How to free up RAM: 15+ effective methods for Windows and Mac
Published: June 13, 2023 4 min read
Is your computer slowing down, struggling to complete simple tasks and causing programs to crash? If so, there’s a good chance your computer is low on memory, or RAM. We’ll show you how to free up RAM and get your machine running like new again. Then, get a powerful optimization app to help keep your computer clean and running smoothly.
RAM stands for Random-Access Memory and is essentially the short-term memory that a computer uses for its active, moment-to-moment processes. For this reason, your computer can access RAM incredibly quickly. It’s stored in a memory chip on your computer’s motherboard, which operates as the primary memory hub of your device.
RAM is the ultimate multitasker, allowing you to be active on one program while simultaneously loading up another. The more RAM you have, the more tasks your computer can complete at once. When your computer slows down, it may be because your programs are taking up more space than your RAM can handle.
Freeing up RAM is an essential part of computer maintenance, because using your computer can become incredibly frustrating when it runs low. Read on for tips to free up RAM on both Windows and Mac computers.
How to lower RAM on Windows and Mac: Initial steps
Regardless of whether you use a Windows or Mac computer, there are a few steps you’ll want to try before you take drastic measures to free up your computer’s RAM.
1. Restart your device
If you’re wondering how to clear RAM, the answer is probably easier than you think. Just as with most other issues your devices encounter, a great first troubleshooting step for reducing RAM usage is simply restarting your computer.
Since RAM is short-term data that only exists for programs that are currently running, restarting your device will clear your RAM. Some processes may be running in the background without your knowledge, and a restart is a sure way to tell those processes to stop and give your RAM a break.
2. Try other browsers
Some browsers are better designed to effectively allocate and manage RAM usage than others. If you rely heavily on one browser and have noticed it running slowly, it might be time to return to the market for a smarter browser.
3. Clear RAM cache
Your cache is highly dependent on RAM, as it uses short-term memory to reload pages that you’ve recently visited. While this helps you navigate the web more quickly, it can demand a lot of RAM, giving you minimal memory to complete other important tasks. If you’ve already restarted your computer and experimented with other browsers, try clearing your cache to free up RAM.
4. Update software to latest versions
Software updates may feel like a bother, but you’ll be glad you kept your computer and programs up to date in the long run. Outdated software often requires more RAM, making updates essential to improved RAM allocation. Speedier multitasking might just be an update away.
5. Delete unused extensions
Yes, even those little helpful icons at the top of your browser can be culprits of memory hogging. If you find yourself hanging onto browser extensions that you don’t use very often, it might be time to remove them and see if your computer rewards you.
Use optimization software
After tidying up your RAM, you’ll want to keep your computer clean. Norton Utilities Ultimate is a comprehensive cleanup app that will help you get rid of junk files, unnecessary apps, old browser data, and more. Free up more space for faster, smoother performance.
If you’re using a PC and those first few troubleshooting tips didn’t quite take care of your RAM issues, try out the following tips to free up RAM on Windows 10.
1. Monitor RAM usage with Task Manager
Thanks to Windows’ Task Manager, locating the origin of RAM depletion doesn’t have to be a guessing game. This tool shows you exactly what programs and processes are hogging RAM and causing you trouble so that you can take the proper steps to free up RAM. You’ll want to remember how to open the Task Manager, because we’ll be referencing it in other steps, as well.
To access the Task Manager and check how your RAM is being allocated:
Open the Task Manager by clicking “Start” and typing “Task Manager” into the search bar, or by using a keyboard shortcut by holding down Ctrl+Shift+Esc or Ctrl+Alt+Delete.
You may need to click “More details” to expand to full view.
Navigate to the “Processes” tab and click the “Memory” header. This will sort all processes from most to least RAM usage.
You should now see the sources of most of your RAM usage. Remember to periodically monitor your RAM usage using the Task Manager so that you can locate the troublemakers and manage or delete them before they significantly slow your computer.
2. Uninstall unused programs
More likely than not, you have some software downloaded onto your computer that you no longer use (and perhaps some that you never used at all). Now that you’ve identified which programs are using the most RAM on the processes tab, you can delete the heavy users you don’t need from your computer.
