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You can buy a ready-to-ship Mac at any Apple Store, reseller, or online vendor, but if you want something custom, you have to go to Apple's website and build it to order (BTO). That way, if any of the standard configurations aren't enough for you, you can bump up the CPU, add more memory, and even go with faster storage. Not every Mac has every option, of course, but for the ones that do, it's worth asking — which upgrades are worth the price?

Are CPU upgrades worth it?

The CPU — central processing unit — is the engine that makes your Mac go. Currently provided by Intel, they range from the ultra-low-power Core i3 to the ultra-powerful quad-core Core i9 in high-end MacBook Pro and iMac, to the Xeon workstation chips in the Mac Po.

Generally speaking, faster cores let you do single things faster. More cores let you do more things at once. So, getting a faster core is like upgrading from a regular car to a race car. Going from dual to quad-core is like getting a second car.

If your Mac has slowed down it's possible that your RAM is being used to the max. Here's how to free up memory on a Mac (or how to free up RAM), including ways to reduce Mac RAM usage without.

Since you can't change a CPU after you buy your Mac, you want to make sure you buy the right one — not just for your needs now, but for your needs next year and the year after that.

  • MacBook Air 13-inch: The baseline is a 1.1 GHz dual-core i3 processor, but that's a bit slow unless you're just looking for a couch browser or travel computer that's not an iPad. You can upgrade to the i5, which really is the sweet spot for most people. If you're doing a lot of intensive work, though, the quad-core 1.2GHz 10th-generation Intel Core i7 processor is worth the upgrade.

  • MacBook Pro 13-inch: All 13-inch MacBook Pro models come with either 1.4 or 2.4GHz quad-core i5 processors. Most people are going to be happy with one of these. If you need a little extra bump, choose the 2.4GHz model. If you do a lot of graphics editing, VR or AR app developing, or otherwise use graphics-heavy programs, it may be worth it to you to spend the extra $300 on the 2.8GHz quad‑core 8th‑generation Intel Core i7 processor upgrade.

  • MacBook Pro 16-inch: The baseline 16-inch with Touch Bar comes with a 2.6 GHz 6-Core i7 or 2.3GHz 8-core 9th-generation Intel Core i9 processor. Upgrading the processor will make your MacBook Pro absolutely scream, but all those cores and all that speed comes at the expense of battery life. Still, if you're going high-end, $200 isn't a lot more to add on.

  • iMac 4K 21.5-inch: The lower-end iMac starts with a 2.3GHz dual-core 7th-gen Intel Core i5 processor and goes up to a 3.0GHz 6-core 8th-gen Intel Core i7 processor. You can ramp that up to a 3.2GHz 6-core 8th-generation Intel Core i7 processor for $200. If you're buying the 4K Mac for budgeting purposes, that extra money may not be worth it. The 3.6GHz quad-core Intel Core i3 processor model is a good middle ground. It's $200 more than the baseline model, but a solid investment.

  • iMac 5K 27-inch: You can get a 3.0GHz 6-core 8th-gen Intel Core i5 standard and up to 3.7GHz 6-core 9th-gen Intel Core processor. For $400 more, you can bump it up to a 3.6GHz 8-core 9th-generation Intel Core i9 processor. At this point, for the price, however, I recommend you start looking into the iMac Pro. The standard model is going to give you more of what you're looking for.

  • iMac Pro: You're really upping your game by starting with the iMac Pro. It comes standard with 3.2GHz 8-core Intel Xeon W processor. For $800 more, you're going to get a 3.0GHz 10-core Intel Xeon W processor, but you can max out the CPU to a 2.3GHz 18-core Intel Xeon W processor for $2,400. Your pro needs are going to determine what suits you best, but if you need an iMac Pro, you probably need a little more than the baseline. I recommend bumping up to 2.5GHz 14-core Intel Xeon W processor to max out your efficiency. It's the best value for your money. It's worth pointing out, however, that the silicon in the iMac Pro is a few years old at this point, so it may be smarter to either go with a Mac Pro or wait for the iMac Pro to receive a processor update.

