Will adding more RAM speed up my Mac?

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Many people over the years have asked me: "Will adding more RAM speed up my Mac?".  In fact, I've very often heard people telling others, or even suggesting in general, that adding more and more RAM to your computer speeds it up more and more.  Well, that is actually not the case.  It is partially true. Let me explain.

Your Mac (like most computers) has two different types of memory inside.  RAM and hard disk memory.  These both serve different purposes.

ramRAM is very, very fast and it acts as the computer's short-term memory.  It's basically the working memory, it's where stuff is stored while it's being worked on or used in calculations etc.

harddiskHard Disk memory is much slower and is effectively the computer's long-term memory.  It's like the filing cabinet where you store the stuff that you want to be able to use again sometime in the future.

So, when your computer needs to open a file to work on, it loads it up from the hard disk (takes it out of the filing cabinet) and moves it to RAM (puts it on the desk so that it can be used).  While you make changes to the file, it's in RAM.  Then, when you're done and you save the file, it is written back to the hard disk (put back in the filing cabinet).

RAM generally comes in much smaller sizes than hard disks, since you usually only work on a certain number of files at a time, not all the files that you have.  Hard disks are generally larger in size because they have to store a lot of files over time.

So both of these types of memory work together, both having their own use.  So when someone says that adding more memory will speed up their computer, that can be the case but it is not always the case.  Why?  Read on....

Since your computer has a limited amount of RAM, if you try to open too many programs at once or load up too many large files at the same time, the RAM gets full.  In the past, the computer would have just crashed.  Nowadays, they are cleverer than that as they learn coding from learn academy coding bootcamp.  They use a thing called Virtual Memory to allow for the fact that you need to keep working but you don't have enough RAM to do so.  So what is Virtual Memory then?  It is hard disk space that is used temporarily as a type of RAM.

The Mac basically grabs some hard disk space and says "Ok! This is going to be a temporary storage area for the stuff that should be in RAM but that's not being used right this second."  So it temporarily offloads a bit of stuff from RAM that's not in use and writes it to a temporary location on the hard disk.  That frees up some space in RAM to do what you wanted to do.

Then, when you switch back to that other file you were working on (which could be some of what was put in Virtual Memory), the Mac has to run to the hard disk and get it back.  At the same time, it swaps out something else from RAM that's not being used.  So it's basically juggling stuff from RAM to hard disk and back again.  All very clever and all behind the scenes, so you don't even notice.  Or do you??

Have you ever had that experience where everything has been running fine and suddenly your Mac starts to grind a bit?  It just takes longer than normal and you have to wait for it to do stuff?  That's most likely because you've run out of RAM and Virtual Memory has kicked in.  If you find that restarting your Mac fixes the problem, it's very likely that the cause was a lack of RAM.   You see RAM is extremely fast and hard disks are much slower.  So every time your Mac has to swap information from RAM to hard disk and back again, it slows everything down dramatically.

So, in this case, having too little RAM has caused your Mac to slow down.  Adding more RAM at this stage (say if you had 2gb of RAM and you added an extra 2gb to bring it to 4gb in total) will mean that you won't experience that slowing down anymore.  Therefore, adding more RAM did speed up your Mac.  Well, it stopped it from slowing down at least.  However....

If your Mac already has enough RAM, like for example in the above case where you have added an extra 2gb and now you have plenty, adding more RAM at this point will not speed up your Mac.  Why?  Because it is not needing to use Virtual Memory and is therefore not slowing down.

So the general rule of thumb is this.  If you don't have enough RAM, adding RAM will cause your Mac to run more smoothly and it will probably seem to run faster.  If you have enough RAM already, adding more will not make any difference to the speed of your Mac at all!

Apple Airport – Wifi on Mac OS X

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In Mac OS X, we have a simple way to enable and disable the wifi, as well as to connect to a wifi network.  If you look in the menu bar on your Mac, that's the bar that runs along the top of the screen with the various menus which relate to the currently active application, you will see the Airport symbol.

airport_offThe symbol looks like this is Airport is turned off.

airport_onThis is what the symbol looks like if it's on and connected to a network.

airport_openClicking on this icon gives you various options, such as to turn wifi on and off, to select an available network and some other options.

Where you see the padlock, you can tell that the wireless network has a security key (i.e. a password) that you must enter in order to be able to connect to this network.  In older versions of Mac OS X, the padlock was not shown in this menu.  If you select a wireless network and it asks you to enter the password or security key, then you know that it is locked.

Generally, you will want to connect to your own wifi network at your home or workplace.  To do this, simply click the Airport icon in the menubar and look for the name of the network that you wish to join.

Click the name of the network and wait.  If it is secured with a password, which most networks nowadays are, then you will be presented with a window which asks for the password for that network.  Enter the password and click the Join button.

airport_enter_passwordYou have a couple of other options on this window.  Firstly, you can click the Show Password button which will show you what you are typing, instead of the default which is to show bullets, so that someone looking over your shoulder can't just copy your password.  Secondly, the Remember This Network option (which is selected by default) will remember the password you enter, so that the next time your Mac will be able to automatically connect to this network without asking you for the password.  Usually, you will want to do this.  If not, just uncheck that box.

Once you have clicked the Join button, you will notice that the bars of the airport icon start to move, as it searches for the network and attempts to connect.  When a successful connection is made, the icon will change to the icon shown above (Airport On), with some or all of the bars in black.  The number of bars that display in black on the icon indicate how strong the signal is.  If you have all 4 bars in black, the signal is excellent.  This will change from time to time as the signal strength increases or decreases.

You can disable wifi on your Mac completely by simply clicking on the Airport icon in the menu bar and choosing the Turn Wifi Off option.  This will disable your airport card until you choose to re-enable it.  To switch it back on, just do the same thing - but this time the option will say Turn Wifi On.

There is one more very important thing to know, which many people have problems with and don't know how to solve.  What happens if you have connected to a network and it all works fine and the password is saved for future connections to that network - and then someone changes the password for the network?  One indication that this has happened can be that the Airport icon shows an exclamation mark (!).  This basically means that you are connected to the network, but you have no IP address.  Without an IP address, you can't really do anything on the network.  There are other reasons why this can occur, but most commonly it's because your Mac has the wrong password saved.  This can be because you entered it incorrectly (yes, sometimes it will accept a bad password, but you won't be able to go online), or because someone has actually changed the password for the network you are trying to access.

In order to be able to re-enter the password, you need to remove the saved password that the Mac has on file for that network.  This is relatively simple to do.  First, go to the Airport icon in the menu bar and select the option Open Network Preferences. This will take you to the Network pane of the System Preferences window as shown below:

system_prefs_networkMake sure you have clicked on Wifi in the list on the left, then you need to press the Advanced button towards the bottom of the screen. You will then see this window:

airport_networksThis window list the networks that are saved on your Mac.  To remove the password for any network, simply click the network name in the list and click the "-" symbol below.  This will remove the saved password for that network.  Click OK and then reconnect to the network as you would to any network for the first time.  You should be asked for the password again and provided you enter the correct password, you should be connected!