Purge Memory To Run More Apps At Once On Your Mac [OS X Tips]

Purge Memory To Run More Apps At Once On Your Mac [OS X Tips]

Sometimes, this is all you need.

Terminal is one handy app, I’ve got to say. There are a ton of amazing things you can do with it, as it’s essentially the back end control room of your Mac. All the Unixy underpinnings of your operating system can be accessed in here, and while it’s possible to completely hose your system with the wrong command (rm * comes to mind, for one), there are a lot of helpful things you can do with it as well.

RAM is the type of memory your Mac uses to run active applications in, as opposed to the kind of memory on your hard disc or SSD drive. The more memory you have, the faster memory-dependent apps (like Photoshop or Final Cut Pro, for example) will seem to run, and the more everyday apps you can run at once. While old-school Mac users will remember needing to close all the applications to free up memory, that’s really not as necessary as it used to be with the advanced memory handling routines in Mac OS X. However, on occasion, you might want to try the purge command in the Terminal.

Purge frees up the RAM on your Mac, telling each running app to release all the RAM it was given at launch that it is not currently using. It’s like a mini reboot without the stress.

Launch Terminal from the Utilities folder in the Applications folder. Once launched, type

purge

then hit Return on your keyboard and your Mac will force all your running apps to release the RAM they don’t need. This means you have more free RAM to run more apps, or to let heavy RAM using apps grab a bit more, running just a bit faster. You Mac may take a second or three to complete the purge task, but don’t worry – this is safe, and won’t bork your machine.

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  • matthewmspaceyoutube

    You could also just get MenoryFreer from the App Store. Works the same way, just with a GUI.

  • citadelsix

    Because of the way Safari and Firefox slowly (or sometimes quickly) gobble up RAM and bog my system down, I use this trick so regularly that I created an app from the shell script, gave it an icon (that looks like the windshield wiper/washer icon in your car), and put it on my dock. I run that baby regularly and can confirm that it has not once locked up the system or killed some important process that was in progress (like downloading, iTunes match, etc.).

    This is a great tip.

  • Mr_Majestik

    I can’t believe this so-called “tip” is still propagating. The purge command should not be used so casually. It’s not doing what the author seems to think it’s doing.

    “Do keep in mind that while this command will appear to free memory, it will not increase system speed or RAM capacity. Rather, as I’ve mentioned in the past about other memory cleaner utilities, once you clear the disk cache or otherwise stress the virtual memory system to free up physical RAM, it will slowly begin to equalize and will soon return to its prior RAM usage levels. Therefore, instead of using the purge command or other memory management tools to “free RAM,” it may be best to reserve these for determining programs’ memory footprints and thereby isolating problems such as memory leaks, or determining if programs themselves are to blame for high RAM usage.”

    See: http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-13727_7-57372267-263/purge-the-os-x-disk-cache-to-analyze-memory-usage/

  • Aaron

    Or you can add RAM… C’mon people, it’s cheap. A 4GB stick of RAM for my laptop cost $22 the other day.

  • Brooklyn_Al

    Onyx has a Purge feature under the info tab “i” and half way down the page on the right there is a button labeled “purge”; works great every time.

  • citadelsix

    I can’t believe this so-called “tip” is still propagating. The purge command should not be used so casually. It’s not doing what the author seems to think it’s doing.

    “Do keep in mind that while this command will appear to free memory, it will not increase system speed or RAM capacity. Rather, as I’ve mentioned in the past about other memory cleaner utilities, once you clear the disk cache or otherwise stress the virtual memory system to free up physical RAM, it will slowly begin to equalize and will soon return to its prior RAM usage levels. Therefore, instead of using the purge command or other memory management tools to “free RAM,” it may be best to reserve these for determining programs’ memory footprints and thereby isolating problems such as memory leaks, or determining if programs themselves are to blame for high RAM usage.”