  • Mac mini: The Mac mini comes standard with a 3.6GHz quad-core 8th-generation Intel Core i3 processor and jumps up to a 3.0GHz 6-core 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processor. For $200 more, you can bump it up to a 3.2GHz 6‑core 8th‑generation Intel Core i7 processor. Depending on your needs, I'd say the i7 may be unnecessary. Stick with the 6-core i5 model or go with the baseline if you don't plan on putting too much strain on your DIY Mac. Remember, you can stack these babies, so it may be smarter to spend the money on multiple Mac minis.

  • Mac Pro: I don't even know where to start with this one. It comes standard with a 3.5GHz 8‑core Intel Xeon W processor, but if you're buying a Mac Pro, you probably need something a little faster. For $7,000, you can upgrade to a 2.5GHz 28‑core Intel Xeon W processor, but that is overkill for a lot of your needs. Most pros recommend upgrading to either a 3.3GHz 12‑core Intel Xeon W processor for $1,000 more or a 3.2GHz 16‑core Intel Xeon W processor for $2,000. This level is suitable for CPU rendering, compiling large projects, running multiple virtual machines, and similar tasks.

Are RAM upgrades worth it?

The more memory your Mac has, the bigger the images and videos you can work with, the more apps you can keep live, and generally, the better performance you'll get. Modern Macs are more memory efficient than ever. But if you want to work with a lot of files, and a lot of big files, RAM can still make your experience smoother.

Increasingly, Mac memory is also soldered right to the board, just like the processors. The 27-inch iMac still lets you change memory after purchase but, with MacBooks, what you buy is what you're stuck with. So, again, don't buy for today. Buy for tomorrow.

  • MacBook Air: Apple's ultra-light laptops come with 8 GB of RAM, but you can upgrade to up to 16GB for $200 more. If you plan on running a lot of processor-heavy apps at the same time, you're going to want to spend that extra money. I recommend investing here. The more RAM you have, the faster your apps will run when your MacBook Air gets overworked.

  • 13-inch MacBook Pro: The smaller of the two Mac laptop powerhouses start with 8GB, and you can upgrade to 16GB for $200. It's a smart investment to spend the extra money to upgrade. Remember; the more programs you're running at the same time, the more RAM you want, keeping it going fast and strong.

  • 16-inch MacBook Pro: The 16-inch MacBook Pro starts with 16 GB of RAM. You can jump that up to 64GB of RAM for an additional $800. That may be overkill for most people, though. If you're planning on running multiple processor-heavy applications, like video editing software, you should at least upgrade to 32GB of RAM, but max it out if you're doing most or all of your work on the MacBook Pro.

  • iMac: 8 GB is the starting point for the 21.5-inch and 27-inch iMac, but you can upgrade the 2.3GHz dual-core 7th-generation Intel Core i5 processor model to 16 GB for $200. All other iMac models, 21.5 and 27-inch, can be upgraded to up to 32GB of RAM, and the two higher-end 27-inch iMacs can go as high as 64GB. For the 21.5-inch iMac, I recommend upgrading to at least 16GB, 32 if you're going to be running a lot of processor-heavy apps. For the 27-inch iMac, however, I recommend not buying your RAM from Apple. You can install additional RAM yourself at a later date using aftermarket RAM. It's easy to do and costs less.

  • iMac Pro: The iMac Pro starts with 32GB of RAM and can be upgraded to 256GB of RAM (that's right, 256GB). You can't upgrade the RAM aftermarket in the iMac Pro, so you'll definitely want to add more. Do you need 256GB? If you're running multiple processor-heavy apps, like video editing programs, VR or AR development simulations, and the like, you should consider a decent bump of at least 128GB of RAM.

  • Mac mini: The Mac mini comes with 8GB of RAM standard and can be upgraded to 64GB. Most people aren't going to need to go this far, however, especially since it comes with a fast processor and at least 256GB of storage. You can upgrade the RAM in the Mac mini yourself, however, so if you're willing to do it yourself with less-expensive third-party RAM, you'll save a few bucks.

