How much memory do you need for your Mac? – MUO – MakeUseOf

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How much memory do you need for your Mac?  – MUO – MakeUseOf

Apple offers a wide range of confusing memory choices in its line of Mac computers. But is it worth shelling out huge amounts of money as much as possible?




What is Unified RAM/Memory?

Your computer has two types of memory, or storage space: permanent (SSD or hard drive) and temporary (unified memory or RAM). Permanent storage is generally larger, cheaper, and slower than temporary storage. Your computer uses temporary storage when it runs programs, to speed things up.

When Apple launched its Apple Silicon processor line in 2020, it also introduced the concept of unified memory. This new type of memory is still responsible for fast, temporary storage, but it is now much more tightly integrated with your processor (CPU). This makes it even faster, but it also saves you from having to modify it later.

Since you can’t upgrade RAM on a modern Mac, you’ll have to choose carefully. When you buy your Mac, make sure you choose an amount that will last you for the life of this machine.

8 GB: for basic web browsing and office work

An iPad, an Apple Watch and a Mac placed together
Apple


8GB is now the minimum amount of memory you can buy on a Mac. Compared to a PC, this may not seem like much. However, rest assured: most of the tasks you do will be perfectly acceptable with 8 GB on a Mac.

If your Mac is low on memory, it can use swap space to increase resources. It is a permanent storage space that the operating system temporarily recommissions as main memory. Historically, this was accompanied by a drop in performance as your hard drive sped up, but modern internal SSDs make this problem much less of an issue.

Today, your Silicon Mac with SSD will handle web browsing, document creation, light image editing, and most common everyday tasks on just 8GB of memory without breaking a sweat.

16-24 GB: for multitasking and more intensive gaming

MacBook Air running Minecraft Java Edition


If you can afford it and want your Mac to last a little longer, you’ll probably benefit from an upgrade to 16GB or 24GB. Depending on which Mac you buy, both or one of these options will be available.

Having two or three times more memory doesn’t mean your Mac will be two or three times faster. But it can last longer with more memory. Over time, even basic functions like web browsing require more memory as web pages become larger and larger.

Even a recent game like Baldur’s Gate 3 is playable with just 8 GB. However, the system requirements for the game recommend 16 GB, which will definitely allow it to run smoother, with more detailed graphics.

32 GB: for professional video/photo editing

mac mini m2 on a desk with Apple Studio screen
Apple


If you’re just editing your vacation snaps, an 8GB or 16GB Macbook will be more than capable of the task. Even a Mac with just 8GB of memory can, in theory, open hundreds or even thousands of high-resolution images simultaneously.

When you need to edit images for your work, you may want to invest in more memory to make your work as simple as possible. For future-proofing and multitasking more apps alongside your daily drivers, 32GB will be a great investment.

That said, be aware that the difference between 16 and 32 GB may not be as big as you would expect. In 2021, YouTube channel Max Tech compared two Macbook Pros with these memory configurations. They used a range of intensive tasks with applications such as Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom and Logic Pro:


Their conclusion? Even with workloads that would be considered well beyond what most people will use their Mac for, there’s little difference between 16 and 32 GB.

64 GB+: for intensive editing, 3D graphics rendering and machine learning

A Mac Studio screen showing 3D rendering in Autodesk Maya
Apple

When it comes to larger memory sizes, you either have very specific needs beyond a normal consumer, or you have money to spend. After all, upgrading a Macbook Pro M3 Max from 36GB to 96GB will cost you $800 more. You need to be absolutely sure you’re making good use of this extra memory before you get started.

The latest Macbook Pros offer up to a giant 128GB of unified memory, while you can configure the Mac Pro and Mac Studio with 192GB if your pockets are deep enough. If you have one of these machines, you’ll likely be doing the most performance-intensive tasks, and some of them might benefit from the upgrade.


Video editing and 3D graphics rendering can be extremely expensive processes, which can occupy your CPU for many cycles. The same goes for training AI models and some other computer programming tasks. Adding more memory means your Mac will be able to process more images at once, so you’ll wait a little less for tasks to complete.

So overall, the answer to this complex question remains “it depends”.

The old advice to “buy as much memory as you can afford” needs to be updated, however. On a modern Mac, with built-in memory and a super-fast SSD, memory size will rarely be a bottleneck. Unless you’re doing highly specialized work, 8GB will probably be enough, and 16GB should be perfectly sufficient for many years to come.

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