Home Apple Tips M2 MacBook Air / Pro — How much RAM do you ACTUALLY need?

M2 MacBook Air / Pro — How much RAM do you ACTUALLY need?

by Dewi Safitri

Before we click the “Check Out” button, we’re given many options: you can select a chip, storage, unified memory, and keyboard language. And, unfortunately for us, and fortunately for Apple, there are NO RECOMMENDATIONS about which config is best for which user. And if the choice of SSD is clear, then unified memory often puts us in a deadlock. Will 8 GB be enough or 16 gigs? And what if I pay extra and buy a Mac with 24 GB of RAM? You’re stuck. You have no idea how to solve this puzzle. Today we’ll put a thick line in that question and find out how much memory you need in your MacBook! But first, let’s find out WHAT IS RAM (or unified memory) is and how it works! 

 I hope it’s not a secret that RAM is a type of short-term memory, that stores data about all the processes running at the moment. To put it simply, RAM, or UNIFIED MEMORY in the new Apple laptops, is a kind of clipboard between the OS and the processor. And when you open any program, the processor doesn’t need to perform the same calculating steps and process gigabytes of data each time. It will be enough to “address” the RAM and get all the necessary data. So, it’s quite difficult to describe the process itself, but I’ll do my best. Just for further understanding. Imagine that while surfing the Web, you’ve opened a huge number of tabs in a browser. And in one moment, your mom called you and you left your computer, then you come back and see… that there are no lags and your computer doesn’t slow down AT ALL! Everything runs smoothly, and this happens because the processor simply doesn’t need to re-process each task. 

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The processor stores all the necessary info in its “head” and remembers what operations have been performed up to that point. This example is pretty rough, but hopefully, it brings more clarity to how it all works. And now I hope it’s clear that the amount of RAM or unified memory in your new Mac is an extremely important aspect that should NOT be neglected in any way! If you buy a MacBook in its basic config with 8 gigs of unified memory for typing and browsing, one way or another, you’ll probably have a problem with learning 3D modeling for example. Because the amount of this short-term memory simply WILL NOT BE ENOUGH. 3D modeling is quite a heavy process. And if you buy a laptop with 24 gigabytes of unified memory for surfing the Web, you’re throwing your money away, it’s too overkill. 

And as long as we’re talking about the needed minimum, then for basic tasks, of course, even 4 gigs will be enough. But luckily Apple removed such a small memory size a long time ago. Therefore here comes a simple conclusion – 8 gigs is that minimum which is MORE than enough for browsing, watching movies, Zoom calls, and in general for seamless interaction with your laptop. And you’ll be able to perform routine tasks with more than enough power on the M2 MacBook Air for example, or even the previous generation Air with the M1 chip on board. But as soon as you think about more time-consuming processes, the 8 gigs version should be ignored. But why? Even I said in one of my reviews that you can edit videos on the base M2 Air model! I did, but it was simply for test purposes. Apple raised the bar so high with the M1 chip that it seemed like you can perform very intensive tasks on the base M2 as well. In real life, you should not be editing with 8 gigs of memory… I mean, coding, video editing, or 3d modeling is still possible, but… please take care of your SSD drive. I’m talking about Swap memory and the effect it has on your SSD. 

So, the conclusion is simple – everything you need for office tasks is 8 GB. But what’s the difference between 16? 24? 32 gigs? The more the software is aimed at heavy tasks, the more processes are running in the background, hence more information needs to be stored in this short-term memory. So the minimum for something heavy is 16? Yes… and no. IT DEPENDS. The developers of any heavy software usually roll out a list with the minimum, or recommended specs, based on which you can easily decide what hardware is probably suitable for your needs. But as I said before, it’s not that simple. Let’s take for example Adobe. What do they recommend? Photoshop – from 16 gigs, Audition for sound – from 16 and more, Premiere Pro – from 6 Gb for working with HD video, and 32 for 4k and more. And it doesn’t mean that you can’t run the software with 8 gigs of RAM. 

Please take note that Adobe Premiere will not use 16 gigs of unified memory until the project itself will not consist of hundreds or even thousands of clips and dozens of video and audio tracks. So you should figure out WHAT KIND OF professional tasks you are going to perform. If you’re editing simple vlogs – it’s ok.. no problem. ‘Cause, it’s usually 1 or 3 tracks, with some text… probably animated. But if you know that you need a laptop for editing commercial projects, with dozens of tracks, then you need to buy a MacBook with at least 16 or even 32 gigs of unified memory. And it may also depend on the software you use, for example, DaVinci Resolve is way better optimized for the M1 or M2 than Premiere.

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So before you make a decision, do a little research about your software, and read some reviews about how well it works on the Mac you’re about to get. Software changes from day to day and the situation may shift in some way. By the way, we shouldn’t forget about other operating systems. “WAIT… WHAT? THE OTHER OPERATING SYSTEMS?” Yes, this may sound ridiculous, but not all people use macOS on their Macs. Some people need Windows and there’s nothing wild about that. Before the M1 release, Intel-based macs could install Windows directly, via Bootcamp… but with ARM processors the situation has changed dramatically. Now you can run Windows on your Mac only through a virtual machine. And keep in mind that you also need MORE MEMORY… WAY MORE MEMORY to run and maintain Windows.

So, if an app, which is developed just for Windows requires 8-16 gigs of RAM, then don’t forget to add another 6GB in this case… with Windows, macOS is running in the background too, so don’t forget about that. Based on all this information – if you are a coder who needs windows software, but at the same time portability and convenience of Apple laptops, then skips the 8… and even 16 gigs. 24 is the minimum! It’s expensive, but you know… the full range of features for 1200 bucks? You need features Apple needs money. And now, in 2022, Apple’s trying to confuse an average user as much as possible. And it seems simple. Wanna do some office work? Get the base M2. Something heavier? Get the M1 Pro or even M1 Max and don’t sweat it. 

But then why does the M2 Air have 24 gigabytes of memory for example? Who would need that much memory on the Air? And what about throttling? You know… these questions should be asked to Apple, but in the meantime, I can give you my recommendations. If you’re planning to interact with your computer in a “light” form – browsing, documents, making calls, watching movies, consider the M1 Air, or the M2 with 8 gigabytes of unified memory. A flawless option for these tasks. If you want to run complex software occasionally, then pay attention also to the SSD. With the M1 you can go with 256 gigabytes, with the M2 – you should take at least 512 gigs. Because as you know the 250 model has just 1 NAND chip, which affects the speed of the SSD. Again, if you need details, here’s a separate video. 

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If you need portability but you also perform some light graphic tasks, like light video editing in FinalCut for example, or maybe you create music in Logic Pro – then go with M1 or M2 BUT with 16 gigs of memory. When choosing 14 or 16-inch Macs, we can forget about the 8-gig model (thank goodness it doesn’t exist), and consider 16 gigs of RAM, BUT in cases when you don’t have to work with intensive tasks, although…16 gigs on 14 and 16 inch Macs will handle almost any task, we need to dive into this topic a bit deeper and realize what kind of processor you need. You probably need the M1 Pro or M1 Max chip for a reason, and you probably need this Mac for 3, 5, or even more years.

So, my point is – if you need the M1 Pro chip, then future-proof it and get 32 instead of 16. And if you need M1 Max, then go with 64 instead of 32. However, if you’re getting the M1 Pro chip simply because they installed it in a better MacBook in general – and you need the display, the speakers, the ports – AND YOU DON’T NEED MORE POWER, then keep it simple and get the base M1 Pro with 16 gigs of memory. 

Source: M2 MacBook Air / Pro — How much RAM do you ACTUALLY need?

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