  • Mac Pro: The 2019 Mac Pro is capable of supporting up to 768GB of RAM, 1.5TB if you get the 24 or 28-core model. It comes with 12 physical DIMM slots, so you can add memory at any time aftermarket. Just keep in mind that, even though the Mac Pro supports both R-DIMM and LR-DIMM, you can't use both in the same system. I recommend purchasing RAM on your own from a third-party vendor so you can choose which type is right for your system.

Best for iMac


Install your RAM aftermarket if you can. It's cheaper.

The most reliable company for producing Mac-based RAM is OWC, and you can get a 64GB upgrade for a fraction of what you'd pay by having it preinstalled by Apple. For Macs where you can install RAM yourself, this is the memory you need.

Are storage upgrades worth it?

Though computing storage has been freed up with cloud-based services, storage capacity is the one place where an upgrade is recommended, no matter what. Whatever you can afford when you purchase your new Mac, you should buy. If you can't afford any storage upgrades, however, don't be downhearted. Cloud storage and external hard drives are cheaper than ever and can help with your capacity needs.

  • MacBook Air: The MacBook Air comes with either 256 or 512GB of built-in SSD storage and can be upgraded to up to 2TB of SSD storage. If you can afford it, I recommend going for 1TB. You'll probably never need that much, but having it will make you feel better. If 1TB is too expensive, you should, at least, go for 512GB.

  • 13-inch MacBook Pro: The smaller MacBook Pro starts at 128GB, 256, or 512GB of SSD storage and can be upgraded to 2TB. If you're investing in the pro-model Mac laptop, it's likely you need a decent amount of storage. I suggest going for the full 2TB if you can afford it, but 1TB is good enough, especially if you use cloud-based storage and external hard drives.

  • 16-inch MacBook Pro: The larger MacBook Pro starts at 512GB or 1TB of SSD storage and can be upgraded to up to 8TB, which is definitely a lot. Of course, you should always get as much storage as you can afford, but 1TB is good enough for most people, especially if you take advantage of cloud-based storage and external hard drives.

  • 21.5-inch iMac: The two least expensive 21.5-inch iMacs come with SATA drives, standard. I highly recommend upgrading your storage to at least a Fusion drive, but preferably an SSD. Money is obviously a factor here, but SATA drives are far less reliable because of their many moving parts. They're also slower. The very cheapest 21.5-inch iMac, at $1,099, will only cost you an additional $200 to upgrade to an SSD drive. If you spend any money on one upgrade, make it this. It's worth it.

  • 27-inch iMac: This is probably where your most difficult decision making will be. Fusion or SSD? More storage capacity or a speedier drive? A Fusion drive is a hybrid HDD and SSD. It's less expensive than an SSD, but it also does have that pesky spinning plate drive. The cool thing about a Fusion drive, however, is that macOS manages what gets stored where. Files that don't get accessed very often get relegated to the hard drive and oft-used files stay on the SSD. A Fusion drive is slower than an SSD, but most people won't really notice the difference. I recommend, for most people, to stick with the Fusion drive and get as much capacity as possible (up to 3TB). If you're a power-user; if you edit videos, run virtual machines, build VR apps, and the like, you may want to switch to SSD, but because it's so much more expensive for less storage, you should also build up a stock of external hard drives to store media that you don't need to access regularly.

  • iMac Pro: The iMac Pro starts with 1TB of SSD storage, which is plenty for a lot of people, but if you're buying an iMac Pro, you probably have higher storage capacity needs. You can bump that up to up to 4TB of storage for an additional $1,000. Since you can't upgrade aftermarket, I recommend maxing out your storage capacity if you can afford it.

  • Mac mini: Apple's DIY Mac comes standard with 256 or 512GB of SSD storage and can be upgraded to up to 2TB. The Mac mini has plenty of ports to add external hard drives, but it's still a good idea to upgrade to as much storage as you can afford here. I recommend at least 1TB.

