If you own a MacBook Pro and would like to upgrade to more than 4GB of RAM but think that your model does not support this, you may want to read the rest of this article.

I bought a MacBook Pro 17” in April 2008, as my primary development machine. I knew that the standard config with 2GB of RAM wouldn’t be enough for my purposes, but I also wasn’t about to spend a ridiculous amount of money on an official memory upgrade from Apple, so I picked up two cheap G.SKILL 2GB DIMMs from Newegg.

This worked great for me so far, but even with 4GB of RAM, I occasionally ran into memory limits. For example I sometimes work on iPhone and complementary Rails apps at the same time, and having both Xcode (plus Interface Builder and the iPhone Simulator) and a Rails app, IDE, etc. running at the same time definitely uses a fair amount of memory. Especially if I use RubyMine (which is pretty nice, by the way, but a major memory hog). That’s one of the reasons why I often still work with a regular text editor such as TextMate. The situation gets even worse when I need to run a virtual machine, such as for IE browser testing. And of course there are all the other memory hungry apps that tend to be running all the time (Firefox and / or Safari, iTunes, etc.).

The last time I researched potential memory upgrades, I quickly discovered that my model (apparently) only supports a maximum of 4GB, so I gave up.

But this time I complained on Twitter, and a reply prompted me to research this issue more closely. Well, it turns out that many MacBook Pro models do indeed unofficially support 6GB of RAM, in form of 4GB + 2GB DIMMs. This MacRumors Guide has all the info you need. My model appears to be the Rev. E (as identified by the date of purchase, as well as the CPU frequency, video card, and video memory). And sure enough, the Rev. E and F models can handle up to 6GB of RAM.

Since I was already using G.SKILL memory, I opted for a 4GB G.SKILL DIMM (currently $129 at NewEgg). I would not recommend mixing DIMMs from different manufacturers, and in fact I have read some reports of people having trouble getting these configs to work.

The actual memory upgrade process is quick and easy (at least on the pre-unibody models), and Apple provides a convenient guide.

I should point out that due to the mixed (4GB + 2GB) memory configuration, you lose the Dual Channel capability. But based on what I read, this only affects certain types of apps and makes little difference in practice. I definitely didn’t notice any lower performance after the upgrade.

The increased memory means that my system rarely (if ever) has to swap. Now I can run my whole development stack as well as two virtual machines (Windows and Linux) and the machine is still very responsive.

Now I just have to find some new memory intensive applications to bring my system down to its knees… ;)

Update: This upgrade was the single biggest bang for the buck and has made a tremendous difference on my system. Having 6GB instead of 4GB was exactly the additional RAM I needed to be able to run all my various development tools at the same time. I am now running several Rails apps and have one RubyMine as well as two Xcode projects open without any issues, along with the usual productivity software, iTunes, etc. Definitely highly recommended!