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Wazzup1001

macrumors newbie
Original poster
Oct 20, 2020
3
3
Hi all, hope everyone is well.

If anyone could help that would be greatly appreciated,

Firstly, I've searched around the forums to find an answer, but ended up more confused that enlightened ^^

So I thought I'd ask.

Currently have a late 2012, 21.5 inch i5 8gb RAM, NVIDIA 512mb, 1T hard drive.

Would like to know what would be a modest upgrade that will make the machine faster.

Should I upgrade RAM/put in an SSD?

Any suggestions & directions to other threads are much appreciated.


Note: I am new to apple / iMac, just started using one for a couple of months.
 

Juicy Box

macrumors 604
Sep 23, 2014
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My main Mac is a Late 2012 iMac.

You could let us know what OS you are currently using, and what you do with your Mac?

Should I upgrade RAM
This totally depends on your own usage. 8GB is plenty for some, really low for others.

You can use this guide from Apple to determine if more RAM would be appropriate for you:

If you let us know what apps you typically use or plan on using, we can give suggestions.

put in an SSD?
Myself and just about anyone with knowledge of Macs will suggest you to use an SSD. This alone would be a huge upgrade for your, especially if you are currently using Catalina.

You don't necessarily need to open your Mac, but that would be the cheapest way to get a fast SSD with TRIM support. You would get about 600MBps read speeds using this method.

The next cheapest and easiest way is to use a SSD over USB3. The downside of this is that it won't be as fast as other options, and it will not have TRIM support. But, it is really cheap. In the US, you can get a 1TB SATA SSD and a SATA/USB3 adapter for about $90. If you get a cheap enclosure, it might cost you $100. Speeds would max out about 400-450MBps for read.

Another option that I am currently using is a TB3 NVMe SSD. This is by far the most expensive option, as it requires aa TB3 enclosure, NVMe, TB2 cable, TB2/TB3 bidirectional adapter, and something to power it such as a TB3 dock. The upside is that the TB3 NVMe SSD is the fastest option for the 2012 iMac and it supports TRIM*. You would see speeds up to about 900MBps read.

*EDIT: a TB3 NVMe would be the fastest "single drive" option for the Late 2012 iMac. It is possible to have faster drives using striping RAIDs.

The price tag of the TB3 NVMe set up wouldn't be so bad if you consider future proofing, and/or have plans to purchase a newer Mac in the next few years to utilize the super fast speeds once you make that purchase.


The easiest way to start off is just getting a SATA SSD with a SATA/USB3 adapter or enclosure. This is a good method, because you can always decide later to install the SSD into your 2012 iMac. It is a cheap, easy way to have a huge performance gain on your Mac without having to open it.

BTW, if you plan on doing RAM anyways, I would highly recommend swapping the HDD for a SSD. If you are not doing RAM, then using a cheap external option would be fine.
 
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Wazzup1001

macrumors newbie
Original poster
Oct 20, 2020
3
3
Thank you for your detailed response, really appreciated.

- I am running Catalina 10.15.7

Mainly use it for multitasking: Using many tabs on a browsers, gmail, MS (word, excel), always switching between apps, split screening.

Sometimes it just freezes for around 4-6 seconds when I am doing some work.


Installing the SSD is the ideal option, but if I do open the machine should I upgrade the RAM while I am at it as RAM isnt that expensive?


This might be stupid question: I am on 8gb RAM now, if I do go to 16gb RAM, how would that improve the machine how what would the machine be able to handle in terms of work and applications.

Thanks again,
 

fbm3334

macrumors newbie
Jan 6, 2020
22
19
Thank you for your detailed response, really appreciated.

- I am running Catalina 10.15.7

Mainly use it for multitasking: Using many tabs on a browsers, gmail, MS (word, excel), always switching between apps, split screening.

Sometimes it just freezes for around 4-6 seconds when I am doing some work.


Installing the SSD is the ideal option, but if I do open the machine should I upgrade the RAM while I am at it as RAM isnt that expensive?


This might be stupid question: I am on 8gb RAM now, if I do go to 16gb RAM, how would that improve the machine how what would the machine be able to handle in terms of work and applications.

Thanks again,

It definitely sounds like you could benefit from the RAM upgrade for your use case - a possibility for why your Mac is hanging a lot could be due to macOS caching some of the contents stored in RAM to your hard drive.

Caching operations, I believe, can lead to excessive wear on an SSD (not sure whether this is any better with a modern SSD), and more RAM would reduce the amount of caching required, and speed things up with multiple browser tabs etc. It may be also worth looking at the memory pressure graph (image below) under Activity Monitor - if it is orange or red, then extra RAM would definitely be a benefit.