To locate and uninstall programs:
Click “Start” and navigate to “Settings”.
Click “Apps & features” and click “Uninstall” on any programs you want to remove.
3. Cut down your background apps
Some applications are programmed to run behind the scenes, regardless of whether you ever use them. These apps are often responsible not only for RAM shortages, but also memory, battery and bandwidth shortages. It’s important to identify which ones you don’t need and shut them down.
To disable background applications:
Navigate to “Settings.”
Click on “Privacy.”
Use the category panel on the left side of the window to scroll down to “Background Apps” and select it.
Locate apps you don’t use and flip them from “On” to “Off.”
Background apps ultimately serve to make your life easier, from displaying notifications to performing automatic updates. However, when RAM fills up, they might become more of a nuisance than anything, which is why it’s important to monitor and disable them as needed.
4. Wipe Page File before restarting
Your Page File can keep your computer from slowing down even when your RAM runs low, but since it’s stored on your hard drive it doesn’t automatically get cleared when you restart your computer like RAM does. This has to be done manually.
To program your Page File to clear when your computer restarts:
Click “Start” and type “Registry Editor” into the search bar.
Click “Yes” when prompted with “allow Registry Editor to make changes to your device.”
On the left side of the window, scroll down and click “HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE.”
Select “Session Manager.”
Click “Memory Management.”
In the “Value Data” box, enter the number “1” and click “OK.”
5. Exchange visuals for performance
As computer technology continues to develop, so do the visual effects that your computer is capable of. That said, these effects and animations can use up quite a bit of RAM. If you’re struggling to free up RAM and don’t feel too strongly about making your computer experience as aesthetic as possible, consider exchanging these effects for better performance.
To cut down on your computer’s visual effects:
Click on “File Explorer” in your taskbar or via the “Start” button.
Look to the left side panel of the window and right click on “This PC.”
Click “Advanced system settings” then navigate to the “Advanced” tab at the top.
Click the settings button under the “Performance” section of the “Advanced” tab.
Select “Adjust for best performance” if you want to disable all animations, or choose which visual effects you want to keep or disable.
Since adjusting for best performance will likely make your computer screen far less visually appealing, you can manually turn off certain effects and leave others. Once you free up enough RAM, you can turn them back on according to your needs.
How to free up RAM on Mac
While Macs have different settings and features than Windows 10 computers, the following steps will help you free up RAM just as effectively.
1. Keep Finder clean
Each Finder window you open requires RAM to display. Rather than opening several windows at once, you can change your settings to ensure your new folders open as tabs instead of new windows. There are two ways to merge your Finder windows and help conserve RAM.
To adjust your Finder preferences (Method 1):
Click somewhere on your desktop so that you see the “Finder” dropdown appear at the top left of your screen on your toolbar.
Click the “Finder” dropdown and navigate to “Preferences.”
If unchecked, check the box for “Open folders in tabs instead of new windows.”
To merge your Finder windows (Method 2):
Click somewhere on your desktop so that you see the “Finder” dropdown appear at the top left of your screen on your toolbar.
Click the “Window” dropdown and select “Merge All Windows”.
2. Scan your Mac Activity Monitor for heavy memory users
Just as PC users have the Task Manager to monitor RAM usage, Mac users have the Activity Monitor. The Activity Monitor shows you all the programs that are using your computer’s memory and how much memory each is using. If you find that a program you rarely or never use is draining your RAM, consider removing it.
To access your Activity Monitor:
Navigate to your “Spotlight Search” on your desktop toolbar (the icon should look like a magnifying glass). Alternatively, press Command+Space bar.
Type “Activity Monitor” into the search bar.
Navigate to the “Memory” tab at the top of the window.
Locate unused items (especially the ones that are using lots of RAM) and delete them.
3. Monitor your CPU for power hogs
As the name suggests, your CPU (Central Processing Unit) is your computer’s main processor that executes instructions stored in RAM. Certain apps naturally take up more processing power than others, but they may not be the apps you think.
To get a better understanding of your CPU, return to the Activity Monitor and navigate to the “CPU” tab instead of the “Memory” tab. Diagnose and solve any power-hogging problems from here.
