Mid 2009 2.53 Ghz MBP beachballs constantly. Quicker fix: RAM or SSD?

reubs

macrumors 68000
Original poster
Jun 22, 2006
1,676
8
I've got a mid-09 15" MBP, and it's running 10.9.2. I might be pushing it with this release, but it's a little late to go back now.

What happens is whenever I wake it from sleep or have a few tabs open or try to send an email or even edit text in a text field (here on MR for example), I get a beach ball and a lag that can last up to a minute.

I check my Activity Monitor, and it's usually up at 4 GB of ram (what I have installed), so my assumption is that I'm maxing out the ram. My fear, though, is that if I upgrade that and put in 8 GB, then the "safari web content" and "kernel task" will just balloon up to 8 GB anyway, using up everything I've got.

The SSD upgrade from OWC with a data doubler is also an option for me to squeeze a few more years out of this machine, but I just can't do them at the same time.

Any thoughts on this one? Which is going to give me the better results more quickly? SSD upgrade or RAM upgrade?

Thanks!
 

BigBeast

macrumors 6502a
Mar 6, 2009
642
40
I've got a mid-09 15" MBP, and it's running 10.9.2. I might be pushing it with this release, but it's a little late to go back now.

What happens is whenever I wake it from sleep or have a few tabs open or try to send an email or even edit text in a text field (here on MR for example), I get a beach ball and a lag that can last up to a minute.

I check my Activity Monitor, and it's usually up at 4 GB of ram (what I have installed), so my assumption is that I'm maxing out the ram. My fear, though, is that if I upgrade that and put in 8 GB, then the "safari web content" and "kernel task" will just balloon up to 8 GB anyway, using up everything I've got.

The SSD upgrade from OWC with a data doubler is also an option for me to squeeze a few more years out of this machine, but I just can't do them at the same time.

Any thoughts on this one? Which is going to give me the better results more quickly? SSD upgrade or RAM upgrade?

Thanks!
There must be an epidemic of users maxing their RAM as of late. This is the third post I'll submit in a week on the issue, but I'll offer my advice nonetheless. With the information you provided, I'm going to assume that you are correct that a lack of RAM is your issue.

Upgrading to an SSD prior to installing the proper amount of RAM would reduce the life of the SSD, and still be quite slow. First, with inadequate RAM, the SSD will be utilized as virtual memory, offsetting the lack of physical RAM. By doing this, the computer will write tasks that are normally written to RAM, to the SSD. Because SSDs have only a finite amount of writes available to each transistor, you'll effectively shorten its lifetime, and increase the risk of data loss. Additionally, even fast SSDs pale in comparison to the speed of RAM – ~500MB/s in SSDs vs. ~23 GB/s in RAM (@1333 MHz). Therefore, the best solution would be to install the appropriate amount of RAM first, followed by an SSD upgrade. Once the proper amount of RAM is installed, an SSD will truly shine.

Also, if when you start from a cold boot, your computer is already maxing out its RAM, I'd suggest that you check your login applications to determine if apps are running needlessly. After upgrading to 8GB of RAM, I wouldn't expect your computer to utilize all 8GB instantly, so I wouldn't worry about that.
 

Laco

macrumors 6502
Apr 23, 2008
375
1
Personally I would go for the RAM upgrade. If you are constantly at the limit then you certainly need more. I went from 4 to 16 and ive seen a huge improvement. It is also cheaper to get the ram upgrade. So I would start with that. The previous respondent, BigBeast, has a much better answer as to why.
 

esskay

macrumors 6502
Jan 3, 2008
305
7
Not sure what exactly OP means by "quicker"... But changing RAM is super easy, you swap it out and you're on your way.

Switching to an SSD means you have to either clone over your existing drive, or like I did, do a clean install to start fresh, which is very time consuming. Worth it, to me, but it was a hassle.
 

reubs

macrumors 68000
Original poster
Jun 22, 2006
1,676
8
Thanks, everyone. By "quicker", I meant which one would give me the best advantage more quickly. I figured it was RAM-related. I'll give that a go and see how it works. I'm guessing OWC is still the preferred place to get it, right? I haven't done a RAM upgrade since my days with the old white MB, but I know it's a pretty easy fix.