1603374856905.png
 
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Fishrrman

macrumors Penryn
Feb 20, 2009
28,716
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Easiest drive upgrade is to buy an EXTERNAL USB3 SSD, plug it in, and set it up to be the new boot drive.

If you get a 1tb SSD, you can use CarbonCopyCloner to clone the internal (slow) drive to the external SSD (which will then run considerably faster). Expect read speeds around 420-430MBps.
CCC is free to download and use for 30 days -- using it will cost you nothing. Get it here:
Carbon Copy Cloner - Download

This isn't much more than "child's play on the Mac" -- ANYONE can do it.

You might add a little more RAM, but I wouldn't spend too much.
Perhaps "bump it up" to 16gb with 2 more 8gb DIMMs.

For a 1tb drive, something like this might do the trick at a reasonable price:
 
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Juicy Box

macrumors 604
Sep 23, 2014
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Did you use the Activity Monitor to see your RAM pressure:
You can use this guide from Apple to determine if more RAM would be appropriate for you:

Using many tabs on a browsers, gmail, MS (word, excel), always switching between apps, split screening.
You should be fine with 8GBs based on what you listed. Sometimes I deal with huge Excel spreadsheets that do a lot of calculations, and I very rarely go above 4GB of resources for Excel.

If you open your iMac, I would just add more RAM while it is open, but maybe try using an SSD externally first and see how your experience changes.

If you page swap while using the external SSD, you would probably never know it. If you do a lot of page swapping, then I would recommend getting more RAM.

Installing the SSD is the ideal option, but if I do open the machine should I upgrade the RAM while I am at it as RAM isnt that expensive?
If you open the iMac, then I would replace the RAM, but at 8GB and what you listed you do, you might be fine with just a SSD.

If you feel confortable opening the iMac, that would be the ideal way to go, as it is the cheapest option, but also is one of the fastest options and has TRIM support.

Opening the slim iMacs can be intimidating, but I think people overstate the difficultly of it. It really isn't that big of a deal. That said, I would definitely use a guide, maybe watch a few before you start cutting. I would also get high quality adhesive strips, and maybe a spare set just in case.

I definitely wouldn't try to "wing it".

That said, maybe consider using an external SSD and see how your experience improves.

You can get an internal SATA SSD with an USB3 adapter or enclosure for really cheap. You will see a huge performance increase over the HDD.

But, you can also see how everything else works out now that you won't have that HDD as a bottleneck. You may not even need more RAM. You can just use the SSD externally, and if you ever change your mind, you can always just open your Mac and install it.
 
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theSeb

macrumors 604
Aug 10, 2010
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It definitely sounds like you could benefit from the RAM upgrade for your use case - a possibility for why your Mac is hanging a lot could be due to macOS caching some of the contents stored in RAM to your hard drive.

Caching operations, I believe, can lead to excessive wear on an SSD (not sure whether this is any better with a modern SSD), and more RAM would reduce the amount of caching required, and speed things up with multiple browser tabs etc. It may be also worth looking at the memory pressure graph (image below) under Activity Monitor - if it is orange or red, then extra RAM would definitely be a benefit.
The contents of your RAM are never "cached" to your hard drive. They are transferred to your swap space (on your hard drive) when there isn't enough RAM available. This is a process known as "paging out". Open your terminal, type vm_stat. Look down the list and find the page ins and page outs. If page outs > 0, that means you should buy more RAM and you will benefit from it. If the number is high compared to page ins, then you will REALLY benefit from more RAM. If you are using a hard drive, then the benefits will be tremendous. If you are using a modern and fast SSD, then they will not be as obvious, but still noticeable.

A normal user will not be able to wear out an SSD during the life time of their computer. This is not a concern and especially not a concern in the context of this discussion.

You should be fine with 8GBs based on what you listed. Sometimes I deal with huge Excel spreadsheets that do a lot of calculations, and I very rarely go above 4GB of resources for Excel.
Memory is never as simple as "this single application I am using never exceeds X and if I have Y amount of RAM, which is greater than X, then Y amount of RAM is sufficient". Mac OS, just like any modern operating system, tries to use RAM as much as it can, even with no applications loaded, to cache files that are often used (Cached files in your activity monitor). These are usually your various system files which are accessed by the operating system constantly in the background. This speeds up your entire computer and makes it feel "snappy" to use. Of course you cannot keep everything in memory, unless you have a lot of it and are using a RAM drive, but I digress. This is why SSDs were the biggest change to our computers in the last decade in terms of day to day use, because they are so much faster than HDDs. Even in situations with low RAM, thrashing is not as noticeable as it was on computers with a mechanical HDD. Thrashing is when your computer is paging out constantly. RAM is much faster than the fastest SSDs. The answer to this is simple. RAM is cheap. 8 GB is not enough. It was not enough a few years ago and it is especially not enough with current versions of Mac OS. Upgrade to 16.

