“Your system has run out of application memory” is not a warm, friendly alert. It feels cold and dark, as if your Mac is telling you “the end is nigh.” Luckily, the end isn’t nigh, but receiving this alert on your computer is still concerning. Depending on your machine, it could just be a bug, or it could be a persistent problem you should look out for. Let’s explore how you can tell the issues apart.
Your Mac’s RAM is key to this alert
Let’s start with a basic explainer for anyone out of the loop: Your Mac has a fixed amount of RAM (random access memory). This RAM allows your computer to run multiple apps and tasks at the same time. In short, the more RAM you have, the more your computer can do at once; the less RAM you have, the less your computer can do. Easy enough.
Apple’s macOS usually does a good job with RAM management, so you don’t often need to worry if you’re running too many tasks at once. However, occasionally, the system is pushed beyond its limits. If there are more apps running than available RAM, macOS can’t continue to function, which triggers this application memory alert.
The problem is, this application memory alert is affecting Macs with plenty of RAM. You wouldn’t expect a Mac with 16, 32, or 64 GB of RAM to run into issues running apps like Mail, Photoshop, or even Final Cut Pro. And yet, Macs of all kinds are seeing this alert while doing tasks their computers should be churning through without a hitch. Affected machines range from brand-new M1 Pro and M1 Max MacBook Pros, to older Intel-based Macs.
The issue is likely a software bug for many Macs
These apps aren’t using a typical amount of system memory, either. Some apps are chewing through GBs of memory, which is completely abnormal. According to 9to5Mac, one user reported that Apple’s Pages and Keynote apps were using 80 to 90 GB of memory or more. That’s a huge red flag that something is wrong, and, seeing as there are widespread reports of similar memory-hogging taking place, it indicates the problem stems from a software bug.
While there are reports of the issue affecting older versions of macOS, the majority of cases are found in Macs running macOS Monterey. It’s highly likely, then, that Apple will issue a patch for this bug soon.
How to tell whether the alert is a bug or legitimate
Tt’s important to note, though, that this alert isn’t solely a bug. It exists for a purpose; your machine can run out of application memory, in which case you’ll need to kill apps to get things rolling again. If you’re seeing this alert, however, it can be difficult to know whether it’s legitimate, or part of the bug.
The biggest clue to look out for is how much memory an app is using. Typically, most apps are going to use MBs of memory, possibly single-digit GBs of memory. If you see any apps using double-digit memory for no reason, that’s a sign that your Mac is affected by this memory bug. However, if all the numbers look reasonable, you might have just run out of application memory. Of course, there are exceptions, as professional and heavy-duty apps can use a lot of memory. But, since these alerts are affecting users during normal use, that’s what we’re looking at here.
When legitimate, this alert tends to affect Macs with low amounts of RAM. If you’re rocking a MacBook Air with 4 GB of RAM, for example, you might already be familiar with these alerts. Most software and programs prefer at least 8 GB of RAM these days, if not more, so the less RAM you have, the more likely it is you’ll push the system to its limits, especially if you use memory-hogging apps like Google Chrome.
If you can, add more RAM to your Mac
In some cases, you aren’t stuck with the RAM you have. If your Mac is eligible for a RAM upgrade, you should consider it. Giving the system more RAM will help avoid these frustrating situations, and will allow you to run more tasks at once.
The only way to know for sure whether you can upgrade the RAM in your Mac is to look up your machine. Apple has a list of compatible iMacs here, MacBook Pros here, and Mac minis here, in addition to instructions on how to install more memory into the machine. If you don’t see your Mac listed on one of these particular pages, it means the RAM cannot be upgraded, and you’re stuck with what you have. If you have a Mac mini, however, Apple makes it clear which models cannot be upgraded, rather than leaving those models off the list.
It’s the unfortunately side-effect of Apple’s design philosophy in recent years. Rather than make components like RAM user-accessible and removable, they solder them directly to the computer’s board, making upgrades impossible. That’s ok if your Mac has enough RAM, but for older Macs struggling to keep up, there’s no way to give them an additional boost.
Other than buying a new machine, the best thing you can do for your low-RAM Mac is to be mindful of how many apps you have open at once. Keep browser tabs (especially Chrome) to a minimum, and try to only keep apps open if you’re actively using them. It’s a pain, but it’s better than running into application memory alerts multiple times a day.