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When Apple announced its first M1-powered MacBook Pro back in 2020, it seemed shocking that the base model featured just 8GB of RAM. For a computer with “Pro” in its name, 8GB of memory seemed unacceptably low.
As of this writing, Apple still sells the 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro, and yes, 8GB is still the standard configuration for RAM. Obviously Apple thinks 8 gigabytes is plenty, but is it really?
Is 8GB of RAM enough for a MacBook Pro? The short answer: 8 gigabytes of RAM on the MacBook Pro is sufficient for 95% of users.
But before you leap to buy that MacBook, let’s look a little closer at the details so you can decide which option is best for you.
I’m Andrew Gilmore, a former Mac administrator, and I’ll give you the information you need to determine if 8GB of RAM is enough for you.
In this article, we’ll consider several variables including value, use cases, and future-proofing your next MacBook Pro. Continue reading for all the juicy details.
Will 8GB RAM be Enough for a MacBook Pro?
Believe it or not, 8GB of RAM is actually enough in most cases.
“Enough,” of course, is a relative term, and there are some key factors to consider before deciding if you can live with 8GB.
For one, pay attention to whether the MacBook Pro has an Apple or Intel processor. As you’ll see below, the Apple CPU architecture allows for more efficient use of RAM, meaning you can get by with less.
Also consider your upgrade cycle and resale value. A MacBook with 8GB is probably enough, but as time marches on 16GB might last you longer or fetch more money on the market if you’re looking to sell.
Last, what kind of tasks do you plan on using your MacBook Pro for? Video editors and coders might benefit from a bump in RAM while the majority of users won’t even miss those 8 gigabytes.
Let’s take a closer look at these considerations.
Apple Silicon Vs. Intel
Let’s get this out in the open.
If you’re considering buying a MacBook Pro with an Intel processor, 8GB is not enough RAM. Can you get by? Probably, but I wouldn’t recommend trying. Opt instead for at least 16GB.
This isn’t even a question if you’re buying a new MacBook Pro, because Apple’s current lineup only features Apple Silicon-powered laptops. But if you’re shopping for a used Intel MacBook Pro–still a perfectly fine option, by the way–don’t settle for 8GB of RAM.
What about Apple Silicon MacBook Pros?
For the majority of users, 8GB of RAM is enough. Unless you’re working with huge datasets, rendering high resolution video, compiling large amounts of code, or engaging in any other memory-intensive tasks, the 8GB M1 (Apple’s first generation Apple Silicon processor) MacBook Pro should serve you well.
Why the disparity between Apple Silicon and Intel processors?
A variety of factors come into play. First, the Macintosh operating system was rebuilt from the ground up for Apple Silicon optimization. Because Apple designed both the chip and the OS, they can ensure the hardware and software work seamlessly together.
Next is what Apple calls Unified Memory Architecture (UMA). Rather than reserving memory for the GPU, the CPU and GPU share the same memory and the system allocates RAM as needed. And because the M1 is a system on a chip (SoC), the memory can be accessed in the same place by all components of the system without the latency of passing data back and forth.
Although critics say UMA is nothing more than marketing hype, I do have some hard data to back up the claim that M1 Macs make better use of RAM than Intel Macs do.
Apple-focused YouTube channel Max Tech conducted several tests comparing the performance of 8GB and 16GB 13-inch MacBook Pros 2020s. We’ll review the results below, but it is helpful to know that Max Tech used some benchmarks they also previously applied to Intel Macs.
One test involved exporting 8K R3D RAW camera footage to 4K using Final Cut Pro. In the test, the 16GB M1 MacBook Pro finished only 29 seconds slower than an Intel i9 5550M MacBook Pro with twice the RAM.
Of course, this is only one test, but it does provide some hard data to back up Apple’s UMA performance claim.
Should You Get 8GB or 16GB of RAM in Your MacBook Pro?
So you know 8GB is not enough for Intel-based MacBook Pros, but what about Apple Silicon Macs?
Max Tech’s side-by-side comparison of 8GB vs. 16GB M1 Macbook Pros found that the 16GB model was about 10% faster performing RAM-intensive tasks in software like Adobe Lightroom and XCode. In the 8K footage export test, the 16GB MacBook Pro 2020 finished in less than half the time it took the 8GB model to perform the same test (14 minutes vs. 6 minutes).
So the answer to the question boils down to what you plan on using your MacBook Pro for. If you plan on rendering video or compiling code, then you could benefit from 16GB. For most everyone else 8GB will suffice.