4. Organize your apps
A clean desktop is a happy desktop. You may find it surprising that a desktop cluttered with applications uses significant RAM. This is because MacOS sees each item on a desktop as an individual active window, which means RAM has a lot of work to do.
To fix this issue, try keeping everything organized into just a few folders. Your RAM (and your sanity) will thank you for it.
5. Use your virtual memory
Even if your RAM fills up, you can use your computer’s virtual memory, which is essentially imitation RAM found on Mac hard drives. While your computer will always default to using this if all your RAM is being used, it’s important to ensure that you have enough disk space available to use it. Remember to delete or transfer old files, photos, videos, and programs so that you have enough disk space for when times get desperate.
3 more tips to free up RAM
Whether you’re using a Mac or a Windows computer, these tips will come in handy if you’re still struggling to free up RAM.
1. Use a trustworthy RAM-cleaning software
It can take a lot of time and energy to diagnose your RAM shortage and solve the problem. Thankfully, there are programs that are built to do the work for you, clearing unnecessary information and unused files to help you free up and optimize your RAM.
Of course, it’s important to be cautious when downloading any software from the internet. Remember to do your research and check ratings before downloading any RAM-cleaning software to ensure you aren’t downloading any malicious software. You’ll also want to be sure you know what these programs will be deleting to ensure that they don’t remove anything you might need.
2. Locate and eliminate malware
Even if you’re highly cautious about what you download, malware can find its way onto your device. This can put your personal information at risk of theft, but it can also rob you of your RAM. Try downloading reliable antivirus software to scan for malicious software and rid your device of it.
3. Install more RAM
If you’re wondering how to increase RAM, the answer is to physically install more. RAM is physical memory and thus can only be added by inserting physical sticks into your computer.
While this option can be pricey depending on the device you use and how much RAM you want to install, if you’re constantly running low on memory this might be your only viable option. Ultimately, you probably won’t regret it when you see your computer’s performance significantly improve.
As simple as RAM is, it’s expected to have some questions about it, especially for those relatively new to computer maintenance.
Can I download more RAM?
Unfortunately, RAM cannot be downloaded. It’s important not to trust anything claiming to help you download more RAM, because this isn’t how RAM works. As previously mentioned, it must be physically purchased and installed into your computer’s hardware.
How to see how much RAM you have
For both Mac and Windows users, seeing how much RAM you have is easy. To see how much RAM you have on a Mac, simply click on the Apple icon on the left side of the taskbar at the top of your screen, and click “About This Mac” on the dropdown. Next to “Memory” you will see how much RAM you have.
To see how much RAM you have on Windows 10, navigate to the Windows taskbar and open the Task Manager. Click on the Memory tab on the left side and you will see your RAM usage and how much you have total.
How to tell what kind of RAM you have
There are two types of RAM: DDR3 and DDR4. While DDR4 is faster than DDR3, DDR3 is sufficient for most, if not all uses. That said, some gamers might seek DDR4 for additional speed.
To tell what kind of RAM you have, navigate to the window you use to see how much RAM you have (“About This Mac” for Mac and the Memory tab of the Task Manager for Windows). Along with how much RAM you have, you should be able to see whether you have DDR3 or DDR4 on this window.
How do I stop high RAM usage?
To stop high RAM usage, start small by quitting programs you aren’t using, restarting your computer, uninstalling unneeded programs, and scanning for any malware that may be on your device. If this doesn’t work, consider downloading a RAM cleaning software or even installing more RAM.
Regardless of what you use your computer for, nobody wants to deal with a slow computer. Whether it’s low RAM, high ping or another issue that’s causing your computer to struggle, practicing good computer maintenance can work wonders to get you back in motion.
And if you don't want to deal with the hassle of manual maintenance, use dedicated computer optimization software to keep your device in top shape. Norton Utilities Ultimate can help speed up and clean up your Windows computer by turning off unneeded background programs, clearing out junk files, and getting rid of unnecessary software. Enjoy a cleaner, faster machine.
Clare Stouffer, a Gen employee, is a writer and editor for the company’s blogs. She covers various topics in cybersecurity.
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