How To

How to Upgrade Your Mac When It Gets Old

Remember how zippy your Mac was when you first got it? How it booted up in a snap, and switched fast between apps? At iFixit, we live for breathing new life into broken devices—but what if your Mac is just wheezing and slow? After all you’ve been through together, you don’t want to just throw it away. Should you sell it? Leave it unplugged in a drawer for a few more years (until you feel less guilty about throwing it away)?

Beach ball of death that appears when you need to upgrade your old mac
Has the spinning beach ball of death become a familiar sight on your Mac? Source: Flickr

Answer: none of the above. Upgrading your Mac is an amazingly effective option, and it’s both cheaper and easier than you might expect. With a brand-new SSD and high-capacity RAM, your aging Mac will be running good as new—no, make that better than new—in no time flat.

iFixit has painstakingly put together SSD and RAM upgrade kits for every upgradeable Apple iMac, Mac Mini, and Mac laptop released since 2006. We’ve done all the research to set you up with the right parts, tools, and information necessary to breathe new vigor into your veteran Mac—so you can skip the guesswork and go straight to the work work work. Let’s take a look at how you can figure out which upgrade is best for your Mac.

To SSD, or not to SSD

First things first: an SSD upgrade is, hands down, the best way to speed up your computer. There’s lots of information on the benefits of SSDs versus HDDs, but here’s the short version: Unlike an old-fashioned hard disk drive (HDD), which stores the computer’s info on a spinning metal platter, a solid-state drive (SSD) stores the information in silicon chips. Because there are no moving parts in an SSD, they can read and write information up to 10 times faster than a traditional HDD. This means that boot times, application launch times, and data retrieval get much, much faster when you use an SSD as the primary storage for your computer. Moreover, SSDs are more resistant to shock, vibration, and movement—making them particularly suited to laptops and other devices that are subject to sudden knocks and bumps.

S-S-D—installing it is as easy as 1,2,3

So if you’ve got a need for speed—or if you’re just trying to add more storage to your device—open up Activity Monitor and click the Disk Usage Table to see what size SSD you need. Look at how much space you are using on your current hard drive and round it up to the nearest SSD size (or go higher if you want to future-proof your machine). And while you will have to clone your hard drive over to a new SSD, that’s easily accomplished through the slick use of an external drive enclosure (included with each kit) and some convenient third-party software. Be sure to ID your Mac, then head over to our store to grab your upgrade kit.

iFixit’s SSD Upgrade Kits come in 250 GB, 500 GB, and 1 TB drive sizes for every Intel-powered Mac that can accommodate a SATA Drive. And they work in both 2.5″ formats (for laptops, Mac Minis, and some iMacs), as well as in 3.5″ drive bays (like those found in larger and older iMacs) through the use of an included adapter.

Max out your memory

If you find yourself staring at OS X’s spinning beach ball more often than you’d like, then RAM is the answer. RAM is your Mac’s short-term memory—meaning every time the system opens a program or process, it loads it into RAM. If the system needs to juggle more applications than the RAM can hold, it has to offload some of them to a temporary storage area on the hard drive (called the swap file). This eats resources, slowing everything down to a crawl. It’s a bit like if you were cooking a complicated new recipe, when suddenly you run out of countertop space and all your cutting boards are full—you’d have to drop everything while you move stuff around and feverishly try to clear enough space to work. Meanwhile, your crock pot is boiling over and the smoke alarm is going off. I don’t really understand how cooking works, but if only you’d had more RAM, this probably wouldn’t have happened.

Imagine how many tabs you could have open at once with all that RAM!

Not too long ago, many Macs shipped with 2 (or fewer) GB of RAM—an amount that would quickly fill up with today’s resource-hungry software. But as our favorite software companies continue to add new features and make our digital lives cooler and fancier, our old RAM-limited hardware increasingly struggles to keep up. Fortunately, in most cases, this is an easy fix.

One important caveat about RAM upgrades is that the amount of RAM your Mac can utilize is limited by the rest of the hardware in the computer. Not all computers can handle 16 GB of RAM, and figuring out which computers can handle which RAM configuration can be tricky sometimes. If you’d rather not, simply head over to our ID Your Mac Tool and then pick up the Memory Maxxer Upgrade Kit for your specific Mac. Each of our Memory Maxxer Upgrade Kits details exactly the right type and size of RAM to ensure that you’re reaching your computer’s RAM potential. You can rest easy knowing that you’re getting the ultimate RAM experience for your machine.

To know if a RAM upgrade is right for you, open OS X’s Activity Monitor and click on the System Memory. If the chart indicates that most of your RAM is “Active” or “Wired,” you’re likely going to experience system slowdowns. While you’re there, check out how much RAM you have installed, and compare it to the amount of RAM in the Memory Maxxer Upgrade Kit.

This Mac has a lot of “Active” memory. Might be time for new RAM.

So there you have it. If you’re looking for more speed and storage, an SSD is your new best friend. If it’s all the tabs you’re after, then you can max out your applications with our Memory Maxxer Upgrade Kit. Don’t let your aging Mac sit idly in a drawer—get a kit and upgrade your old friend.