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Problems from Insufficient RAM and Free Hard Disk Space

If your drive is too full or fragmented or you are having memory problems, you could see:

  • applications slow to a crawl
  • have problems installing
  • experience frequent spinning beach balls
  • have problems burning CDs
  • have frequent unexplained freezes
  1. Check Memory
  2. Check for free drive space

Tip: Believe it or not, large numbers of folders and files sitting on your desktop will directly affect the speed of your system. Each item is drawn as a separate graphics object. More info

Error message "Not enough memory"

For example, when you do a rebuild of your database, Entourage & Outlook makes a duplicate of your database. If your drive is full or fragmented you might be unable to rebuild. Your rebuild could also fail causing loss of data. Installing or updating Office could also fail due to either disk space or memory problems. More info on how using a large drive can help with rebuilding your database.

Simply checking how full your drive is does not take in consideration that the virtual memory system can use considerable space on your drive. Applications and processing on your Mac require physical RAM to work. Buy as much RAM as you can afford. It's the best present you can give your Mac. When you run out of RAM, virtual memory allows an operating system to escape the limitations of physical RAM by using hard disk storage to hold data not currently in use. This hard disk storage is sometimes called the “swap” space because of its use as storage for data being swapping in and out of memory. Using "swap" space can significantly slow down your Mac.

Check your Memory:

Option 1) Use Apple's Activity Monitor located in Applications/Utilities to view memory usage. You can view Pagein/outs.

Pageins or pageouts are how many times a page of memory is swapped out from disk to memory and vice versa. If the total pageouts is low compared to the number of pageins after having used your Mac for hours of work, you may have sufficient RAM. Otherwise, you should install more RAM.

Option 2) Use the Terminal to view pageins/pageouts.This is a simple Terminal command any user can do.

Open Terminal, located in the Macintosh HD > Applications > Utilities folder.

At the prompt, type top and press Return.

See Determine how much paging your system is performing for full details and how to run the top command in the Terminal.

Option 3) Third party software that can be used:

Check for free hard drive space.

Your computer must have adequate hard drive space to operate normally. How full can a drive be before it's too full? There is no hard and fast rule that says xx amount of extra drive space is needed. Here are some general guidelines that have been posted:

  • Check to make sure that your hard drive has at least 10% of it's capacity available for use.
  • Swapfiles can eat up disk space quickly - 2GB or more of swap files is not unrealistic. Restarting will temporarily get rid of all swap files, but they'll come back.

To check how much free space is available on your startup disk:

Option1) Use Activity Monitor located in Applications/Utilities. Select the Disk Usage tab. Compare the Space Free to the Total size. In this example, the partition is 74.08 GB. Space Free is 50.09 GB. This is well over the 10% free requirement.

Option 2) Use Get Info

  1. In Finder™, select your startup disk's icon. For most users, this is Macintosh HD.
  2. Press the Command-I keyboard combination.
  3. The Get Info window for your startup disk will open.
  4. In the General pane, the Capacity, Available (free space), and space Used on your startup disk will be displayed

Some handy links and tools on Mac OS X memory, paging, freeing up space etc.:

  • Freeing space on your Mac OS X startup disk
  • Free up Hard Disk space
  • Randy Singer's tips for "Out-Of-Control Cache or Log File"
  • OmniDiskSweeper (free) is a Mac OS X utility for quickly finding and deleting big, useless files and thus making space on your hard disks. OmniDiskSweeper makes this easy by highlighting the biggest files on your disks, and by noting which files are used by the system, so you don't accidentally delete important files.
  • Disk Inventory X shows the sizes of files and folders in a special graphical way called "treemaps". freeware (Universal version available)
  • Byte breakdown...useful MacWorld article on WhatSize, OmniDiskSweeper and GrandPerspective.
  • WhatSize is a simple tool that allows the user to quickly measure the size in bytes of a given folder and all subfolders and files within it. You would be surprised at how many useless files might be laying around on your hard disks. The files and folders are automatically sorted by size, with the biggest sizes first
  • Baseline similar to WhatSize shows files sorted by size on your hard drive. Read the Macworld reivew by Dan Frakes on Baseline, Whatsize and GrandPerspective
  • You also might want to consider iDefrag ($30): Defragmentation & Optimization for Mac OS X. It supports optimized defragging as well as simply (and quickly) joining free space into one continuous block. Also, it respects the system hot files. At $30
  • Memory diagnostics
  • RAM Usage
  • Introduction to Memory Usage Performance Guidelines