< The MacPaw How-tos

Simple Ways to Reduce Memory Usage on the Mac


123.4K
VIEWS
0.9K
SHARES

“No matter what I do, my Mac is still slow”, an average tech consultant hears this phrase multiple times a day. Give a person even the most powerful computer, and pretty soon it will be cluttered with apps, extensions and things that are too much for it to handle. To reverse it, one has to go back and сlean up the mess, removing memory agents one by one. Prepare for a fight — every byte of memory is at stake. So let’s put your Mac on a diet and get it more free RAM to breathe freely.

“Your system has run out of application memory”

How do you know your Mac is low on memory? Floating “rainbow wheels” aside, you may notice your Mac now takes ages to load. You’ll also see many browser applications crashing. You’ll be also thrown warning messages as “Your system has run out of application memory”. To help it, you should first visit Activity monitor to see memory usage on Mac.

How to open Activity Monitor on Mac

Go to Applications and type in Activity Monitor in the search bar. This invokes a good old Activity Monitor that should tell how much free memory you’ve got left.

A shortcut to open Activity Monitor:

Press F4 and start typing Activity Monitor in the search bar.

Open Activity Monitor on Mac

I’ve attached a screenshot from my Mac and as you can see my memory usage almost reached full capacity. Here’s what it all means:

App memory: taken by apps and processes
Wired memory: reserved by apps, can’t be freed up
Compressed: inactive, can be used by other apps
Swap used: memory used by macOS
Cached files: memory you can really use

Notice the colored graph under Memory Pressure. If your graph is all but red and yellow, your Mac is really gasping for fresh memory. It seems counter-intuitive, but “available memory” your Activity Monitor is not that important after all. In fact, it’s a system intended behavior to use all memory resources when available. On the contrary, Memory Pressure graph is much more telling, so grow a habit to check this graph in the Activity Monitor every now and then.

How to check CPU usage on Mac 

Open CPU tab in Activity Monitor to keep in check CPU-heavy processes. Normally an app would be using 0-4% of CPU. If it takes abnormally more than that, go inside that particular item in the list and press Quit button.

Tip # 1. Disable Login Items to lower Mac memory usage

Login items are programs that load automatically upon Mac startup. Some of them covertly add themselves to the list and this is no good. If you’re looking to free up RAM, they are the first candidates for deletion. Don’t worry, you’re not deleting the app itself, you just stop it from auto-launching every time. 

The easiest way to do it (without racking your brain with system settings) is via CleanMyMac 3 app.

Download it for free and go to Extensions tab
Click on the right panel to disable unwanted login items

Disable Login items to reduce memory usage

In this way you’ll free up the solid amount of memory on your Mac — 100% free of charge.

Tip # 2. Tune up Chrome’s Task Manager

I’ve been using Chrome for some years only to discover (recently) that Chrome had a task manager of its own. You can use it to force quit memory-heavy processes in the browser. It’s a handy tool because as it lets you see how a page weighs on CPU usage on a Mac.

Go to Chrome settings (dotted icon in the top right corner)
Click More tools -> Task Manager

Chrome eats up RAM

To free up even more RAM, close the GPU process. The GPU Process, though helpful in theory to accelerate pages, eats up a considerable amount of memory. Click to end it to reduce memory usage on Mac.

Tip # 3. Clean up your Desktop

This tip always comes at the bottom of instructions and unfairly so as it is quite effective. Without even looking at your Desktop I would assume it’s cluttered with mountains of icons. Thing is, your macOS was designed in a way that it treats every Desktop icon as a little active window. The more icons, the heavier memory usage on Mac. So in order to release available memory resources, it’s recommended to keep your Desktop clean.


Clean up Desktop to save RAM on Mac

Tip # 4. Disable Dashboard widgets

As of 2017, Dashboard functionality looks somewhat obsolete as there are standalone apps for most of the tasks the Dashboard offers. If you turn it off you won’t really lose anything, and that should additionally reduce memory usage on your Mac. A quick way to do it is via System Preferences app. 


Go to System Preferences... -> Mission Control

Disable Dashboard on Mac

In the dropdown menu next to Dashboard choose Off. This completely switches off the Dashboard. Bye-bye Dashboard, you were great once ago.

Tip # 5. Reduce memory usage in Finder

There is a simple trick that can save you about 1 GB of RAM previously eaten by Finder. By default preferences, your Finder is set to search across all your files when you’re browsing folders. In other words, Finder has to remember the path to all these files and keep them in RAM which is an excessive burden to your Mac.

Click Finder
In the top menu Go to Finder -> Preferences…
Open General tab

Reduce memory usage in Finder

Use the dropdown menu to set any other location except All My Files. For example, you can set it to Downloads or whatever folder you like. Now close Finder.

The last step is to relaunch Finder: double-click it while holding Option button and choose Relaunch.

Congratulations, you’ve just saved a bit of RAM for your Mac.

Tip # 6. Free up disk space if Mac is low on memory

The available space on your Mac’s drive translates into virtual memory. This comes to save you when you’ve run out of physical RAM. So now your computer relies on your hard drive space to keep your apps going.

The classic geek rule of thumb holds it that you should keep at least 20% of disk space fn your startup drive. Not only this potentially reduces your future spending on iCloud storage but also keeps your Mac speedier.

What to delete to free up space:

  • Large unused files, like movies
  • Old Downloads
  • Rarely used applications
  • System junk

But here’s a simpler solution to save your time — clean up your drive with CleanMyMac 3. The app is free to download. Many users recommend it as an excellent way to free up more space because it automatically searches for large & old files and shows everything you can safely delete. Interestingly, it finds about 74 GB of junk on an average computer.

Extra trick: How to free up Mac application memory with CleanMyMac 3

If you have downloaded CleanMyMac, you may also take advantage of one of the app’s lesser-known features. It packs a special tool that allows to reduce RAM memory usage on Mac. Try this next time you see “Your system has run out of application memory” message.

Open CleanMyMac 3
Go to Dashboard (upper right corner)
Click Free up button next to RAM memory

How to Free up RAM on Mac

And you can do it even with a free version of the app.

Tip # 7. Remove browser extensions

Plugins, add-ons, and rest of extra tools atop your browser may alter your Mac’s behavior. Gmail alone could take up the appreciable amount of your RAM. And when the extensions are too many they seriously slow your Mac down. How to remove them? Each browser goes about it differently, but you would typically find them in Settings under three-dot burger menu.

At this point, you may not even be aware what widgets and plugins your browser is dragging behind. Today there are coming numerous reports of websites secretly mining bitcoins while you’re browsing their page, thus earning money at the cost of your RAM.

So, in order to root out extensions, widgets, and add-ons completely, it may be easier to go with an automatic solution.

An app I’ve mentioned before, CleanMyMac 3 has a special module to conveniently remove all the “extras” from your Mac. For example, below are the extensions I’ve found built in my Chrome browser.

Remove Chrome extensions

To delete browser extensions:

Open CleanMyMac app
Go Extensions module
Choose extensions you want to delete

What else you can do to minimize memory usage on Mac

I’ve saved the easiest tips for the end, as long as these ones are self-explanatory.

  • Replace AdBlock (very memory-demanding) with a lighter extension
  • Keep fewer opened tabs in browser
  • Restart your Mac more often to free up RAM
  • Close all hung-up print queues

That was my take on how to make your Mac a bit speedier to use. If you’re looking for more guidance, check simple ways to speed up your Mac.


CleanMyMac 3
How to clean and optimize your Mac?
That's easy. With CleanMyMac 3.
Download Free