you’re ready to free up your RAM memory, go back to the Memory Cleaner tab and click Clean Memory. Once the cleaning is complete, your Mac should have far more RAM available and, hopefully, it’ll start performing better as well.


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