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RAM has always been one of Apple’s Achilles heels. In an effort to keep price points lower, stock machines come to you woefully under-powered in the memory department. New MacBooks ship with a now-paltry 1 GB of RAM. In truth, that’s certainly enough to get you up and running, but even Apple seems to realize that these days, it takes at least twice that to pump out a satisfying OS X experience.
The proof? Check out the demo units at your local Apple Store (choose About This Mac from the Apple menu). The machines on display are rarely running on stock memory alone. And in my experience, store staff are either not aware that the machine you’re testing is juiced like Barry Bonds , or they deftly deflect your question when you ask how your real experience will compare to the demo box.
Of course, Apple is more than happy to give your new Mac a speed bump... at a steep premium. The Apple Store is currently selling upgrades to 4 GB of RAM for $850. Meanwhile, two 2 GB sticks of RAM can be had for a little over $100 online. When you consider that a new MacBook starts at $1099, that $850 premium starts to seem ridiculous. Never mind the fact that when you order an upgraded machine, Apple also pockets the cost of the 2 512MB sticks that they didn’t put into your machine.
The good news is that upgrading RAM yourself is cheap, dead-simple, and only takes about 10 minutes, and that’s if you’re really nervous and slow. Thanks to the design of the current Mac laptops, you won’t even void your warranty doing it.
These instructions are based on my experience with a MacBook. The Pros are similar, but I haven’t upgraded them myself. If someone wants to send me a MacBook Pro, I’d be more than happy to report the results.
To get started, all you need is your new memory, a 00 Phillips screwdriver, and a quarter.
Flip your MacBook over on a soft surface. Use the coin to turn the battery lock to the open position. Remove the battery. Touch the metal inside the battery compartment to discharge any rogue static electricity.
RAM slots exposed. Push the lever to the left to eject RAM.
The wall of the battery well is covered by a small L-shaped piece of metal. Remove the three tiny screws to expose the RAM slots. Flip the levers to the left to release the existing RAM, and remove them. Insert your new RAM, with the notches toward the left. Push them into the RAM sockets (you’ll have to push pretty hard). Replace the metal cover, pop the battery back in, flip the lock back to the locked position, and boot up your new turbocharged Mac while you dream of better ways to spend seven bills.
New RAM configuration shown in About This Mac
If your Mac won’t reboot, chances are you didn’t seat the RAM all the way in the slots. You really do need to push pretty hard to get them all the way engaged. Open your Mac back up and re-seat the RAM. To verify that you new RAM is installed, check About This Mac or fire up Activity Monitor.
It really is that easy. If you need reinforcement, Apple publishes a guide to doing the upgrade and there plenty of how-to videos floating around the interwebs. Otherwise, get to it. It’s the easiest and biggest bang-for-your-buck way to improve your Mac experience.
Ray Aguilera is a writer and food geek in the San Francisco Bay Area.