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What does it mean if I have lots of “Inactive” memory at the end of a work day?

I just bought a MacBook Pro (I've been a Windows user before this), and I noticed that the terminology for memory is a bit different here. In System Monitor it is showing:

  • Free
  • Wired
  • Active
  • Inactive
  • Used

What exactly do they signify?

Also, the used memory (whatever that means) is appearing to be unusually high even when no external application is running. Is it common on OS X? Even if I log out and log in again, and ensure none of the apps are running, the used memory value is above 2 GB! What will happen if I have lots of high memory consuming processes running?

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marked as duplicate by Nathan Greenstein Dec 16 '11 at 20:35

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

    
This has already been answered: apple.stackexchange.com/questions/4288/…, apple.stackexchange.com/questions/33722/…, apple.stackexchange.com/questions/31801/what-is-in-wired-memory, and other questions. Please take a look at the FAQs for more info. Thanks. –  Nathan Greenstein Dec 16 '11 at 20:35

2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Free memory

This is RAM that's not being used.

Wired memory

Information in this memory can't be moved to the hard disk, so it must stay in RAM. The amount of Wired memory depends on the applications you are using.

Active memory

This information is currently in memory, and has been recently used.

Inactive memory

This information in memory is not actively being used, but was recently used.

Used

This is the total amount of memory used.

VM size

This is the total amount of Virtual Memory for all processes on your Mac.

Page ins / Page outs

This refers to the amount of information moved between RAM and the hard disk. This number is a cumulative amount of data that Mac OS X has moved between RAM and disk space.

Swap used

This is the amount of information copied to the swap file on your hard drive.

See official Source for more details.


The high memory usage has occurred ever since Mac OS X Lion. I don't really now why this is. But generally it's good if your RAM is being used.

If you clear your ram too often, programs start slower because they have to be loaded into the RAM again.

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From this Apple support doc:

  • Free memory: This is RAM that's not being used.

  • Wired memory: Information in this memory can't be moved to the hard disk, so it must stay in RAM. The amount of Wired memory depends on the applications you are using.

  • Active memory: This information is currently in memory, and has been recently used.

  • Inactive memory: This information in memory is not actively being used, but was recently used.

  • Used: This is the total amount of memory used.

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