Fun Fact: 8GB Is Not Enough For Your Next Mac Regardless Of What Apple Says

For a while now, Apple has been shipping 8GB of RAM on a number of their Macs. And I’ve been saying that that’s not enough RAM for anyone. Thus if you were in the market for a new Mac, you should get at least 16GB of RAM. Apple clearly has heard this and is pushing back hard on this. MacRumors posted a story recently where  Apple’s VP of worldwide product marketing Bob Borchers claimed that 8GB on a Mac is like 16GB on Windows:

Comparing our memory to other system’s memory actually isn’t equivalent, because of the fact that we have such an efficient use of memory, and we use memory compression, and we have a unified memory architecture. 

Actually, 8GB on an M3 MacBook Pro is probably analogous to 16GB on other systems. We just happen to be able to use it much more efficiently. And so what I would say is I would have people come in and try what they want to do on their systems, and they will I think see incredible performance. If you look at the raw data and capabilities of these systems, it really is phenomenal. And this is the place where I think people need to see beyond the specs, and actually go and look beyond the capabilities, and listen to trusted people like you who have actually used the systems.

People need to look beyond the specifications and actually go and understand how that technology is being used. That’s the true test.

The problem is that this isn’t true.

macOS by itself takes up 5 or 6 GB of RAM by itself. Which means that when you open up a couple of applications or more, you will be using all 8 GB of RAM easily. At that point, the Mac will start using the hard drive to temporarily supplement the amount of RAM you have. This is called swap memory. To be clear swap isn’t entirely a bad thing, and all operating systems use swap memory. But any computer, regardless of what OS it is running, that is using swap memory to cover up the fact that it doesn’t have enough RAM isn’t a good thing as it negatively affects the performance of the computer overall. Now this issue really hit the public spotlight when Apple stopped using 2 NAND flash chips for storage in their base model M2 computers. I covered that here and here in case you want to go into the weeds on that. But here’s the TL:DR:

YouTube channels such as Max Tech and Created Tech tested the 256GB model with Blackmagic’s Disk Speed Test and found the SSD’s are about 30% slower than the M1 versions. This is due 256GB model is equipped with only a single NAND flash storage chip. The M1 version had two NAND chips that were likely 128GB each. This creates a RAID like setup that resulted in better performance. 

And that better performance extended to the swap memory. Because Apple cheaped out on using only one NAND flash storage chip, swap memory was way slower than it should have been. Which meant that any computer with 8GB of RAM was going to take a serious performance hit.

Fast forward to today. Apple now has the M3 processors out and they have two NAND flash chips in the base model. That means that this should be less of an issue because the storage has better performance. Right? Not so fast. MaxTech has put out a video where they ran a bunch of tests on an 8GB and 16GB M3 MacBook Pro and found that the 16GB model ran circles around the 8GB model due to the 8GB model needing to use swap memory constantly. Keeping in mind that the Macs were identical in every other way. The bottom line is that it pretty much tells you all that you need to know. Which is that 8GB is simply not enough for anyone regardless of what Apple says.

So, the question has to be asked. Why does Apple in 2023 produce computers with only 8GB of RAM? Who knows for sure because at the best of times that company is opaque at best. But if I had to take a guess, Apple is likely doing this to hit a price point to make their laptops look more competitive versus the competition. Sort of like car companies who advertise a “starting price” for their cars to hit a price point knowing full well that nobody will pay that because the want some creature comforts like air conditioning and a CD player.

Honestly, Apple is doing its customers a disservice by continuing to offer 8GB of RAM in their base models. And it isn’t helping the situation by coming out and basically saying that there’s nothing to see here when there is enough evidence to show that there is plenty to see here. Thus my recommendation for configuring a new Mac is going to remain in place. Which is that anyone buying a new Mac needs to get 16 GB of RAM at a minimum. Yes, you’re going to spend more money. But in my mind, it’s money well spent because you’re going to get better performance at the end of the day and you’re going to get a computer that has a bit more headroom.

One Response to “Fun Fact: 8GB Is Not Enough For Your Next Mac Regardless Of What Apple Says”

  1. Don Smith Says:

    8GB ought to be enough for everybody….. 😉

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