Thanks again for the help!
 

esskay

macrumors 6502
Jan 3, 2008
305
7
If you're not in a hurry, I'd set up some deal alerts on the deal sites and watch for a good price on RAM. From time to time, some really good deals come around. That's what I did, I recall I had to wait a month or two before one popped up. Did the same for my SSD, I think that only took a month before I snagged one.
 

reubs

macrumors 68000
Original poster
Jun 22, 2006
1,676
8
Any suggestions on places to do that? I've never actually bargain-hunted that way.
 

Qaanol

macrumors 6502a
Jun 21, 2010
568
11
In normal use, what does Activity Monitor show for “memory pressure”?
 

BigBeast

macrumors 6502a
Mar 6, 2009
642
40
Any suggestions on places to do that? I've never actually bargain-hunted that way.
Here's what I do:
1. Open up Safari
2. Create 3 tabs
3. Go to newegg.com, amazon.com, and macsales.com (one website per tab)
4. Search for the product you're looking for
5. Compare
6. Buy

:)
 

esskay

macrumors 6502
Jan 3, 2008
305
7
Any suggestions on places to do that? I've never actually bargain-hunted that way.
I set up deal alerts with specific keywords on slickdeals and fatwallet. The front page of slickdeals is moderated pretty well to bubble up the better bargains.
 

alphaod

macrumors Core
Feb 9, 2008
22,087
1,131
NYC
Your issues sound more like a failing hard drive than lack of RAM.

And for a failing hard drive, I would get an SSD.

Though the RAM upgrade would probably help after you deal with the drive issue.
 

reubs

macrumors 68000
Original poster
Jun 22, 2006
1,676
8
Your issues sound more like a failing hard drive than lack of RAM.

And for a failing hard drive, I would get an SSD.

Though the RAM upgrade would probably help after you deal with the drive issue.
Yeah, I was worried it might be that, too. I just did a disk repair, and there were no errors found. And strangely, as I started to type this reply, I got a beach ball in the text box and laggy text input. I have no idea what to blame for that, but I'm thinking I'll just go all in and get both an SSD and a RAM upgrade and be done with it.
 

yjchua95

macrumors 604
Apr 23, 2011
6,725
230
GVA, KUL, MEL (current), ZQN
I've got a mid-09 15" MBP, and it's running 10.9.2. I might be pushing it with this release, but it's a little late to go back now.

What happens is whenever I wake it from sleep or have a few tabs open or try to send an email or even edit text in a text field (here on MR for example), I get a beach ball and a lag that can last up to a minute.

I check my Activity Monitor, and it's usually up at 4 GB of ram (what I have installed), so my assumption is that I'm maxing out the ram. My fear, though, is that if I upgrade that and put in 8 GB, then the "safari web content" and "kernel task" will just balloon up to 8 GB anyway, using up everything I've got.

The SSD upgrade from OWC with a data doubler is also an option for me to squeeze a few more years out of this machine, but I just can't do them at the same time.

Any thoughts on this one? Which is going to give me the better results more quickly? SSD upgrade or RAM upgrade?

Thanks!
To quote another user's opinions on SSD vs RAM directly (no copyright infringement intended):

Upgrading to an SSD prior to installing the proper amount of RAM will reduce the SSD's life.

First, with an inadequate RAM, the SSD will be utilized as virtual RAM, offsetting the lack of a physical RAM. By doing this, tasks that are normally written to the RAM will be written to the SSD instead.

As SSDs have a finite amount of writes available to each transistor, you'll effectively shorten its lifetime and increase the risk of data loss.

Additionally, even fast SSDs pale in comparison to RAM speed (SATA3 SSDs perform at around 500MB/s and PCIe SSDs perform around 700MB/s, while 1333MHz RAM performs at around 23GB/s).

The best solution is to install the appropriate amount of RAM first, followed by an SSD upgrade. Once the right amount of RAM is installed, an SSD will truly shine.

