Mac computers are high-end devices considered to be one of the best computers in the world. That’s why it can be frustrating to experience performance issues with it. Maxed-out RAM usage can be particularly annoying if it keeps forcing you to close applications — so why does it keep happening? 

Your RAM usage keeps maxing out on Mac because Mac OS makes the most out of available resources to maximize efficiency and performance. If maxed-out RAM usage comes with performance issues, there is probably an app hogging memory, or you are running too many apps and background processes concurrently.

Read on to learn why idle RAM is rare in Mac devices and what you can do to free up RAM.

I’ll also discuss possible reasons for excessive RAM usage on Mac computers, along with possible troubleshooting steps and solutions. 

Computer RAM modules are in a trash can.

Mac devices minimize idle RAM

Whether you’re running applications or not, RAM usage on your Mac never goes below half. So even when your computer is idle and you’re not using it for anything, the operating system still uses at least half of the available RAM.

For example, with a 4GB RAM device, you might notice that RAM usage never goes below 3GB. When you run applications, they use the remaining 1GB of memory. 

This is because you get the best performance from your Mac OS when it uses all available RAM and manages it efficiently.

This goes against the misconception that having free, unused RAM means that your device is in good shape. 

If you notice that you’re running only a few applications on a high-memory device and all the RAM is used up, that’s not necessarily a problem. 

You’ll have a problem if you can’t run your apps well, probably because you keep getting system alerts about insufficient memory. 

When does maxed-out RAM usage become a problem?

RAM Modules are arranged alongside a level indicator to show RAM usage.

Maxed-out RAM usage becomes a problem when the memory pressure chart in the Activity Monitor app turns red. This indicates that your computer does not have enough memory to run sufficiently. When memory pressure is red, you might have to keep closing apps, making your Mac unreliable. 

If you have memory issues, you’ll experience issues like: 

  • When you type, there’ll be some delay before what you typed appears on the screen. 
  • An app may become unresponsive to any commands you give. 
  • Your computer might stop responding to anything you do and display a spinning, rainbow-colored ball. 
  • Actions that usually happen instantly will slow down. For example, you might experience a noticeable delay when launching an app. 

If you experience these or similar issues, you need to confirm whether they’re RAM-related before you start exploring solutions.

The Activity Monitor app is the most helpful tool to troubleshoot any memory-related performance issues on Mac. 

Using the activity monitor app

The Activity Monitor app shows the following: 

  • The memory in use 
  • The RAM available to an app 
  • Compressed memory 

The memory tab of the app shows the memory pressure chart, which can be green, yellow, or red.

The chart shows whether the device is using memory efficiently. If the chart is green, you don’t have any RAM inefficiency problems.

Otherwise, your computer will experience RAM-related issues.

What are your options when solving RAM problems on Mac?

When solving RAM problems on Mac, you can upgrade the RAM or restrict apps from using more memory than they should. RAM upgrades are not available on all Mac devices, however. For example, you cannot upgrade RAM if you have a MacBook Air. 

Upgrading available RAM lets you worry less about how much memory apps are using because there’s more memory. 

Another option is to control the memory that apps are using. Sometimes, individual apps hog memory, reducing the RAM available to other apps and causing performance issues.

This can be problematic even when your device has enough RAM. 

Dealing with app-specific memory problems can solve memory issues and have you enjoying top-notch performance again without upgrading your RAM. 

Reasons why your Mac could be using excessive RAM 

An Apple Mac laptop next to an iMac computer.

When the memory pressure chart in the Activity Monitor app is yellow or red, you have a RAM inefficiency problem. It would help if you solved it to ensure your Mac remains reliable. 

The following are possible causes of excessive RAM usage. 

An app could be hogging resources

If your Mac memory issues are dire, you’ll constantly receive a notification informing you that your system has run out of application memory.

It will then list active applications to prompt you to force-quit some applications to continue using the computer. 

Force-quitting is when you forcefully stop an application. It helps you free up memory, especially when you have an open application and you’re not using it. 

Your Mac can run out of application memory because you have one or more apps hogging resources.

Hogging is when an app uses more resources than it should, depleting the memory that other apps should be using. 

A couple of apps that can hog your Mac’s memory and cause performance issues are Finder and Chrome.

Finder

Finder is the macOS app that helps you manage your files. It’s an excellent place to start when troubleshooting RAM issues on Mac. 

When looking for something on macOS, Finder might use more memory than usual to show all your files.

That means you could free up more RAM by restricting Finder from showing all your files in new windows. 

Before changing Finder settings, however, it might be a good idea to check whether it’s a problem. The Activity Monitor application can show you how much memory Finder uses. 

If it seems like Finder uses too much memory, follow these steps to solve the issue: 

  1. Select “Preferences” in the Finder application. 
  2. Select “General.” 
  3. In the “New Finder Windows Show” drop-down menu, select another option apart from “All My Files.” 

Chrome 

Chrome is a fast browser, which makes it one of the most popular ways to access the World Wide Web (if not the most popular.)

It uses more RAM through the hardware acceleration feature to achieve its high speeds. 