  • Mac Pro: The Mac Pro starts with just 256GB of SSD storage, but is fully customizable after you purchase it. It might be smart to upgrade to 1TB right out of the gate, depending on how soon you'll be able to add third-party capacity upgrades, but don't spend too much money here, since you'll be able to find lower-priced SSDs on your own.

Who should upgrade their Mac's processor?

Of all the upgrades, CPU configurations offer the most questionable benefit. A bump in overall processor speed is nice, but is it worth paying a couple of hundred bucks more to get another 10 or 30 percent improvement?

For people working with apps that can benefit from more processor cores — computationally-intensive operations that are optimized for multiprocessor computers, like math and science apps, video, 3D, video compression and other similar things, going from a dual-core to a quad-core can quite literally double performance and should be considered.

Who should upgrade their Mac's memory?

8GB of RAM is standard on most Mac laptops and desktops, which is plenty for most people. If you run a lot of powerful programs at the same time, however, you should bump that up where possible. 32GB of RAM is the sweet spot for you.

Upgrading after the fact is only possible on a very few Macs, so keep that in mind when deciding whether to upgrade. You may be stuck with what you have for years to come.

Who should upgrade the SSD?

Undercutting yourself with storage space right off the bat will cause you problems, but take a long hard look at your current storage footprint and see what you can't live without. If you're like many people, you'll discover that you don't actually need everything you have and that you'll be able to offload some of it to a server, external device or archive system.

SSD is expensive, but the performance is spectacular - especially since has Apple incorporated PCI Express (PCIe)-based flash storage. Pay for as much as you can afford, but see what you can live without and try to save yourself some money.

Still undecided?

There's a lot to think over, so if this hasn't helped you sort it out, please turn to our Apple Hardware forums and post your question there. Our legion of helpful forum posters will give you their expert feedback. You're also welcome to post comments here.

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It is infuriating to get the following message when using a Mac: Your system has run out of application memory.

Usually, this isn't the first sign that something is wrong. You may have noticed that your Mac isn't running as fast as it used to. Or it has been overheating recently, with the fan louder than normal as if it's struggling to carry a heavy load up a hill.

Running out of application memory doesn't always mean that your hard drive is full. What it means is your CPU can't manage to process and run all of the applications that are currently demanding processing memory power. Although Macs are wonderful computers, they're not supercomputers - they do have limits, and that message means yours has hit a processing limit. Thankfully, there is plenty you can do to resolve this problem and get your Mac operating smoothly again.

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How do you check memory usage (CPU)?

If your Mac regularly runs into problems or you frequently experience the dreaded spinning color wheel, one of the potential causes could be your Mac's RAM running at close to its maximum capacity.

While memory management in macOS, including techniques like using your startup disk as virtual memory, is excellent these days, there are also more demands being placed on RAM thanks to new features and improvements. The more your Mac has to resort to virtual memory, the less well it will perform. And while the best solution is, if you can, to add more RAM, there are plenty of things you can do to reduce memory usage on your Mac.

Before you can identify which apps are causing problems, you need to know what is taking up so much CPU memory. There are a few ways you can do this.

First thing, find out what apps and processes are using the most memory.

Built into your Mac is an Activity Monitor.

Go to Applications > Activity Monitor. In here, it will show you everything using processing power at the moment. Apps absorbing CPU memory are usually shown as a percentage. Now that you can see what is causing the problem, consider closing uninstalling the ones you don't need.

Another way to solve this is with iStat Menus, a handy monitoring app that will quickly identify what is absorbing so much CPU power.

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  1. When you see the Dashboard, switch on the components you want to see in your Mac's menu bar. While there, you should switch on the Memory tab.
  2. Click on the Memory icon in your menu bar and you'll see information about current memory usage on your Mac. Pressure shows the percentage of available RAM that's currently in use. And below that, you'll see a list of processes, starting with the one that's using the most RAM.
Tip: By default, iStat Menus shows only five processes, but you can make it show more. On the Dashboard, click the Memory tab and click on the Processes to show menu and select the number of processes you want to see.