Having said all that.... I do have to wonder if OP is patching holes when the dam is about to break. I recently pulled out my old 2012 rMBP out of storage and upgraded it to Catalina and it is struggling, even with an SSD and 16 GBs of RAM.
 
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Juicy Box

macrumors 604
Sep 23, 2014
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Memory is never as simple as "this single application I am using never exceeds X and if I have Y amount of RAM, which is greater than X, then Y amount of RAM is sufficient". Mac OS, just like any modern operating system, tries to use RAM as much as it can, even with no applications loaded, to cache files that are often used (Cached files in your activity monitor). These are usually your various system files which are accessed by the operating system constantly in the background. This speeds up your entire computer and makes it feel "snappy" to use. Of course you cannot keep everything in memory, unless you have a lot of it and are using a RAM drive, but I digress. This is why SSDs were the biggest change to our computers in the last decade in terms of day to day use, because they are so much faster than HDDs. RAM is much faster than the fastest SSDs.
I know how RAM works. I was just giving a simple example of a resource heavy task and the amount of RAM being used for that app.

8 GB is not enough. Upgrade to 16.
I disagree. 8GB is plenty for some, not enough for others, and totally depends on what you do with your Mac.

That is why I suggested the OP use Apple's guide to determine if they could benefit from additional RAM.

I was also trying to save the OP from opening their iMac to do what might be an unnecessary upgrade.

To the OP: No one can tell you for sure if 8GB of RAM is adequate or not. That is why it is important to check your memory pressure while doing tasks you typically do. Prior to opening your Mac, use Apple's RAM guide, and not just some arbitrary suggestion of RAM amount from the forum.

But, if you end up opening your Mac to replace the HDD for a SSD, you might as well replace the RAM while it is open.
 
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fbm3334

macrumors newbie
Jan 6, 2020
22
19
A normal user will not be able to wear out an SSD during the life time of their computer. This is not a concern and especially not a concern in the context of this discussion.

I realised later on that I meant to say swap space rather than cache - excuse me for getting my terms mixed up. It's good to know that swap operations won't wear out an SSD significantly during the computer's lifetime.

Having a look at Everymac.com, the Late 2012 21.5" supports two DDR3 PC3-12800 SODIMMs, up to a maximum of 16GB. I am not sure where you are in the world, but in the US, the Corsair CMSA16GX3M2A1600C11 is around $60, and in the UK it is around £60 - apparently it is Apple approved as well (for MacBooks) according to product listings.

OWC have a helpful YouTube video about how to do the upgrade - unfortunately, it's nowhere near as easy as with the 27" models of the same era (the 21.5" upgrade involves removing the glass, but the 27" iMac's RAM can be accessed via a rear hatch) -
 

theSeb

macrumors 604
Aug 10, 2010
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I‘ve just realised that we are talking about a 21.5 and not a 27. I would not bother then. Just sell and get something newer, or live with it
 
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theSeb

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Aug 10, 2010
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I know how RAM works. I was just giving a simple example of a resource heavy task and the amount of RAM being used for that app.


I disagree. 8GB is plenty for some, not enough for others, and totally depends on what you do with your Mac.

That is why I suggested the OP use Apple's guide to determine if they could benefit from additional RAM.

I was also trying to save the OP from opening their iMac to do what might be an unnecessary upgrade.

To the OP: No one can tell you for sure if 8GB of RAM is adequate or not. That is why it is important to check your memory pressure while doing tasks you typically do. Prior to opening your Mac, use Apple's RAM guide, and not just some arbitrary suggestion of RAM amount from the forum.

But, if you end up opening your Mac to replace the HDD for a SSD, you might as well replace the RAM while it is open.
We can tell, because the OP already described their symptoms.

However, I’ve only just clicked that we are discussing a 21.5 iMac and not a 27. I would not bother because that makes the task much more difficult.
 
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theSeb

macrumors 604
Aug 10, 2010
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I realised later on that I meant to say swap space rather than cache - excuse me for getting my terms mixed up. It's good to know that swap operations won't wear out an SSD significantly during the computer's lifetime.

Having a look at Everymac.com, the Late 2012 21.5" supports two DDR3 PC3-12800 SODIMMs, up to a maximum of 16GB. I am not sure where you are in the world, but in the US, the Corsair CMSA16GX3M2A1600C11 is around $60, and in the UK it is around £60 - apparently it is Apple approved as well (for MacBooks) according to product listings.