    See: http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-13727_7-57372267-263/purge-the-os-x-disk-cache-to-analyze-memory-usage/

    Mr_Majestik, thanks for the link, but I’m not sure how that differs from what the author said. As I mentioned in my own example below, and has been noted on numerous tech sites, Safari has a bad habit of not releasing RAM after it uses it. This behavior in Safari is well documented and doesn’t seem to be tied to the number of pages visited or tabs open — you can literally watch the number climb while sitting on a static page. I can easily see this by checking Safari (or Firefox) usage in my iStat Pro widget. Purge is a great method to clear this memory, which is perfectly consistent with the quote from CNET. Perhaps the shortcoming in the tip here is not mentioning doing more to analyze what is being purged and why that memory has been tied up by your programs so that you can apply a more long-term fix to your particular memory problems.

    On that note, ss for getting more RAM, as kindly suggested by Aaron, my RAM is maxed out on both my late 2008 iMac and my ’09 MBP. I think most folks know that the first step in memory issues is increasing either RAM or HD capacity, depending on the specific issue.

  • citadelsix

    I can’t believe this so-called “tip” is still propagating. The purge command should not be used so casually. It’s not doing what the author seems to think it’s doing.

    “Do keep in mind that while this command will appear to free memory, it will not increase system speed or RAM capacity. Rather, as I’ve mentioned in the past about other memory cleaner utilities, once you clear the disk cache or otherwise stress the virtual memory system to free up physical RAM, it will slowly begin to equalize and will soon return to its prior RAM usage levels. Therefore, instead of using the purge command or other memory management tools to “free RAM,” it may be best to reserve these for determining programs’ memory footprints and thereby isolating problems such as memory leaks, or determining if programs themselves are to blame for high RAM usage.”

    See: http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-13727_7-57372267-263/purge-the-os-x-disk-cache-to-analyze-memory-usage/

    Mr_Majestik, thanks for the link, but I’m not sure how that differs from what the author said. As I mentioned in my own example below, and has been noted on numerous tech sites, Safari has a bad habit of not releasing RAM after it uses it. This behavior in Safari is well documented and doesn’t seem to be tied to the number of pages visited or tabs open — you can literally watch the number climb while sitting on a static page. I can easily see this by checking Safari (or Firefox) usage in my iStat Pro widget. Purge is a great method to clear this memory, which is perfectly consistent with the quote from CNET. Perhaps the shortcoming in the tip here is not mentioning doing more to analyze what is being purged and why that memory has been tied up by your programs so that you can apply a more long-term fix to your particular memory problems.

    On that note, ss for getting more RAM, as kindly suggested by Aaron, my RAM is maxed out on both my late 2008 iMac and my ’09 MBP. I think most folks know that the first step in memory issues is increasing either RAM or HD capacity, depending on the specific issue.

  • grouver

    is there any way we can vote down suggestions like this one? Under no circumstances should you ever have to use PURGE or is it advisable to do so. Yes the command exists but it is entirely not there to give you some more RAM or to let you run more applications at the same time!

  • voidPresencer

    i wouldn’t really call Terminal an app so much as it’s more of a window into what Mac OS X really is: UNIX, but then I come from the time when the command line was king. I digress, this really has nothing to do with the article, I apologize.

  • technochick

    is there any way we can vote down suggestions like this one? Under no circumstances should you ever have to use PURGE or is it advisable to do so. Yes the command exists but it is entirely not there to give you some more RAM or to let you run more applications at the same time!

    the text might be a tad poorly written but it isn’t false. Rob never said that it was going to miraculously give you more actual ram. And yes if you don’t have tied up RAM you can conceivably use more apps at once.

    You say ‘under no circumstances’ and yes that is true. In an ideal world. Just like in an ideal world you wouldn’t have apps looping in the background slowing down your system be it your computer or your iphone/ipad. but this isn’t the ideal work. Developers from both camps screw up and forget to deallocate memory, halt location services look up when the app is in the background etc. And such mistakes can lead to apps that suck up RAM until your system starts to suffer. Making a purge occasionally a useful trick to clear things out without having to go to the fuss of quitting everything, restarting and turning it all back on.

About the author

Rob LeFebvreAnchorage, Alaska-based freelance writer and editor Rob LeFebvre is Cult of Mac's Culture Editor. He has contributed to various tech, gaming and iOS sites, including 148Apps, VentureBeat, and Paste Magazine. Feel free to find Rob on Twitter @roblef

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