Diagnosing Mac Software Memory Leaks Can Be Difficult [Ask MacRx]

Memory Problems

Sometimes explaining the problem with your computer isn’t easy, particularly when you’re not sure of the correct technical term used to describe an issue. It took some back and forth to assess this reader’s problem about RAM usage and availability – but I got to enjoy the affectation of “Sir” during the discussion!

Hello Sir Adam,

Hope all is well. I am in desperate need of your help. Im currently living in the TURKS AND CAICOS ISLAND and unfortunately there are no apple shop here. my problem is that since yesterday the memory (which is by the way 8 GB) keeps on falling down. I have a MBP early 2011 i7 model and just acquired it last Aug 4. Ive spent hard earned money on this one. thats why im very disappointed that as early as 5 months i have this problem. would you kindly give advice on how i can do something about this?

TJ

Hi TJ,

I’m not clear what you mean by the memory is falling down? Do you mean you suspect you have bad RAM? That often causes random crashes, though it can be hard to pin down. You can test memory using a utility like TechTool Pro, or (pre-Lion) using the Hardware Test program included on the bundled OS X install DVDs.

If you do have bad RAM and you’re off the beaten path for any Apple Service Centers, two options: ship your system back to Apple for repair under warranty, or purchase new RAM yourself and replace the existing memory.

I have 8gb of memory installed (I upgraded the 4gb standard memory to 8gb before my mbp left apple). After everything loads from the log on screen the memory starts to drop (bout .08 gb per sec. W/o any programs running). I have this free memory app that came from the last Mac os x update, that’s how I monitor the memory. Sorry sir Adam if I don’t know the right terms to use.

And you will also notice that while the memory starts to reach 5.00 gb the fan starts to run like hell ( as is the Mac is starting to overheat), in addition to that whenever the fan runs, it will also start to freeze or you will see the round rainbow thing to rotate (that’s the cursor).

Ah, that’s a different situation entirely. It sounds like you have a program or process run amok. That can use up RAM (sometimes called “memory leaks”) and tax the processor, heating up the system. If you haven’t launched any software it could be a System Preference Pane you’ve added, something loading as a Startup Item, or a corrupt OS X installation.

Activity Monitor (in the Utilities folder) can tell you what’s running on the system to help find the culprit. If you’ve ruled out added software, backing up your data and reinstalling Mac OS X would be a good next step. See if it works OK with just the clean install; if yes, then add your software back. If not OK after clean install then it may be hardware related.

When you mentioned a program from your last email i tried to remove or uninstall apps and programs that have been newly added or updated. after doing that and testing my mac now its seems that i have a steady use of memory. now i have safari and mail running but still i have 4.87 gb free memory. unlike before every second the memory crawls down. sir i would like to ask for your opinion, do i still need to have my Mac checked or you think i have resolved the problem by deleting newly installed/updated apps/programs that might be causing the problem.

(While i was writing this mail from the beginning i checked my memory it was 4.88gb, checking from time to time it only fell down to 4.87gb then goes up to 4.89gb. going up and down to those figures only.)

Based on your findings I think the culprit is one of the programs you removed. If the laptop runs OK in its current state for a few days I think you’re safe. You can then restore any needed software one item at a time, and keep track of which item may be causing the problem.

Thought you should know that for 8 days now my MAC is running ok. Its more than 6 days so i believe im safe (like what youve said). Like nothing happened. Again i thank you for your advice and help.

• • •

Readers, have any additional suggestions on this topic, or corrections/clarifications on the advice above? If so, please leave your thoughts in the comments.

Related
  • Yacko

    He ought to be aware, Safari is a major memory leak culprit. As are all browsers to some extent given the bad javascript coding out there, but Safari is the worst.

About the author

Adam RosenAdam Rosen is an IT consultant specializing in Apple Macintosh systems new and old. He lives in Boston with two cats and too many possessions. In addition to membership in the Cult of Mac, Adam has written for Low End Mac and is curator of the Vintage Mac Museum. He also enjoys a good libation.

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