OWC have a helpful YouTube video about how to do the upgrade - unfortunately, it's nowhere near as easy as with the 27" models of the same era (the 21.5" upgrade involves removing the glass, but the 27" iMac's RAM can be accessed via a rear hatch) -
500 GB Samsung 970 evo has a TBW rating of 300. That means even if you wrote 60 GBs to it everyday, it would still last 12 years.
 
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Juicy Box

macrumors 604
Sep 23, 2014
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I would not bother then. Just sell and get something newer, or live with it
To the OP: I personally wouldn't get something newer if you are otherwise happy with the Mac. Most of your symptoms sound like it has more to due with using a HDD with Catalina as many people have report on the forum.

This could be easily fixed with a SSD. It does not necessarily mean that you must have more RAM.

Even if you could use a little more RAM with your workload, a SSD would make the page swapping much more seamless compared to the HDD.

I suggest starting off externally, getting a 1TB SATA SSD and a cheap USB3 enclosure, you can get both for less than $100.

Clone your drive, use it for a while, and I am sure you will see a huge improvement.

You can also decide later to install it internally, and while you have everything open, then replace the RAM. But, if everything is running well with a external SSD and you are happy with it, just keep it like that for a few years until you are ready for a new Mac.

With a choice like spending $100 now for an otherwise perfectly working machine, or spending $$$$ for a new Mac, why not just make the $100 investment. If anything, you can always use that SSD with your next Mac.
 
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Wazzup1001

macrumors newbie
Original poster
Oct 20, 2020
3
3
Just want to take a moment to personally thank everyone for their detailed advise, really appreciate it.

I have visited a computer repair shop today and I've been given a really good price to upgrade to 2x8gb RAM & 500gb Samsung Evo SSD

If I am going to open the machine I might as well upgrade the RAM which is also quite cheap at the moment.


I will keep you updated once the upgrade has been competed!
 

MarkEJohnson66

macrumors newbie
Jan 30, 2021
4
0
I'd like to hear how your upgrade went, Wazzup1001

I have a similar machine (Late 2012, 21.5", 8 GB RAM, but a 1TB HDD). Also running Catalina, similar usage (mostly internet and "office work" like Outlook/PowerPoint/Excel, nothing super demanding like graphic-intense editors or games). And, similar delays. A phone call to MacSales about their upgrade kits steered me away from RAM upgrades and toward a hard drive replacement to SSD. Similar to what some of you have suggested here.

The process for upgrading either internally is a bit intense, involving adhesive tape and suction cups. The rest of it looks easy. However, it's very tempting to "just" go with an external SSD+enclosure if that'll get me most of the improvement for a whole lot less trouble.
 

Nguyen Duc Hieu

macrumors 68030
Jul 5, 2020
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Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
I'd like to hear how your upgrade went, Wazzup1001

I have a similar machine (Late 2012, 21.5", 8 GB RAM, but a 1TB HDD). Also running Catalina, similar usage (mostly internet and "office work" like Outlook/PowerPoint/Excel, nothing super demanding like graphic-intense editors or games). And, similar delays. A phone call to MacSales about their upgrade kits steered me away from RAM upgrades and toward a hard drive replacement to SSD. Similar to what some of you have suggested here.

The process for upgrading either internally is a bit intense, involving adhesive tape and suction cups. The rest of it looks easy. However, it's very tempting to "just" go with an external SSD+enclosure if that'll get me most of the improvement for a whole lot less trouble.

If you are not comfortable with opening your iMac, just get an external USB 3.0 enclosure and an SSD.
My iMac early 2009 runs Office aps + web browsing smooth enough, with 4GB RAM and an old SSD.
 
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MarkEJohnson66

macrumors newbie
Jan 30, 2021
4
0
That sounds like a great plan. I can get that, see how the performance boost works. Then if I want more I could get the upgrade kit for 16 GB, and as long as I've opened the iMac I could move the SSD internally.
 

retta283

Suspended
Jun 8, 2018
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I can certainly recommend, that if you're going to open up your iMac, do as many things as possible while you're inside it so you don't have to take it apart again for quite some time. Just a lot easier/safer that way. 16GB and an SSD will make this thing fly on the Web.
 

mdgm

macrumors 68000
Nov 2, 2010
1,665
406
It's a shame Apple made the RAM so much more difficult to upgrade with the 2012. With the 2011 it's as easy to upgrade the RAM as it is with the 27" iMacs.

I would agree with upgrading as much as possible if you have to open the 2012 iMac up.
 
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