8GB Is Probably Not Enough RAM, But You Might Never Notice
This might sound contradictory, but in reality, 8GB is not enough RAM for your Mac. Let me explain.
Computers use what’s known as virtual memory to help manage RAM usage. The operating system carves out a portion of the hard drive and creates a page file, also known as a swap file. This file serves as virtual RAM which the computer can use for additional memory if your computer runs out of available physical RAM.
The computer then offloads programs and processes not currently in use to the hard drive to free up RAM. When a user needs to run the program that has been offloaded, the operating system will then “swap” the processes with other items to move the needed application back into memory.
In the days of mechanical hard drives, this swapping process was very slow, and switching between applications could bog down your computer.
Today, computers come with much faster solid state hard drives (or SSDs for short) minimizes the impact of the swap file. Nevertheless physical RAM is still faster than SSDs.
Yet Apple seems to have optimized the swap process to the point where it’s barely noticeable.
In reality, medium to heavy users will use up 8GB of RAM pretty quickly, but Apple’s SSDs and SoC are so efficient at creating and using virtual memory, you probably won’t even notice when you run out of RAM.
This efficiency has led to fears that the SSD will wear out because it is being called upon to serve as virtual RAM more often.
In my opinion, these fears are overblown because SSD technology has become more robust every year, but there’s no denying that macOS hits the hard drive pretty hard. Why? Because it can.
If this is a major concern for you, opt for 16GB of RAM. Keep in mind, though, that your Mac will still use the SSD for swap, and you have no control over the system’s methodology. In theory, you’ll need less virtual RAM with 16GB of physical RAM.
Here are some other questions you might have about your MacBook’s RAM.
Is 8GB enough RAM for the MacBook Air?
For the most part all of the advice in this article also applies to the MacBook Air. Airs with the M1 chip will run just fine with 8GB of RAM for most users.
Will more RAM speed up my Mac?
Although RAM is an important factor in the speed of a computer, the new MacBook Pros are so efficient at using virtual RAM thanks to their SoC and super speedy SSDs that you likely won’t notice a difference.
How much RAM is in the MacBook Pro?
As of May 2022 Apple sells three MacBook Pro models: a 13-inch released in 2020, and 14- and 16-inch models released in 2021.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro starts at 8GB of RAM but can be upgraded to 16GB for $200.
The 2021 models start at 16GB but can be upgraded to 32GB or 64GB of RAM. (64GB is only available for models with the M1 Max processor.)
Is 8GB of RAM enough for college students?
If you major in data science, digital cinema, or other data-heavy curriculum, you might consider bumping up to 16GB. Otherwise, 8GB on the M1 MacBook Pro is plenty of RAM.
By the way, Apple offers modest discounts for college students on MacBook Pros.
Is 8GB of RAM enough for developers/coding/programming?
Programmers who compile large amounts of code or perform 3D rendering might want to opt for 16GB of memory, but except for these use cases, 8GB on the M1 MacBook Pro is enough.
Is 8GB of RAM enough for video editing?
You likely won’t get bogged down as much in the actual editing process as you will with encoding and exporting tasks.
Keep in mind, this applies to professional-level editing using high resolution footage. If you only occasionally edit video using iMovie or other consumer software, 8GB of RAM is plenty.
Is 8GB of RAM enough for macOS?
Apple wouldn’t sell devices with only 8GB of RAM if its OS required more memory.
That doesn’t mean computers with 8GB of RAM running macOS will never bog down, but Apple has designed the operating system to run with plenty of overhead for loading multiple programs into memory at the same time.
Conclusion: 8GB Is Enough, but 16GB Might Still Be Worth the Extra Cost
8GB is enough RAM for the vast majority of users, but there are still instances in which it might make sense to opt for 16GB.
One consideration is your upgrade cycle. Do you replace your MacBook Pro every couple of years, or do you wait until the device is obsolete? If the latter, 16GB might serve you well.
Keep in mind resale value too if you plan to sell the MacBook down the road. It’s hard to predict future value, but you’ll definitely fetch more for a Mac with twice the RAM.
Check out sites like Swappa to see what 2-3 year-old MacBook Pros are selling for now, and the difference in price among Macs with various RAM configurations. You might find the extra RAM is worth the upfront cost.
Do you own a MacBook Pro with 8GB of RAM? Is it enough to meet your needs?About Andrew Gilmore