Upgrade RAM or hard drive purely for speed?

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by helix21, Jan 17, 2010.

  1. helix21 macrumors regular

    Aug 25, 2009
    Hey, I am thinking of upgrading my UMB hard drive from the stock 160GB to a scorprio blue WD5000BEVT. I am told that this is a well known fast drive even though its 5400rpm (speed increases as capacity increases)

    My main priority is speed. I have about 15GB left and I have an external hard drive so no problem there. I havent gone for a 7200rpm drive because

    1. Battery life goes down, something that is very important to me.

    2. Possibility of increased vibrations

    3. Apple themselves dont offer 7200 ones for the unibody macbook/pro 13 but do for the 15 and i reckon there might be a reason for that.

    SSD is too expensive and so certainly out of the question.

    Now another thing I was considering is upgrading from 2GB to 4GB RAM. Now as far as I know that wont speed up my computer, just stop it from slowing down (as memory fills up).

    Here is a shot of the activity monitor so you can put it into context whether I need the RAM or not.

    This is after about half a day of usage


    This is after 7 days of uptime constant usage (putting the numbers of swap and page outs into context)


    I have the cash for just one of these upgrades. If you had the choice, which one would you go for?

  2. MacDawg macrumors Core


    Mar 20, 2004
    "Between the Hedges"
    I have the Scorpio Blue and highly recommend it
    It is a fast, quiet drive

    To check and see if you need more RAM, you should probably check your "page outs"
    It is probably the best indication of your need for RAM or not

    I recommend upgrading to the 4 GB of RAM too :)

    You will find a good explanation about "page outs" here

    You can find your "page outs" by using the Activity Monitor (use the System Memory tab).


    Woof, Woof - Dawg [​IMG]
  3. C64 macrumors 65816


    Sep 3, 2008
    Correct. More RAM won't speed up a specific application (unless you're using some heavy app that needs more than 2GB of RAM), it will only allow you to better use more applications simultaneously. So in effect, everything will 'feel' faster when multitasking.
  4. MrCheeto macrumors 68030


    Nov 2, 2008
    Go for the 7200rpm drive or bust.

    The drive will make accessing and writing information faster, which is what creates the illusion of snappiness. Applications will launch, save and close faster and copying, moving and deleting files will be faster as well. Maybe even startup speed will increase.

    RAM as a speed booster is really misunderstood. It only increases speed if your processes consume close to all of your ram and you upgrade enough to have free space on your memory. It also makes it easier to have multiple applications going on at the same time.

    Let me paraphrase a quote I read in Windows 3.11 for dummies:
    "RAM is like the teacher's chalkboard at school. With a big chalkboard she can display long equations and more information. With a smaller chalkboard she would have to erase constantly to make room to write more information, consuming time and limiting the amount of information displayed at any given time".

    The 7200rpm drives aren't offered in the 13" MBP's because they are not the higher-end models and so don't get all of the higher-end options, such as anti-glare.

    The only other way to increase speed is to replace the CPU or overclock it. This is the main factor when it comes to "processing" (go figure) such things as music, movies and such.

    So I assume you're looking for snappiness and less lag? If that's the case the HDD is your best bet.
  5. helix21 thread starter macrumors regular

    Aug 25, 2009
    Thanks for the explanation.

    The thing is everything seems fast and snappy when I just reboot the system and almost every applicant loads up in an instant but that slows down when I have used the system for multiple applications (even after they are closed). Would that point to a RAM upgrade?
  6. helix21 thread starter macrumors regular

    Aug 25, 2009
    Thanks for the reply. I have posted the screenshots of the activity monitor for you to have a look. Bear in mind the 2nd one is after intense gaming aswell but no vmware as far as I remember.

    Would like to get both but money is the limiting factor as I am in uni :D


    The thing is everything seems fast and snappy when I just reboot the system and almost every applicant loads up in an instant but that slows down when I have used the system for multiple applications (even after they are closed). Would that point to a RAM upgrade?
  7. MrCheeto macrumors 68030


    Nov 2, 2008
    Are you sure you're QUITTING and not just closing the applications?

    If there's a blue light under the application icon in the dock, that means it's still running. You have to right click the dock icon or select the Application and then go to the menu bar and click, for instance, "Safari>Quit Safari" or select the Application and press Command+Q.

    Closing an application usually leaves it running so that the next time you open it it doesn't have to load it onto the ram again.

    As well, you should download Dashquit, which allows you to quit Dashboard when you're not using it. I find it extremely handy to save battery, processor and ram.

    Dashboard is NOT running when you start up, it only starts once you initiate it (by activating it). It continues to run until you shut down again, so this application is a must.
  8. helix21 thread starter macrumors regular

    Aug 25, 2009
    Yeah I am quitting applications the way they are meant to be (cmd + Q) but I still feel they are eating up memory like what does 'wired' and 'inactive' mean in the activity monitor? Because a warm start/start after previously opening then closing the application is faster than a cold start/starting for the first time.

    Thanks for the dashboard recommendation, brilliant app!
  9. MrCheeto macrumors 68030


    Nov 2, 2008
    Reading from the book of .com, we find:

    "Free memory

    This memory is not being used currently

    Wired memory

    This information can't be moved to disk, so it must stay in RAM. The amount depends on the applications you are using.

    Active memory

    This information is currently in RAM and has recently been used.

    Inactive memory

    This information has not recently been used but will remain in RAM until another application needs more memory but no free memory is available. If called upon by a process, this is quickly changed to Active memory; if it has been swapped to the hard disk, it will be moved back to RAM and marked as Active."

