How-To: Maximize RAM Usage on 15″, 17″ Unibody MacBook Pro

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Date: Thursday, March 4th, 2010, 06:37
Category: How-To, MacBook Pro


Ok, I’ve never heard of this before and it could be interesting.

Per CNET, a number of 15″ and 17″ unibody MacBook Pro notebook owners have run into problems when they ran out of available RAM more than expected, especially when running programs that can reserve large amounts of memory. These include graphically intensive applications such as Adobe Creative Suite, and applications that use a lot of RAM such as virtualization solutions.

Even though no one’s really had to manage how their RAM has been portioned out since the days of Mac OS 9, the piece offers the following tips to maximize what’s there:

Checking and managing RAM:
Running low on RAM can make your system run slowly, and you can check your RAM usage with Activity Monitor, and see what applications are using the most by clicking the “Real Mem” column in the main Activity Monitor window (shown by pressing command-1). If there are user applications that are using large amounts of RAM, they will be at the top of the list, and you can try quitting or relaunching them to free up more RAM.

Turn on higher performance graphics:
If the system seem to be using more RAM than usual, you may have the dedicated graphics processor in the MacBook Pro disabled. In unibody MacBook Pro machines, you have both chipset-based and dedicated graphics processors. If you set the system to have better battery life in the “Graphics” section of the Energy Saver system preferences, the system will turn off the discrete graphics processor, leading to significant battery savings. However, doing this will result in more system memory usage since the onboard graphics chip does not have its own video memory.

Select this option to turn on the dedicated graphics processor, and offloading video information from the system RAM.

Usage of applications like Photoshop, games and virtual machines that require large amounts of RAM devoted to graphics will be able to use the onboard graphics capabilities to handle more of the tasks at hand. As a result, users can usually see the “kernel_task” process using more RAM. In contrast, if you are using the dedicated graphics, applications will be using the 512MB of available video RAM for the graphics card instead of the system RAM. This will result in more available system RAM, especially during heavy graphics usage (even though this option is only available in the 15-inch and 17-inch “Pro” models of unibody aluminum MacBook. The 13-inch and non-Pro versions only have one graphics processor and do not have these options).

If you’ve seen this on your end, please let us know.

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One Response to “How-To: Maximize RAM Usage on 15″, 17″ Unibody MacBook Pro”

  1. What I've noticed is that Safari leaks huge amounts of memory. Just the other day, I had a handful of Safari windows and tabs open, but the program had been running for many days, with windows being opened and closed. It was using 1.5GB of real memory! I quit Safari, and got all that memory back. Then, I re-launched it and used History->Reopen All Windows from Last Session to get back to where I was. Safari was only using 150MB at that point, so I gained back 1.35GB!!