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Activity Monitor not showing all RAM

2743 Views 22 Replies Latest reply: Dec 27, 2012 7:42 AM by Stephen Johnson RSS
  • BobHarris Level 6 Level 6 (12,505 points)
    Currently Being Moderated
    Sep 18, 2012 6:48 PM (in response to Stephen Johnson)

    You have the same Mac mini I have, and it can ONLY use 3GB of RAM.  The SouthBridge chip used to interface the CPU with RAM, Video, USB, Firewire, WiFi, etc.... is only a 32bit device.  Because of this, 1GB of address space is reserved for addressing the I/O devices, which leaves 3GB for RAM.


    So while you can install two 2GB DIMMs, the southbridge chip will only make 3GB of that RAM visible to the CPU.


    My Mac mini Activity Monitor shows 4GB, but if you add up "Free", "Wired", "Active" and "Inactive" you are always come up with 3GB of RAM.  No matter what version of Mac OS X you are running.

    Activity Monitor showing 4GB is misleading.  It is true you have two 2GB DIMMs installed, but only 3GB is usable.

  • BobHarris Level 6 Level 6 (12,505 points)
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    Sep 19, 2012 6:18 PM (in response to Stephen Johnson)

    But I suppose from what you say then that 1GB over the 3 is still being used

    No.  That address space talks with your devices, such as your USB ports, your monitor port, your Firewire port, your audio, your SATA disk drive, yoru DVD drive.  The CPU talks to all of these devices using addresses in that last 1GB of address space.


    That last 1GB of RAM in the pair of 2GB DIMMs is unused.  You Mac mini has 3GB of usable RAM.

  • John Galt Level 7 Level 7 (33,080 points)
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    Dec 1, 2012 8:01 PM (in response to Stephen Johnson)

    As far as your Mac is concerned, it only has 3 GB RAM. The remainder cannot be addressed by the hardware and may as well not exist, since the addresses your Mini would use to address it are reserved for other hardware.


    2007 was not that long ago but in those days memory was simply not available in configurations that would result in 4 GB of addressible RAM. When your Mini was engineered, only 1 GB modules were available, hence its specified maximum of 2 GB.

  • BobHarris Level 6 Level 6 (12,505 points)
    Currently Being Moderated
    Dec 2, 2012 6:50 AM (in response to Stephen Johnson)

    Most computers today use the address space to talk to the outside world (RAM, Disks, Networking, Displays, USB devices, Firewire devices, etc...).


    The computer system designers generally have an chip on the motherboard that takes the address lines from the CPU chip and interfaces them with all the things the computer must talk to.  On the Mac mini this is called the "North Bridge" and "South Bridge" chip sets.  There is even a Wikipedia pages describing the North Bridge and South Bridge chip sets



    NOTE:  The Wikipedia articles are Windows PC specific, but the generic concepts are the same for a Mac mini.


    The North and South Bridge chips used on the your's and my Mac minis can only handle 32 address lines, and 32-address lines has a maximum address range of 0 to 4,294,967,295 (0x0 to 0xFFFFFFFF or 4 billion in computer speak).


    The Mac mini North Bridge Chip sends most of those addresses to the RAM chips you have installed (3,221,225,472 or 3 billion aka 3 gigabytes in computer speak).


    The remaining 1 billion (1,073,741,824) addresses are used by the North and South Bridge chip sets to talk with I/O devices.


    These remaining 1 billion addresses are mapped to control registers and device buffers in the various Graphic chips, USB controllers, Firewire controllers, and misc support chips used by the Mac mini (PRAM, SMC power controller, Time-of-Day clock (the wrist watch that keeps time when the computer is powered off, etc...)).


    NOTE:  The RAM chips NEVER see any signals from these last billion addresses.  For example, you decide you need more seating  in your home, so you buy 2 double length living room sofas (two 2GB DIMMs), however, your living room will only hold 1 and a half of your sofas (3GB), and the other half of a sofa is sticking out the  door into your garage, and you cannot sit on that part because it is not properly supported underneath, and besides you use your garage for other things, such as cars, lawnmowers, snowblowers, garden tools, etc... (poor analogy, but hopefully you know what I mean).  That last 1GB of RAM is just hanging around doing nothing, and cannot be used.

    My point/question is that, if that "last 1GB of address space" were not there then the system would use memory out of the 3GB that is available for general use?

    The CPU needs to steal address space to talk with its I/O devices and support chips.  It does not need your RAM, just the addresses.  If it only had 3 billion addresses, the computer system designers would use some of those addresses to talk to its I/O devices and you would not be able to address all of that 3GB of RAM.


    Way back when, the early 8080 chips could only address 1 million addresses.  The computer system designers gave 640 kilobytes to RAM and the remaining addresses to I/O devices.  And when they first came out, we couldn't afford to put that much RAM into those systems :-)

  • John Galt Level 7 Level 7 (33,080 points)
    Currently Being Moderated
    Dec 2, 2012 9:50 AM (in response to BobHarris)

    BobHarris wrote:


    ...  The computer system designers gave 640 kilobytes to RAM and the remaining addresses to I/O devices.


    ... because 640K ought to be enough for anybody!


    MacBooks  iMacs  iPods  AirPorts, OS X Mountain Lion,  27 years Apple!
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