PS: It's also worth noting that SSDs usually far outlast the lifespan of a computer. A Samsung 840 Pro will last about 7 years under heavy writes.
 

reubs

macrumors 68000
Original poster
Jun 22, 2006
1,676
8
I upgraded the RAM a few weeks ago, and I'm not having as many problems with beachballs as I was, primarily when I wake the machine from sleep. I'm noticing, though, that boot time is a long time, and the HDD is not cloning like it should. I tried both Super Duper! and CCC, and both of those back-ups failed. I was then tried to install Mavericks onto an external boot drive, but the machine then somehow installed it over my main OS, erasing everything. Luckily, I had a Time Machine backup handy.

I've run disk checks, repaired the disk and permissions, and checked the S.M.A.R.T. status, and everything looks okay.

I don't trust any of that, so I just ordered a new SSD with a mount for the optical drive, and I'll hope that the SSD plus a new drive will be able to fix some of my problems. With this drive not cloning properly, I'm concerned about back-ups, but I'll get everything figured out somehow.

Thanks for the suggestions and help!
 

ecschwarz

macrumors 65816
Jun 28, 2010
1,236
227
I upgraded the RAM a few weeks ago, and I'm not having as many problems with beachballs as I was, primarily when I wake the machine from sleep. I'm noticing, though, that boot time is a long time, and the HDD is not cloning like it should. I tried both Super Duper! and CCC, and both of those back-ups failed. I was then tried to install Mavericks onto an external boot drive, but the machine then somehow installed it over my main OS, erasing everything. Luckily, I had a Time Machine backup handy.

I've run disk checks, repaired the disk and permissions, and checked the S.M.A.R.T. status, and everything looks okay.

I don't trust any of that, so I just ordered a new SSD with a mount for the optical drive, and I'll hope that the SSD plus a new drive will be able to fix some of my problems. With this drive not cloning properly, I'm concerned about back-ups, but I'll get everything figured out somehow.

Thanks for the suggestions and help!
It looks like both bays have SATA II connections - if you pick up a SATA III drive, it should work just fine, just at slower speeds (places that sell SATA II drives are often charging more for older technology - most new drives will negotiate the proper connection). The 2009 models do have a lot of life left in them with the RAM maxed out and an SSD. I had a friend with the 2.26GHz 13" model upgraded to 8GB RAM - although it was much more pleasant and usable, it still felt slow. Upgrading to an SSD (Samsung 840 - this was before the Evo was around) really helped with responsiveness and load times. Now, unless there's something CPU intensive, the machine feels plenty fast.
 
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kfmfe04

macrumors member
Jun 19, 2010
69
1
Your beachballs could be due to Spotlight Indexing, especially if you have a new OSX install/new SSD.

Google around for diagnostics and solutions.
 

zsno

macrumors member
Oct 9, 2007
39
0
Richmond, VA
Activity Monitor in 10.9 reports RAM usage quite differently than in previous versions of OS X. It will always show most all of your RAM being in use, which confuses a lot of people, making them think they're running out of RAM. The system will use what its being given, and the new memory pressure stat is the one to watch.

I'd rule out a software issue before immediately jumping to replacing components in the machine.

Try a clean install of OS X. Then see if issues are persisting.
 

Naimfan

Suspended
Jan 15, 2003
4,669
1,996
It does sound like your drive is failing, and for a 2009 machine that's not unreasonable.

You might consider a drive like the 1 TB/7200 RPM HGST. It's $75 on Amazon, and it is reasonably fast for a spinning drive. Unless you boot a lot, or close and open applications frequently (and if so, why?), an SSD isn't necessary for the overwhelming majority of people, and drives still have a significant edge budget-wise.

EDIT: Just saw you already got a SSD, so strike the drive recommendation in your case, though for anyone else in the same boat it's a good drive.
 
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Fondaparinux

macrumors member
Jul 13, 2013
81
53
Your issues sound more like a failing hard drive than lack of RAM.

And for a failing hard drive, I would get an SSD.

Though the RAM upgrade would probably help after you deal with the drive issue.
How is that a sign of failing HDD? It could be fragmentation. A simple defragmentation could fix the performance issue.

OP, I highly recommend a new SSD over RAM. A new RAM will hardly get rid of your beach ball issue, a new SSD will speed up everything, including boot up time. (Not even a terabyte of RAM will get you a faster bootup time, given that you have an HDD.)