Hover over the colored bar chart in each section to see a larger graph of memory usage. You can click on the tabs at the top of the graph to change the time period over which it shows memory usage.

iStat Menus also shows and keeps an automated eye on GPU, network data and disk usage.

Another app, also from Setapp - CleanMyMac - has an automated CPU and hard drive monitor built-in, which can give you a real-time view of memory usage - including your Dropbox account - in your Macs top toolbar.

By now, you'll have a good idea of how your Mac's memory has been used and whether it's caused your Mac to have problems. For a more detailed view on the processes that are hogging RAM, you can go to the bottom of the iStat Menus and click on the Activity Monitor icon (bottom panel, left most icon).

How to reduce your Mac memory usage

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CPU memory can be used several ways. This usually isn't a problem to have apps running in the background, but once you've got too much going on your Mac can struggle to function; it can overheat, slow down, even crash and potentially lose what you've been working on.

A wide variety of applications can use processing memory. From startup items to browsers and plugins, to native and downloaded applications, to desktop widgets and apps. In this article, we will cover the various ways you can improve your Macs application memory.

#1: Fix 'kernel_task', a high CPU usage bug

Something you may have noticed through Activity Monitor or one of the apps mentioned in this article, is something called kernel_task is absorbing a large amount of processing power. One of the functions of kernel_task is to help manage CPU temperature; therefore you could find that your Macs fan is loud and always on, even if the device isn't hot to the touch.

kernel_task usually performs this way when one or more applications are trying to use to much CPU. It is working very hard to stop them. Unfortunately, one of the potential downsides - if this is a hardware fault - is a Mac can overheat to such an extent that internal systems are damaged, sometimes irreparably without qualified Apple tech support assistance.

Working through the following steps in this article is one way to avoid similar problems. If none of this work and kernel_task is still absorbing a high percentage of your CPU, then one or more of the following could be the cause:

  • Cooling system inefficiency
  • A failed or disconnected temperature sensor
  • Another hardware issue, including a worn out batter.
  • Your System Management Controller needs a rest.

If you've tried an SMC reset, deleted any app that could be contributed to the problem, and followed the steps in this article and nothing has worked, then it is worth taking your Mac to an Apple Store or qualified support technician.

#2: Reduce memory usage in Finder

One common culprit for hogging RAM is Finder, your Mac's file manager. If iStat Menus or Activity Monitor has highlighted Finder as using hundreds of MBs of RAM, there is an easy solution — change the default display for a new Finder window so it doesn't show All My Files.

  1. Click on the Finder icon in the Dock and click on the Finder menu, then select Preferences.
  2. Click on General. Under 'New Finder windows show', click the dropdown menu and choose any option except All My Files.
  3. Close Preferences, press Alt-Control, and click on the Finder icon in the Dock. Click Relaunch. Finder will now relaunch with new windows opening at the option you selected in Step 2.

While we're talking about Finder, your desktop behaves in a similar way.

Icons on your desktop are drawn and redrawn each time it changes, and their preview images are stored in RAM, so you can use Quick Look. The more files you have on your desktop, the more pressure they put on your Mac's memory. The simplest solution is to move files off the desktop. Declutter (available in Setapp) can help here. It moves files from your desktop to color-coded folders automatically, based on rules you set.

It is also worth applying the Merge All Windows setting, to avoid each window in Finder taking up more RAM.

#3: Improve Chrome's Task Manager

Chrome is a popular browser, especially if you use other Google products, such as Gmail and G Suite. But it can be bad news for your GPU, which negatively impacts how much memory it uses. Chrome uses a GPU Process as standard, which means it speeds up the loading of web pages, which can be great except at times when your computer is struggling with insufficient RAM.

To make this change, go to:

  1. Chrome Settings > More tools > Task Manager
  2. In Task Manager, click > Edit
  3. Within this, you can reduce memory usage on your Mac.

