Should I upgrade RAM on an old Macbook?

Discussion in 'OS X El Capitan (10.11)' started by unkleE, Dec 4, 2016.

  1. unkleE macrumors newbie

    Dec 19, 2013
    I have a 2009 Macbook with 4 Gb of RAM, which I mostly use as a desktop with an extra keyboard and larger screen. It originally ran with Snow Leopard but I have upgraded, first to Mountain Lion and now El Capitan. The reason for each upgrade was that web browsing became impossible - Flash wouldn't run and many websites wouldn't load properly because my old Browsers had insecurities.

    But El Capitan often runs very slow. I don't use really memory hungry software - I normally have open Safari, Mail, an RSS reader (Vienna) and sometimes Libre Office or Gimp. But I assumed the occasional beachball spin was due to RAM shortage, so I have taken to keeping Activity Monitor open a lot.

    I have found that I rarely use a lot of the CPU, but the Ram generally runs with about 3-3.3 Gb of the 4 Gb RAM in use. I thought this would be sufficient pressure to make upgrading to 8 Gb RAM (at a cost of less than $100) a worthwhile investment, but I note that the Memory Pressure graph on Activity Monitor rarely gets out of the green, and even when I opened a whole bunch of other software, it only went to yellow, and never to red.

    So I'm wondering if anyone can advise me please, if I should believe the Memory pressure graph that my Ram is sufficient, or I should believe my own assessment that it's not? My options are to double the RAM now and hopefully extend the life of my ageing MacBook but another year or more, or buy a Mac Mini when new models are rumoured to be released early next year, but I don't want to buy the RAM if it will make little difference.

    Thanks for any ideas you can offer.
  2. Ritsuka macrumors 6502a

    Sep 3, 2006
    It would be better to replace the HHD with a SSD.
  3. unkleE, Dec 5, 2016
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2016

    unkleE thread starter macrumors newbie

    Dec 19, 2013
    Hi Ritsuka, thanks for that thought, it is certainly worth considering. Does that mean you think slow swapping into and out of disk memory is the main cause of my MacBook's slowness? If I had more RAM, would that not mean I'd need to swap less because my RAM could hold more?

    I was initially wary of getting a SSD because I thought it would be expensive, but a 250 Gb SSD (my HHD is t250 Gb and only half full) is only just over $100, so suddenly it looks a real possibility. Have you any recommendations on brand to fit in a MacBook?

    Thanks again.

    PS I note that current SSDs are 6 gigabit link speed, wheres my Macbook is only 3 gigabit, with "negotiated link speed" only 1.5 gigabit. Does this slower speed make a SSD significantly less value?
  4. Fishrrman macrumors G5


    Feb 20, 2009
    Ritsuka is right about upgrading the HDD to an SSD.

    The drive will make MUCH more of a difference than RAM (although RAM helps, too).

    Don't worry about the 3gb vs. 1.5gb issue. Just about all SSD's are "downward compatible".

    DON'T spend more money for the "latest and greatest" SSD because of this issue.
    ANY one will do.
    I'd recommend either a Sandisk or Crucial brand drive.
  5. unkleE thread starter macrumors newbie

    Dec 19, 2013
    Thanks so much. Both of you have helped me greatly. I think I will purchase both new SSD and new RAM, which should give me another few years with my MacBook.
  6. Fishrrman macrumors G5


    Feb 20, 2009
    Also --

    Visit to see what's involved in swapping drives.
    Be sure to buy and use THE RIGHT TOOLS!! (shouting intentional)

    You might consider picking up a 2.5" USB3 external enclosure.
    You can use this to "prep and test" the new SSD BEFORE you install it. Things go easier this way.
    You can then use the enclosure for the old HDD. Keep it as a backup drive.
  7. KALLT macrumors 601

    Sep 23, 2008
    The memory pressure is usually the best indicator. If it very rarely turns yellow, then you do not have a problem with your memory usage. The system does not try to minimise the memory, it will readily use it. Once you switch between applications, the system will start compressing unused memory and persist the state of inactive applications to disk, so that the performance remains smooth and memory is always available for the application that currently needs it.

    I’d say, switch to an SSD and see how it goes.
  8. unkleE thread starter macrumors newbie

    Dec 19, 2013
    Thanks for your advice. I'm getting moving on it now, and maybe I'll report back later just in case it helps someone else.
  9. Dented macrumors 6502a

    Oct 16, 2009
    Just to encourage you, I have a 2009 MBP and over the summer swapped in a Crucial SSD, and maxed out the ram to 8gb while I was in there. All I can say is wow - to say it's like a new computer is an understatement, it is like a brand new top-of-the-line machine with super fast cherries on top. I only wish I'd done it sooner.
  10. elf69, Dec 8, 2016
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2016

    elf69 macrumors 68020


    Jun 2, 2016
    Cornwall UK
    I had a 2009 macbook a1342.

    for average user 4GB is plenty.
    I had 8GB just coz I had it in a box of bits.

    The SSD was biggest change an whole new computer!
    Your machine is only sata 2 so you will never get the full speed of an SSD but way faster than a HDD.

    if you have a late 2009 unibody, try the sierra.
    For me it ran smoother than el capitan but not vastly.
    But gave better battery life which is always good.
  11. unkleE thread starter macrumors newbie

    Dec 19, 2013
    Thanks for the encouragement. I've put my order in and am now waiting expectantly.
  12. saudor macrumors 6502a

    Jul 18, 2011
    Im with everyone on here.. SSD first and then RAM. Both makes my 2010 run really nice. Once you go SSD, you'll never ever go back!

    Once you get it.. you'll want a USB 3.0 enclosure and either use time machine or a disk cloning app like superduper to move it over
  13. unkleE thread starter macrumors newbie

    Dec 19, 2013
    Thanks everyone for help. I purchased both RAM and SSD, installed them both easily. I did a fresh install of El Capitan (my Macbook may be able to use Sierra, I'm not sure, but I don't think it has any advantage for me, and El Capitan is a known quantity) then used Time Machine to restore everything else. It was slowish, but fine.

    I can report that things have certainly speeded up. I think both upgrades have helped. Obviously the SSD is way faster than the old HDD, but the RAM is useful too. Before the upgrade, my Activity Monitor showed that I often was using 3-3.4 Gb of RAM out of the 4, and "Swap Used" always showed a reasonable amount of RAM. But now the RAM used often goes up to 5 or 6 and the Swap Used is always zero (as often as I've checked). I presume this indicates that the extra RAM has been well used to avoid swapping in and out of RAM and Disk storage.

    So $A250 well spent! Hopefully that spend will delay the need to upgrade to a new computer for at least a year or two.

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