Hey friends, Andrew here – hope you’re well.
My M2 MacBook Air has 8GB of RAM and I love this laptop, in fact, I still use it every day, but I just wish I had paid a little more for the 16GB RAM upgrade.
But I get it, Mac upgrades can be confusing and even intimidating so this is to help you weigh up the best Mac configuration for your needs and why you should honestly, probably just pay for the RAM upgrade.
So, let’s talk about what RAM is for a quick second.
RAM stands for Random Access Memory and it acts as the short-term memory of your MacBook. Not like amnesia, but think of it as the Mac’s way to quickly store and retrieve information.
Your SSD or hard drive on the other hand: is where the Mac stores long-term stuff: things like your documents and apps. RAM stores data that are used and processed in real-time.
An easier way to think about it is to see RAM as your office space: it’s a place where you can work on tasks. The larger the desk, the more papers and tools you can spread out and work simultaneously on.
Now, not everyone needs that bigger office space – some professions need that extra multitasking ability than others like video editors or engineers.
If you’re someone who just uses Apple’s default apps like Safari and Notes without ever multitasking, then theoretically you’re probably fine with a base Macbook with 8GB of RAM.
But you see, base MacBook Pros are still being sold with 8GB of RAM and that has some people riled up.
MacBook M2 Air Experience
But what are the real-life usage and advantages of more RAM?
Take my M2 MacBook Air as an example, I’ve been happily using it for a year and a half now, coming to two years but I really regret not bumping the RAM up to 16GB.
I got this laptop as an everyday laptop for simple tasks: things like web browsing, emails, and simple team collaboration stuff. Tasks where an average budget laptop is more than enough.
But soon enough, the more I used my M2 MacBook Air, the more I found myself having to constantly exit unused apps, close tabs, and avoid multitasking altogether.
Because anything more than a few apps open and in the Activity Monitor – I’m often very close to using the full 8GB of RAM. I found this to be the case ever since upgrading to the latest macOS Sonoma.
The problem is, that upgrading RAM on Apple is a once-off choice you get when ordering and it’s ridiculously expensive. Two hundred dollars expensive to be exact, for the jump from 8GB to 16GB and 32GB. Unless of course, you get the Mac Pro, which has $800 RAM upgrade increments up to a whopping 192GB RAM.
Of course, it’s very likely the wholesale price that Apple pays is significantly less than they charge: consider it the Apple tax we pay to enter the walled garden.
Macs Use Memory Efficiently
To be fair though, Apple has done a great job juicing as much as they can from 8GB of RAM as physically possible.
Half the reason is Apple’s unified architecture. Apple makes everything in-house from top to bottom – from the operating system to the hardware components, whereas let’s say a Windows laptop, all its bits and pieces are sourced from different manufacturers.
What this means is Apple’s end product is simply more efficient in performance, energy consumption, security, and software compatibility.
Macs also use memory swapping and memory compression techniques, which help get the most out of the physical limitations of 8GB of RAM.
Memory swapping is when your Mac manages its RAM by moving less important tasks to a storage device so it can allocate more memory to intensive apps and tasks. It’s sort of like shuffling things around the desk we talked about earlier to make room for the bigger task you want to focus on right now.
Memory compression basically condenses data to free up space for more tasks, sort of like like vacuum sealing food so you can fit more into the fridge.
Memory swapping and memory compression aren’t unique to Mac by the way, but they’re great at helping us get more out of the limited 8GB of RAM.
But Apple’s VP of product marketing, Bob Borchers said on a podcast “8GB on an M3 MacBook Pro is probably analogous to 16GB on other systems”, which I’m not so sure about that.
At the end of the day, 8GB of RAM is still physically limited to well, 8GB of RAM. Sure Macs might be well optimized for low RAM usage and Apple has done a great job maximizing performance from 8GB of RAM but the 8GB ceiling is pretty low, especially when you’re still dealing with third-party software outside the Apple ecosystem.
Why Avoid Macs with 8GB RAM
So should you flat-out avoid 8GB of RAM with your Mac purchase?
I think with the way software and macOS are evolving, 8GB has long been a bottleneck and in an ideal world, Apple will begin to ship Macs with a base of at least 16GB.
Let’s not forget, that 8GB of RAM is more limited on M chipsets than we think because of the integrated System of a Chip layout – SOC. The RAM is shared between BOTH the CPU and GPU, which means more load for 8GB of RAM to carry.
It’s already got to the point where the CPU is more than capable but the machine is bottlenecked by the RAM.
If you plan on keeping your MacBook for more than a a few years or just have the cash to spend, you’ll thank yourself later on for spending the extra cash to get the RAM upgrade where 8GB may leave you behind the curve sooner than you think particularly with future macOS release.
We’re already seeing it for intensive features like FaceTime effects, hand gestures, Centre Stage, and things like that.
So upgrading your RAM now could save you from having to invest in a new machine sooner than planned.
Here’s my recommendation: upgrade to 16GB of RAM – it’s a worthwhile investment.
It’s an obvious choice for creatives, developers, and gamers but it’s also beneficial for students who have plenty of documents and PDFs open for essays or the average person who’s planning their trip to Italy and has dozens of tabs open for research.
The extra RAM is going to help you avoid unnecessary bottlenecks and slowdowns and support future software releases.
And let’s remember: storage can be expanded later but RAM is soldered onto the Mac’s motherboard so most Macs today don’t have the option for aftermarket RAM upgrades.
Apple’s RAM pricing is a hard pill to swallow for someone who wants to put every dollar to good use but the trade-off is a more future-proofed, versatile, and robust Mac.
And maybe – just maybe – if we all begin to select the 16GB option, Apple may finally ditch the 8GB option altogether and finally give us 16GB as standard. Hopefully, that day will come soon!