Memory Cleaner for Intel Macs: It Works

Memory Cleaner is an app designed to make more system memory available and thus speed up your Mac by reducing dependence on slow virtual memory. I’ve been using Memory Cleaner on my 2007 Mac mini for quite a while now, and it’s about time I reported my results.

When I bought my Mini, it had just 1 GB of RAM, and the Intel GMA 950 graphics uses 80 MB of that. When I used OS X 10.5 Leopard, I had “only” 374 MB available for applications once all my login items loaded. (That list includes Dropbox, SpamSieve, MagiCal, Growl, TextSoap, smcFanControl, Default Folder X, Teleport, Sidenote, and Logitech Control Center.) If I ran two or three programs, I was making heavy use of virtual memory, especially if I ran two or more browsers.

With OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard running, things were even worse with less than 100 MB free at startup. Even a single app required virtual memory, making it a very poor production machine. Memory Cleaner can more than double available system memory on a 1 GB Mac running Snow Leopard! I still didn’t have enough RAM to do any significant multitasking, but 250 MB of available system memory beats 100 MB any day.

I don’t know how Memory Cleaner does its magic, but it does work. It finds system memory that has been set aside but isn’t being used and makes it available. I speculate that it may also move some data from RAM to virtual memory. Whatever it’s doing, it works.

There are two caveats:

  1. You should not be doing any work on your Mac while Memory Cleaner does its thing. Hands off while it frees up that extra memory.
  2. If you run Memory Cleaner twice in a row, it will find even more free memory. Running it a third time often adds a bit more, but there’s no real benefit from running it four or more times in a row.

Memory Cleaner can make a 1 GB Mac with OS X 10.5 Leopard more useful and squeeze a bit more out of a 1 GB OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard Mac, but that’s only a stopgap. With Leopard, your Intel-based Mac should have at least 1.5 GB of system memory to allow for running several programs simultaneously. With Snow Leopard, 1.5 GB gives you a bit of breathing room, but 2 GB is much better. And if you run a lot of apps (I usually have Mail, NetNewsWire, TextWrangler, TextSoap, Spam Sieve, Camino, and at least one other browser – Safari, Firefox, or Chrome – running, and I’m often using Photoshop Elements 3.0 and/or BlueGriffon as well), you’ll want even more.

Memory Cleaner will let you wring the most out of your Intel Mac and can really help in low memory situations. You are better off installing more memory, but that will cost a lot more than the $5.99 price of Memory Cleaner.

If you are short on memory, it can be a good stop gap until you can afford an upgrade.

Needless to say, when I could afford it, I bought a 3 GB memory upgrade from Other World Computing, and my Mac mini has never been happier. Even with a lot of apps running, I almost always have at least 1 GB of free memory (so I would probably have been happy with 2 GB of RAM – still, better safe than sorry), but it’s nice to know that if I should get close to capacity, I still have the option of running Memory Cleaner to free up a bit more RAM.

I don’t have OS X 10.7 Lion (nor do I plan to buy it), so I can’t tell you how well Memory Cleaner works with it, but since Lion is even more memory hungry than Snow Leopard, it should be every bit as useful. If your Mac has 2 GB or less of physical memory, it could make the difference between a lot of slowdowns due to use of virtual memory and having enough available system memory for better overall performance under Lion.

The only issue I’ve run into is an incompatibility with Teleport, a program that allows me to control multiple Macs with one mouse and one keyboard. When I run Memory Cleaner on the Mac mini, it almost always disables Teleport, requiring me to open System Preferences and reactivate it. This is not an issue most users will ever encounter, and Teleport tends to disable itself spontaneously on occasion, so I don’t count this against Memory Cleaner.

All things considered, I give Memory Cleaner 4-1/2 out of 5 LEMs. If it could free the maximum amount of system memory in a single pass, instead of requiring two or three, it would rate 5.

Memory Cleaner requires an Intel-based Mac running OS X 10.5 or newer and is currently on sale for $5.99 at the Mac App Store, a discount from its normal $9.99 price.

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