What is the swap used for in the Mac Activity Monitor?

macOS has a monitoring center called Activity Monitor, which is a snapshot of everything that’s happening on your Mac right now. We have discussed How to use Activity Monitor To study which background apps are running and how you can improve performance when things go wrong. Now, we’re going a little deeper by taking a closer look at your Mac’s memory, specifically what “switching used” memory is — and how it might Help you detect problems such as memory leaks.

What is the swap used for?

Open Activity Monitor on your Mac (you can find it in the Services folder), and you will see a large number of information divided into basic categories, including CPU, Memory, Power, and Disk. The memory tab shows, in particular, the amount RAM What are you using and what is your RAM? At the bottom, you’ll see a summary window showing basic stats, including total physical memory, the amount of memory used, and the current cached files. And something called “used swap”.

If you were curious and searched for “used swap,” you might have found the official Apple description: “The amount of space used on your startup disk to swap unused files to and from RAM.” This is brief but doesn’t make much sense to those studying your Mac’s RAM.

Swap memory is a type of memory that computers use to offload requests to current RAM. The operating system does this by borrowing some space from somewhere else—the startup disk, in this case—and using it to temporarily store some data while the RAM is busy processing other tasks.

Is used swap a bad thing?

Traditionally, the swap used has a bad reputation because it can indicate problems with RAM. Swap memory is more likely to be used when your current memory isn’t enough to efficiently handle all the tasks you’re trying to do on macOS. It tends to get higher if you have a lot of apps or tabs open at once or you are trying to manage other complex processes.

However, the swap used doesn’t always mean something is wrong. It’s an indication of potential problems, but some use of swap memory is not uncommon. In fact, macOS received major memory updates in Mavericks and Yosemite that tweaked the way memory is allocated To help make RAM usage more efficient. These days it’s to be expected that at least some trade-off is used, just to indicate that startup disk space has been reserved just in case it is needed. You can even use several gigabytes of swap memory and not notice anything because the RAM is allocated to the most important tasks.

Is your swap used in the danger zone?

So, if the swap partition used doesn’t necessarily indicate a problem, how can you tell if there are issues with your Mac’s RAM? It is important to consider several factors here to get a clearer picture of your memory performance. It includes considerations such as:

  • The memory pressure graph is no longer green: The handy little graph next to the window that shows macOS memory stats indicates how much RAM is currently being used. As long as this graph remains green, you should be clear. If the graph is too high, it will turn yellow and then red, which indicates that you have some memory issues and you should consider cutting back on some unnecessary apps or apps running in the background.
  • Your Mac Freezes or Hangs Frequently: If the apps you use start to freeze or crash frequently, it could be draining your Mac’s memory beyond what it can handle. This is a flag to pull up the Activity Monitor and see the signs you need to cut back on app activity, including the high swap used and the memory graphic in red.
  • You are using a memory-intensive program, such as the Windows VM: While it is possible to run it, complex programs like this put a lot of stress on macOS. It’s a good idea to check your memory stats when you first start a complex program and make sure your RAM can handle what you’re doing.
  • The total used swap memory suddenly starts to rise: If your swap memory is a few gigabytes or so, you probably don’t have to worry. But if it suddenly starts rising to much higher levels for no apparent reason, it could be a sign of a problem, especially if your computer crashes soon after.
macOS memory slot information.

Can I upgrade the RAM in my Mac?

Not often, no. While fixing RAM issues can often be an upgrade to more RAM, this is not a solution that works for Macs. Most recent generation MacBooks have their own RAM soldered directly to the motherboard, for example. iMacs tend to be more fortunate in this regard – some may have empty slots to add more memory, although Apple will want you to use their technicians. You can go to your About this Mac In macOS and select File memory Tab to see if you have any empty slots left.

In the meantime, we have a guide to Free up memory on Mac With greater control over how you use apps, plus other tricks that can help you if using swap starts to sound worrisome.

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