    So Wired means it CAN'T be removed from the ram and put on the Hard Drive (a feature called Virtual Memory) until it "expires", such as when you save an application or quit one, it will "surrender" all of it's Wired data.

    Inactive means an application called dibs on some space, but if someone else needs it then they will TAKE it, LUL.

    I consider Inactive and Free ram to be "unused" and so in a way they're both free. Sure the Inactive memory has to be deleted before it can be used by another application, but it happens so fast you wouldn't notice.

    I don't see what the issue is, you have 200mb of free ram in the screenshot so I can't tell you what's going wrong there.
  10. iPhysicist macrumors 65816


    Nov 9, 2009
    It is NOT because of the SCREEN Real estate. I do not know why some people cant stand the equity of ALL macbook pros. I buy 13" because I want THIS form factor. FOR SURE the fastest Processors are built in the bigger Notebooks but this is also because of cooling issues.

    The 13" MBP have to deal with a much smaller Battery 58Wh compared to 73Wh for the 15" or even 95Wh for 17"! Thats why the 7200 are not offered.
  11. MrCheeto macrumors 68030


    Nov 2, 2008
    ...I have the 13" MacBook Pro...all of my Macs have been 13"...no problems there...
  12. Badger^2 macrumors 68000


    Oct 29, 2009
    1) There is no evidence that this true. 7200 rpm drives do not eat more battery.

    2) also not true. 7200 rpm drives run just as smooth as any other drive.

    3) Thats flawed logic. Apple doesnt offer a 640 gig drive for their MBPs, but they will take them just fine.

    Ram is cheap. $100 for ram and $75 for a 500 or 320 gig 7200 rpm drive for speed seems like a no brainer to me.

    heres a 500 gig 7200 drive + case + all the tools you need for $140

    or 320 gigs for $95

    no need to overthink this. just do it and be done with it.

    memory and drive install videos: http://eshop.macsales.com/installvideos/macbookpro_13_unibody/
  13. helix21 thread starter macrumors regular

    Aug 25, 2009
    This is brilliant thanks but I am in the UK where the prices really are exorbitant and there are no packs as such. I think I have the relevant scewdriver and the enclosure + 500GB 7200rpm cost be £72 (prices here are often very much more expensive and its insane for ram which is £83 cheapest)
  14. iPhysicist macrumors 65816


    Nov 9, 2009
    They have to! Spinning faster takes more power. Vibration was mentioned by members who upgraded HDDs and choose a 7200.

    I would say skip your upgrade and save some cash.

    Go for an ssd end of the year or early next year.
  15. Badger^2 macrumors 68000


    Oct 29, 2009
    LOL, ok.

    If we are going to use that kinda "backyard" logic... since they spin faster they access data quicker which means they spin less than a 5400 rpm drive.

    How about them apples? =)

    Sorry about the whole USA vs The Rest of the World thing -- I really wish peeps would put their location in their profile...

  16. iPhysicist macrumors 65816


    Nov 9, 2009
    I knew you would tell me about idle and access times etc. How long does it take to go idle for the drive? More idle means they spin up more often. This spinning up is what takes most power. Believe me or recognize it yourself.

    Backyard logic - not me.

    I put my location into profile. I don't care about USA foreign policy anyway ;)
  17. oroborus macrumors newbie

    Jan 18, 2010
    +1 here on both accounts especially if you're looking at gaming performance under Windoze. I recently installed a 500GB 7200RPM (~$90USD) at Frys, 2x2GB DDR3 SODIMM kit from Newegg (~$90) and OC'ed the CPU and GPU and now I get playable FPS in games @ 1280x800. Using Macfanx64 to control fan speeds in Win7x64.
  18. extrachrispy macrumors regular


    Jul 29, 2009
    Austin, Texas
    The single biggest improvement you can make for speed is an SSD. Yes, they are expensive, but the speed improvement is far and away more dramatic than either adding RAM or moving to a speedier spindle.

    If you're counting that out, then I'd prioritize RAM over a new spindle.
  19. Paul B macrumors 6502

    Sep 13, 2007
  20. Habitus macrumors 6502a


    Feb 26, 2009
    Where ever my life takes me...
    Ram first, my friend. You'll notice a increase in speed and overall efficiency. I suggest OWC as they have a rebate option for returned Apple RAM.

    good luck

    Habitus :apple:
  21. RedTomato macrumors 68040


    Mar 4, 2005
    .. London ..
    I am in the UK too. I also have the WD Scorpio 500GB 5400 drive in my 3 year old white macbook, and am very happy with it.

    If you wanted purely speed, then more RAM or SSD. But obviously you said a SSD is too small for you, so it's not just speed you want, but also space. I also would love a SSD, but my 500GB HD is almost full already.

    You have to look at what do you do with your laptop. You currently have a 160GB drive. Is that packed full? Will 500 GB of space let you do a lot more things with your MB? If so, then the choice is a no-brainer - get the 500GB. More RAM or a SSD won't let you do NEW things that you couldn't do before.

    If your 160GB drive is only half full, then 500GB won't do much for you, and it's time to look at RAM or SSD. Leaving SSD to one side for now, you say you often use multiple apps at the same time? RAM will help with that. What's the most demanding thing you regularly do on your mac? Film editing? SD or HD film editing? Music processing?

    It might help to tell you about my usage : I often have 50 tabs open in Firefox over 10 windows, and edit lots of SD video. That takes up about 3GB of RAM, and runs smoothly. It would be a nightmare in 2GB. (I upgraded to 4GB a couple of years ago.)

    Recently I've started running different versions of Windows in VMWare, and editing HD video. These things bring my laptop to its knees and use every inch of RAM I have. For my next computer, I need 8GB of RAM, no less.

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