#4: Clean up browsers

In every browser you use regularly, there are always going to be extensions and popups that take up space and use RAM. Either go through each one manually, or use a tool such as CleanMyMac to identify and delete them.

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With Chrome it can take a little more work to delete extensions. While Chrome extensions are shown in CleanMyMac, you have to remove them from Chrome. If you identify a Chrome extension that uses too much RAM, launch Chrome, click on the Window menu, then Extensions. Scan the list of extensions and click the trash can icon next to those that are too RAM-heavy or no longer needed.

It is also worth limiting the number of tabs you have open to keep browser CPU usage to a minimum.

#5: Disable login items

Login items, browser extensions, and preference panes, such as Flash, are another common source of memory usage. Most of us have several installed that we rarely use, but which hog memory and reduce performance.

One way to do this is through System Preferences:

  1. Users & Groups >Login Items tab
  2. Then delete everything that is clearly taking up memory that could be put to better use.

Another way, one that is even quicker, is to employ CleanMyMac to identify and cleanup login items. Best dj recording software mac.

  1. Launch CleanMyMac and look for the Speed section in the left-hand sidebar and click on Optimization.
  2. In the next panel, click on Login items. If there are any login items you don't need or which showed up in iStat Menus as using lots of RAM, click on the checkbox next to their name and then Remove.

Not all login items can be removed on their own. Those that can't have an 'i' in place of the checkbox. Click on it to find out why it can't be removed. One common reason is being required by the application that installed it — the only way to remove it would be to uninstall the application.

If you don't use the application, click on the Uninstaller tool in CleanMyMac. Check the box next to the name of the app and click Uninstall. The app, its associated files, and the login item will be removed.

#6: Disable desktop widgets

Desktop widgets can provide a useful shortcut to apps you need to access fairly often. But they can take up processing memory that is slowing your whole Mac down. One way to close them completely is in System Preferences.

Go to: Mission Control > switch off the Dashboard

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#7: Declutter your desktop

Your desktop is meant to be a way to find important files and documents you are currently working on. And apps you need often. And anything else that you maybe happen to need one day. Pretty soon, a desktop can look like a suitcase you've packed for every possible eventuality. A complete mess! And impossible to find what you really need.

Plus, a messy desktop can absorb valuable processing power. Either spend time manually sorting files into folders, and vowing to keep it tidy. Or use an app - such as Declutter or Spotless - to quickly arrange folders and declutter your desktop.

#8: Reduce startup items at least 20%

Most startup disk drives contain a whole load of things people don't need anymore. Either an old-fashioned and manual decluttering should remove at least 20% of these files and apps, or you can use a tool such as CleanMyMac to remove junk. Another problem is Adobe Flash - an application that is largely useless online due to security flaws and weaknesses.

Adobe Flash is a major culprit when it comes to hogging RAM and making your Mac run slowly. Most videos on the web today don't need Flash.

How to remove Flash?

To get Flash off of your Mac in common way, you'll need an uninstaller from Adobe and follow a huge Adobe instruction. Instead downloading anything extra to uninstall Flash, you can use CleanMyMac via Setapp.

#9: Schedule regular cleanups

Consider that every time you use your Mac it slows down a little bit. You use more files, install more apps, and take up more storage. While going through the cleaning process described above isn't an everyday routine, try to schedule it monthly and stick to it. Your Mac will thank you for it.

It is also worth fully shutting down your Mac more often. It will perform better. Speed up and stop overheating as much when it is allowed to shut down instead of going to sleep.

CPU use can have a serious impact on the health of your Mac. Not only can it slowdown and start to overheat, but if problems persist it can cause a critical failure. Keep your Mac free of clutter and healthy. Remove folders and apps you don't need, and keep an eye on startup items, browser extensions, your desktop, widgets, and anything else that is shown as a CPU hog in Activity Monitor. Your Mac will perform at its best for far longer with regular care and cleanups.