If you have limited RAM, hardware acceleration could cause memory issues by reducing the memory available for other apps. 

Disabling hardware acceleration will reduce the quality of your experience on Chrome. However, it could fix your memory problem. 

You can disable hardware acceleration in Chrome by following these steps: 

  1. Select the three-dot menu on the top right side of your Chrome browser. 
  2. In the menu that comes up, go to Settings
  3. Navigate to the Advanced section and select it. 
  4. Navigate to the System part and turn off the Use hardware acceleration when available feature. 

Add-ons and extensions also take up RAM. If you have browser extensions you no longer use, consider deleting them. It could free up more memory. This works whether you’re using Chrome or another browser. 

You might have too many apps running

Apple Mac laptop with a screen filled with apps.

Whenever you launch an app, your macOS allocates some space in the RAM. This space is used to hold app data transferred from permanent storage temporarily.

The more apps you run, the more RAM the operating system sets aside. If too many apps are running, RAM may become insufficient, causing performance issues.

This will likely trigger an alert from macOS, prompting you to force-quit some of the open applications. 

The problem becomes worse if you’re running resource-intensive programs. For example, if you’ve opened numerous tabs on your browser, it will use a lot of RAM.

Running other programs in addition to your browser could also cause RAM problems. 

The easiest solution to this issue is to avoid running multiple programs simultaneously. If you’re not using an app, close it. 

Too many background apps

It’s one thing to have a lot of applications open at the same time. But, all you have to do is close all the applications you’re not using, and the problem will be solved. 

Background apps are a trickier beast to handle. You might not even know they’re running because they tend to open themselves without your prompting. 

Most background apps launch automatically during startup. However, some of them start when you run some apps. 

An example of background apps is login items. As their name suggests, these are applications that automatically launch when you log in. Examples are Google Chrome and the Timing Tracker app login items. 

To see login items that might be contributing to excess RAM usage, follow the steps below: 

  1. Access System Preferences
  2. Go to Users and Groups.
  3. Select Login Items. From there, you can see a list of enabled Login Items and disable those you don’t use. 

Problems with temperature regulation

An Apple Mac laptop with sun on-screen indicating high temperature.

Kernel_task is a system app tasked with temperature regulation in MacOS. When your system experiences temperature issues, kernel_task takes up more resources as it tries to resolve the problems. 

If you have the following temperature regulation problems, kernel_task will use a lot of CPU time and RAM: 

  • A faulty or disconnected temperature sensor
  • A worn-out battery or other hardware issues 
  • Inefficiencies in your cooling system 

In these cases, you can eliminate excessive RAM usage by solving your device’s temperature regulation issues. One way to do this is to reset your system management controller. 

They can damage your internal system hardware if you don’t fix sustained temperature regulation issues. Solving them can free up RAM and CPU and help preserve your device. 

A cluttered desktop

Having too many files on your desktop can deplete RAM. Therefore, macOS treats each of the files as a separate window.

The more files you have on the desktop, the more RAM they take up. Therefore, decluttering your desktop can reduce RAM usage. 

You don’t have to delete the files. Instead, organize them in folders so the desktop has fewer items and fewer windows to take up memory. 

A challenge to a neat desktop is that most files are usually stored on the desktop.

Decluttering, therefore, can’t be a one-time thing. It has to be an ongoing process if it’s to be effective for freeing up your RAM. 

Common ways to deal with RAM issues on Mac

The above troubleshooting tips will help you identify and deal with specific memory issues. However, some basic tips can help boost RAM performance in general. 

Free up some space on your internal disk

The Macintosh hard disk drive app.

If you’re experiencing RAM issues, your MacOS may try to use some space on your internal disk as virtual memory.

This could help ease the RAM shortage. However, if your internal disk is full, MacOS can’t use it to extend your RAM. Creating free space on your internal disk could help. 

Ideally, at least one-fifth of the space on your internal disk should be free. 

Update macOS

If you are experiencing RAM-related performance issues, it could result from a bug in the operating system.

A bug is an unintentional error in software whose effect is noted after the app has been released. Apple usually fixes these bugs as soon as they’re reported. 

If a bug is the cause of your problems, a software update could have your computer running like new. 

You can check for updates from “System Preferences” in the dock. 

Restart your computer

The longer your computer runs, the more memory will be used up. If a computer has been running for a long time, it could have data in the RAM it doesn’t need.

This could result in performance issues. Restarting your computer can clear the RAM. 

Sometimes, if you’ve been running your device for too long and using resource-intensive apps, restarting it could be all you need to do away with any memory issues. 

Conclusion 

When your RAM usage on Mac is maxed out, it’s not necessarily bad. macOS tries to deliver maximum performance by utilizing as many available resources as possible. 

If your Mac has memory issues, you’ll experience problems such as a lag in actions that are usually instant. As a result, the memory pressure chart will also be red or yellow. 

You can use the Activity Monitor to pinpoint the cause of memory issues. For example, an app could be hogging RAM. 

You can also perform basic actions like restarting your computer to try and solve memory issues.